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How Canadian growers fared in 2012, and why grocers should care


A recent report from Statistics Canada reveals 2012 was a relatively good year for Canadian growers – except for apple orchardists.

Sales by farmers reached $1.7 billion in 2012, up 9 per cent from the previous year, with fruit sales rising 13 per cent to $872 million.

Vegetable sales by growers also increased last year, but by a more modest 5 per cent (to reach $847 million).

According to Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, 2012 “was a better year than the previous two.”

But that certainly wasn’t the case for apple growers – StatsCan shows a whopping 32 per cent drop in apple production.

“Weather impacted the apple industry in Canada tremendously last year with the cold temperatures,” explained Lemaire.

Ontario was hit the worst. But across the country in B.C., growers enjoyed relatively good conditions, and as a result, “they were able to actually benefit from the unfortunate circumstances some of the other growers had.”

Of course, weather doesn’t just impact crop yields, it also affects products’ quality and flavour, said Lemaire. For example, bad weather could mean bad-tasting apples… and unsatisfied consumers.

That, in turn, could mean “the consumer will only buy half the amount they normally would, as opposed to buying extra because ‘wow that apple tasted amazing.’”

That’s why Mimmo Franzone, Longo’s director of produce, watches weather trends so closely.

He said the company has seen similar produce sales trends on the retail floor as Canadian growers have seen on their farms.

Though Franzone wouldn’t share specific numbers, he said Longo’s fruit sales last year were “significantly up,” while veggies saw moderate growth.

The reason for the uptick? An increased interest in healthy-for-you foods.

According to Franzone, Longo’s sales of super-healthy kale surged by almost 100 per cent over the past year.

Nutrient-rich avocados also saw a 100 per cent jump in sales, helped in part by Longo’s new approach to sourcing. (Lemaire said avocados exploded in popularity across the board in 2012.)

In years past, Longo’s sold green, un-ripened avocados, forcing consumers to wait some two weeks after buying the fruit to finally eat it.

Now the company brings in ready-to-eat avocados three times a week. Consumers can eat the products right away, and then return to the store a few days later for more.

Blueberries were also a popular buy at Longo’s last year. (StatsCan reported sales of blueberries by Canadian farmers grew by 22 per cent in 2012, and cranberries by 43 per cent.)

Franzone attributed the increasing interest in berries to the growing popularity of smoothies, and to the fact that they are “easy” fruits. “There’s no peeling, it’s pretty much just wash and eat.”

Indeed, convenience is a big sell. But according to Lemaire, the key to increasing fruit sales in grocery stores is through smart merchandising.

“A successful retailer will understand what the growers are growing, the purchasing habits of their customers and what opportunity of interest exist for that customer.”

In other words, grocers should always consider how they can strategically combine sales.

Putting tomatoes and limes next to super-popular avocados will remind customers that they can make their own guacamole.

A perfect Super Bowl treat.

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