Opinion

Good vs fat?

24 February 2015

Liz O

Regular PBUK contributor Liz O’Keefe considers how produce marketers can compete with food high in saturated fat

Findings about saturated fat published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in early February were a bit of a shock to everyone, especially dieticians, but I think it most probably hit my generation the hardest (I’m in my early 30s as you ask!).

Hearing that fat is not necessarily as bad for you as we had been led to believe and, even worse, that there was no real proof or research to back up that it is harmful at all, was a equivalent of saying the world was in fact flat after all, or that global warming is a fallacy made up by politicians. My head couldn’t quite get around the facts: from the get-go, you know fat is bad for you and should be avoided. It’s an instinctive knowledge. Quite simply, fat makes you fat.

Nevertheless, the restricting fat guidelines that have shaped our diets in the UK since 1983 were dashed by the BMJ’s Open Heart online cardiology journal, which – after looking at the research on fat consumption that the original guidelines were based on – said “the dietary advice not merely needs review; it should not have been introduced”. Apparently, US researchers made a plea for further research at the time, but it fell on deaf ears.

There are obviously a few things we can all learn from this both as human beings and as members of the fresh produce industry. The main outcome is: take research and findings with a pinch of (low-sodium) salt. Remember about this time last year, an attempt at getting people to eat seven fruits and veg a day by the University College London, which analysed the eating habits of 65,000 people, was pretty much rubbished by a further and larger report by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston considering data from 833,234 participants.

The outcome? Most consumers walked away thinking fruit and veg wasn't all that.

Whether we should eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day or 10, the unfortunate truth is that what’s bad for you has a certain appeal. Foodstuffs with a high saturated fat content haven’t exactly done badly over the years, despite an influx of healthy eating outlets and an on-and-off wave of campaigning against junk and fast food.

Maybe if we were systematically told as kids that fruit and veg are bad for you, we’d all be sneaking to our (still open) local greengrocer for our fix instead of McDonalds (don’t pretend you don’t). Of course, this isn’t an option, but the industry is lucky enough to have an extraordinarily good, healthy story and products that taste great. It begs the question: what’s missing from this picture?

Fresh produce sales should be sky-high, especially when you consider the latest kale effect and the craze for vegetable smoothies and soups. There are the, to some, obvious barriers to market; with point of difference, branding and even shelf space being controlled by the fewer big supermarkets. Even Morrisons failed in its aim to make fresh produce high-end and ‘sexy’ to the masses, with its rather nice yet equally useless dry ice misting displays recently being axed by popular consumer demand. Sadly, even with an unfair supply chain, fruit and veg seems to be as instinctively unappealing to consumers as saturated fat is tasty.

Having just looked into the EU-funded ColourfulTaste pepper campaign, it’s good to see that the emphasis is going into getting consumers to taste the product and giving more information to the increasingly powerful bloggers, rather than overworked journalists with fewer and fewer column inches to spare.

Nevertheless, the healthy message is portrayed through comparisons to other fresh produce on their consumer-facing website. I understand that saying a pepper has three times as much vitamin C as an orange has immediate significance, but what about comparing the benefits of a pepper as a snack to a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar? Or even a cereal bar or nutrition drink?

Now the negative spotlight has firmly moved to sugar intake, surely this would be the best time to push forward a more natural sugar and healthier intake. The industry’s need to compete within the category is not only unnecessary, but harmful.

PR agencies seem to think that cross category collaboration could make a real difference. It might be time to put our heads together and to give it a serious try.

Produce Business UK welcomes letters to the editor and other input from the industry. If you wish to respond to an article on Produce Business UK or join the conversation on any industry issue, please send your thoughts to Letters@ProduceBusinessUK.com

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