The Grocer’s 2017 Top Products Survey, THE definitive guide to the current state of the UK’s grocery industry

Brits are going bananas for fresh fruit. Sales are up by £176.4m (3.8%), the greatest gain in this report. And, for a change, price rises are only part of the picture. Brits are eating more too, having munched an extra 80.8 million (2.1%) pieces of fruit in the past year.

Higher prices may not have deterred shoppers from getting their five portions of fruit a day, but it’s another story when it comes to veg. Overall veg prices are flat because lower prices for potatoes (-2.1%), mushrooms (-1.3%) and others have offset big price rises for cucumbers (+8.7%) and lettuce (+6%).

Veg prices started rising due to a supply crisis at the beginning of the year when flooding and snow in southern Spain left shelves bare and pushed wholesale prices through the roof. “A box of 12 iceberg lettuces, normally around £4 to £5, was reported to be fetching £15 in February,” says Dieter Lloyd, spokesman for the British Leafy Salad Association.

Warm weather in March and April meant the UK season kicked off early and supplies soon returned to normal, but prices for staples like lettuce, cabbage and cucumber remained higher than last year. But supply & demand is only part of the equation when it comes to fresh produce prices. Imported and British produce have also been inflated by sterling’s devaluation since the Brexit vote. “It’s become more expensive to bring fruit & veg in from Europe,” says British Growers Association CEO Jack Ward. “British growers have seen input costs rise significantly too.”

But Brits are increasingly willing to splash out on pricier produce, so long as they’re perceived as healthy. See the £30m rise in avocados or the £21.3m surge in blueberries - rich in antioxidants and considered to be “more versatile” than strawberries, says British Summer Fruits chairman Nicholas Marston.

Demand for convenience is driving growth in pre-packed veg and snackable fruit, such as grapes, which have overtaken apples as the UK’s bestselling fruit. “Grapes are a very good, convenient snack,” says Ward. “Tesco is even using them in its meal deals now.”

For growers, future growth will come from varieties that offer consumers something unusual, says Paul Thomas, MD at Isle of Wight Tomatoes. “The need to find a point of difference has never been so important.”


butternut squash stars tesco

Butternut Squash Stars by Tesco

They caused outrage when they first hit Tesco shelves - with critics seething at the audacity of cutting up veg into cutesy shapes in the belief this was a wasteful process likely to undermine efforts to educate kids about healthy eating. But don’t listen to the haters; these squash stars tick all the proverbial boxes for fresh produce NPD. Encouraging kids to eat more fruit & veg? Tick. Convenient for busy parents? Tick. Helping to tackle food waste by letting producers sell more of their crop? Boom.

The Grocer Top Products Survey 2017: Up!