Consumer Insights — The State of Produce
Instacart has a wealth of anonymized and aggregated data from millions of receipts that can tell us what products are being bought, how frequently, and how they’re being found on the Instacart marketplace. We can see what items are commonly found together in baskets and trends over time as shopping habits evolve, among brand-specific data on category share, conversion rates, and other useful metrics. By analyzing this data we can uncover interesting consumer trends and insights, which we will periodically share in our Consumer Insights series.
In this article, we examine the data around the state of produce on the Instacart marketplace, looking at the department as a whole, before delving into specifics like the top sellers and search terms in its super categories, and exploring some interesting basket affinities.
Let’s start with the big picture on the state of produce on the Instacart marketplace. Total sales in the department grew 321% year-over-year (YoY) in 2020. With continued lockdowns during the pandemic, Instacart became an important fixture in people’s lives, and triple-digit growth was common across many departments. Still, produce was the fifth highest selling category on Instacart and the fastest-growing among the top ten categories.
In our category hierarchy, the produce department has three super categories — fruits, vegetables, and other, which contains products like salad dressing and herbs and spices. Looking at these super categories, we see that on Instacart marketplace, vegetables made up roughly 65% of the department’s sales. And YoY vegetables saw growth of 3.8% while the other two declined.
Taking a closer look at the fruit super category, we can see the top search terms and the top fruit categories by sales — while bananas were the top search term with about 15% of all the searches for fruit, they ranked 22nd in sales in 2020 with pricier fruit like strawberries and blueberries having the top sales in 2020.
A similar analysis of the vegetables super category, reveals that while “salad” is only the 9th most searched-for term, pre-packaged salad mixes dominate vegetable category sales.
Let’s take a closer look at what we know about consumer shopping habits and what else is in their cart based on these produce baskets…
Veggie consumers: The home chef
Vegetable buyers are heavy meal preppers, planning ahead for the week and buying items that complement each other. One of the most popular meals on the menu is tacos (with tortillas, sour cream, and beef all appearing in the top 10 non-produce products more likely to be in the basket with vegetables).
We use ‘basket affinity’ analysis to discover the interaction between products. The analysis produces a weighted score (the basket affinity index) which identifies products most commonly bought together. The higher the score, the more often they’re bought together. In the case of vegetables, croutons have the highest basket affinity index. Using this analysis lets us uncover the highest correlating products and not just a list of the most frequently purchased products.
Consumers are also using their vegetable purchases in big salads, often supplemented by bread on the side. Ranch and Italian are the two most popular dressing choices for these customers, followed by vinaigrette. Seeds and croutons have been popular, too — in fact, the crouton category over-indexes the most in terms of being purchased alongside vegetables.
Vegetables’ versatility means that there’s no one cuisine they’re paired with. Beyond Mexican, other flavor profiles these buyers gravitate to include Italian (heavy cross-purchase with pizza sauce, lasagna, olives, and dinner sausage), Southern (cross-purchase with BBQ & wing sauce), and Asian (cross-purchase with soy sauce).
Vegetable consumers are often looking to add a hit of flavor to their meal, so condiments are key! These consumers shop across the total store in other categories too — they are also more likely to purchase stock, beans, herbs and spices, and other pantry staples to cook from scratch.
Fruit consumers: The convenience seekers with premium tastes
In contrast to the typical vegetable consumer, when consumers order fruit from their favorite retailer on the Instacart marketplace, they show a strong tendency to value convenience in the form of quick snacks and other food that can be enjoyed without any meal prep. This includes yogurt, english muffins, health/nutrition bars, muffins, cereal bars, and granola bars. We see this preference for convenience resulting in fruit consumers being far more likely to purchase prepared pancakes (ex. frozen) instead of pancake mix.
As you might expect, fruit consumers are health-conscious. They seek nutritious snacks for both adults and children in their household. In addition to buying fruit, these customers enjoy snacking on carrots, hummus, cucumbers, vegetable-based salty snacks, and pretzel chips.
Finally, these consumers tend to have premium tastes, preferring on-trend and health-conscious alternatives to common food items. Their favorite types of yogurt are Icelandic and Greek yogurt (before traditional dairy yogurt). Milk alternatives, such as oat milk and almond milk, are cross-shopped with fruit items more often than cow’s milk. Artisanal bread is 2x as likely to be in the basket when fruit is also in the basket, whereas we don’t see this relationship with typical sandwich bread.
We pulled the data for this report from the rich and diverse data set that Instacart gathers about consumer trends, shopping missions, searches, category share, and a wealth of other aggregate insights. With the combination of the right data points and analysis, we ‘re able to present a differentiation in what might otherwise be seen as a homogenous consumer type — namely, that vegetable consumers tend to be heavily involved in meal prep and cooking meals from scratch, where fruit consumers are more likely to be buying out of convenience, with grab-and-go or premade options, and buying more premium products alongside their fruit.
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