Pre-bagged produce proves popular during pandemic

Discussion
Source: instacart.com
Apr 07, 2020
Matthew Stern

Products that were surefire sellers three weeks ago are suddenly unpopular as the threat of coronavirus temporarily rewrites what many consumers think of as convenient — and even safe — to buy. Fresh produce sales have been impacted by coronavirus fears, leading retailers to focus on promoting hermetically sealed alternatives.

Promotion is down as a whole, but those retailers that are promoting produce are pushing pre-bagged products, according an article written by Tom Karst, editor-in-chief of The Packer. Mr. Karst identifies some probable drivers of the promotional shift, including grocers recognizing that customers:

  • Perceive pre-bagged options to be more convenient — appealing to a customer desire to reduce the number of grocery trips and buy in bulk, rather than bagging individual fruits and vegetables;
  • Believe the products to be safer — due to concerns over coronavirus-infected staff picking fruit and vegetables or product being in the vicinity of sick customers in the store.

In keeping with this trend, produce supplier Stemilt reported an increase in the popularity of its bagged apples and pears, in particular larger bags, with the onset of the coronavirus epidemic, according to Supermarket Perimeter. A representative notes that the bagged items are branded to meet a grab-and-go need, which may be especially appealing to first-time online grocery shoppers. Pre-bagged produce also offers advantages to store staff as they allow for quicker restock of displays and quicker scanning at checkout.

This is not the first instance in which the unusual parameters imposed on shoppers by the coronavirus pandemic have led to noteworthy shifts in buying behavior.

Most obviously, from the outset of the pandemic, online grocery shopping and curbside pickup have experienced increased adoption.

Outside of grocery, chains including Best Buy have experienced surges in customers ordering supplies and technology as social distancing requirements have led to a huge increase in people working from home, reports The Verge. White goods that allow for food storage likewise have experienced a spike in sales due, presumably, to people needing places to store amassed food.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think the current popularity of bagged fruits and vegetables will continue to grow after the coronavirus pandemic has ended? What other types of products are likely to become more popular with American consumers post-pandemic than they were before?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I never bought pre-bagged produce before because I thought we wouldn’t need that much. I was wrong, I anticipate continuing to shop this way when this is over. It’s easier."
"I don’t see this trend continuing to a significant degree after the pandemic. There are good reasons for it now, but spoilage of fresh produce is an issue in many households."
"Pre-bagged produce will continue to be popular after the virus is vanquished. In fact, it may become the norm if Covid-19 turns out to be a seasonal flu."

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23 Comments on "Pre-bagged produce proves popular during pandemic"


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Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I’m guessing it will be a binary vote. BOPIS or delivery customers will be fine with packaged fruit and vegetables. In-store shoppers are in the store precisely because they want to do the individual selecting. I’ll also guess that this will give way over time to packaged product. It’s cleaner and more efficient for all.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
5 months 14 days ago

There is a bit of convenience, but I personally don’t use bagged produce even when it is available. The sizes are too big and they are more expensive compared to picking loose produce. And sometimes there is an odd rotten piece of fruit or rotten vegetable that makes me not pick the bag.

Perceived safety and convenience will move some consumers post-COVID-19. But price and visual quality still matter. I think it is a passing trend. The mix will return to pre-COVID-19 levels once this is done.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Someone’s hands packed those produce bags at some point so the demand for bagged produce doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s unfortunate that this trend has come swinging back after plastic reduction initiatives gained traction.

I have placed orders with several new companies just this past week due to a lack of availability and drawn-out delivery timelines. In the process, I’ve learned that there are plenty of smaller e-commerce companies that have excellent prices, availability and customer service (who knew?). A tinge of sarcasm there but also a small confession!

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe bagged fruits and vegetables will continue to be popular post=pandemic as people have been rattled by this outbreak and their sense of trust has been broken and once that is broken it will take a long time to be restored. My son will now by only frozen vegetables and meats as he perceives these to have been processed pre-COVID-19. My belief is that this frozen and prepackaged trend will continue as will homegrown victory gardens because we will win the battle over this pandemic.

Warren Thayer
BrainTrust

I don’t see this trend continuing to a significant degree after the pandemic. There are good reasons for it now, but spoilage of fresh produce is an issue in many households, and food gets tossed. We increasingly recognize how bad that is. Over in frozen foods, we’re seeing a huge jump in frozen veggies. That won’t continue, either, but it may have somewhat of a lasting bump since many more people are using/trying them now, and trial generally helps. Or maybe people just feel more secure having a freezer full of veggies and a spare room for toilet paper!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Grab-and-go is smart because it shortens that amount of time you spend in the store, the bonus is the perception that pre-bagged items have been touched by fewer people. Watching a woman choose apples at the grocery store yesterday it occurred to me how many she was picking up and putting back with her possibly infected bare hands. I grabbed a small bag of apples instead.

Grocers would be smart to offer different sizes of prepackaged fruits because not everyone need 20 oranges or apples at a time. I definitely am shopping differently now. I never bought pre-bagged produce before because I thought we wouldn’t need that much. I was wrong, I anticipate continuing to shop this way when this is over. It’s just easier.

Bethany Allee
BrainTrust

It depends on the types of bagged fruits or vegetables. The ones that come in a tie closure still need to be sanitized. The ones that come ready to eat – these products should see growth for a while, until consumers forget and go back to selecting their own produce. In terms of fruit and vegetables, I think the long-term growth will be with CSAs. Pre-selected, smaller production, what’s in season vegetables. Consumers are going to feel more comfortable with and supportive of this option post-pandemic.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Pre-bagged can be more convenient and less confusing when buying online, which is probably why sales have risen as online orders have surged. Within physical stores, loose seems just as popular as ever. As such, I think this is an aberration rather than a longer term shift.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I do not think that bagged produce will become the norm – if you remember, Tesco tried this in the U.S. (most U.K. markets have bagged or packaged produce) and it was a big lesson that people did not purchase produce this way. I think more than anything, people will move to frozen fruits and vegetables instead of the fresh option.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

The growth of bagged fruits and vegetables after the pandemic is over will depend on the consumer’s lack of interest in picking the fruits and vegetables personally and the cost differential between the fresh and packaged items. People will gravitate back to fresh foods due to the cost and waste associated with bagged produce, and the desire to have the fresh taste.

David Weinand
BrainTrust

My experience with pre- bagged produce has not been great. Typically there is a piece that is bruised, rotten or moldy and that is a big turn off. The trend makes great sense now and there may be certain types of fruit or veggies that make sense to continue to buy pre-packaged but don’t think it will be a trend that continues – especially when sustainability and plastic reduction is such a big trend.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

The question is how long the effects of our new virus-induced habits will linger. A year from now, when all of this is past us, will shoppers still want packaged fresh foods as much as they do now? Well, supplies will rebound, so quantity will be a challenge for many households. However, the perceived sanitary security of the package may linger for some time to come.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Given that we may be a year or more away from a vaccine I don’t think we can count on things being fully back to normal by this time next year.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Personally, out of an abundance of caution, we have shifted to bagged/boxed produce whenever possible. We clean all produce with vinegar, too, if that helps you understand who you’re dealing with — but it can’t hurt, right? Regardless, even if most people are not as cautious as we, I expect the fear of germs spreading on open produce and self-serve salad/olive bars will linger beyond the “end” of this crisis. People will – for a long time, I believe – be extra cautious and appreciate the perceived safety of prepackaged foods.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

It’s probably cleaner, and it’s certainly faster. But I don’t see this being a permanent feature for stores that differentiated on great produce.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Our family is buying more bagged produce (and trying to forget the E.coli recalls from Thanksgiving 2018). Now and continuing post-pandemic, we’ll see more consumers adopt a vegan lifestyle. Simple foods like whole grains, seeds and nuts are shelf-stable, affordable and energizing (without any blood sugar crash). Consumers will also likely remain conscious of germs, boosting sales of wipes, hand soap and hand sanitizers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

So it’s a Devil’s Bargain if we think about it. Bagging means one more handling, but theoretically more safety from randomly shed viruses. And with BOPIS it’s easier to think and stock in terms of five pounds of apples versus six, seven, eight, or however many individual apples of unknown weight. At my local supermarket, the gourmet olive and pickle bar has all gone pre-priced and pre-packaged. Ditto for the deli. I assume, as this continues, the trend will continue on to the bakery as well. As to what happens a year or 18 months from now, it’s really too early to speculate. Sadly, a lot depends on how many lives are lost between then and now.

Paul Conley
Guest

Years ago I worked with Tom Karst, the journalist mentioned in this story. No one knows more about the produce industry than Tom does. He’s almost always right. And in this particular case, I see loads of anecdotal evidence backing up his theory. Here in NYC, we’re all reducing the time we spend in a store. Nothing saves time like grabbing a bag of produce rather than picking through a pile.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

We need to be careful not to confuse the “safer” value with the fact people are buying in larger quantities to reduce trips to the store (and because the entire household is home snacking all day).

No, I do not believe this is a long term change. My experience with pre-bagged fruit is that some is always lost because they aren’t very good. So when I’m able to choose the apples individually (for example), I get better produce.

Once things return to a semblance of normal, there will likely be a small residual increase in sales of pre-bagged fruit and vegetables but not a lot.

What we MIGHT see, though, is a shift in the bulk bins. I was at a local natural food store yesterday and each bagel was individually wrapped in plastic.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Habits are changed by challenging times. (Look at what happened to flashy logos on apparel during the 2007 recession.) This should be no exception.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

Pre-bagged produce will continue to be popular after the virus is vanquished. In fact, it may become the norm if Covid-19 turns out to be a seasonal flu. Why? Too many hands touch produce in the store — workers stocking the shelves, customers looking for bruises on fruit, customers coughing and sneezing in the vicinity of produce. Not many shoppers will want to take any chances, especially the elderly and at-risk folks.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

There are two competing forces at work here: “Let’s get back to normal” vs. “gee, whatever the reason, that was convenient.”

I’m guessing the former will prevail. Produce, of course, has been subject to (seemingly endless) “scares” over the years, and hasn’t changed more than incrementally … and really this is one of the lesser concerns right now.

Dave Nixon
BrainTrust

Depending on the segmentation of the shopper and how they want to purchase. It will remain popular because it is deemed “safer” and easier to manage than fresh produce, and folks will continue to stock up (what they can) for a possible relapse of the pandemic.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I never bought pre-bagged produce before because I thought we wouldn’t need that much. I was wrong, I anticipate continuing to shop this way when this is over. It’s easier."
"I don’t see this trend continuing to a significant degree after the pandemic. There are good reasons for it now, but spoilage of fresh produce is an issue in many households."
"Pre-bagged produce will continue to be popular after the virus is vanquished. In fact, it may become the norm if Covid-19 turns out to be a seasonal flu."

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