As they strive to lift daily fruit and vegetable consumption, the UK’s fresh produce buyers can draw inspiration from Holland – the second largest exporter of vegetables to the UK and home of several, new initiatives that are successfully encouraging people to eat more fresh produce. Produce Business UK reports from The London Produce Show and Conference Fresh from Holland: Innovative Concepts seminar on June 9
Making vegetables ‘convenient, attractive and normal’
Fresh produce buyers are no doubt aware that just 30% of British adults aged 19-64 years are eating the recommended daily amount of five portions of fresh produce a day. Herman Peppelenbos, programme manager of customised food at Wageningen University’s Food and Biobased Research Institute, reveals that the situation in Holland is similarly underwhelming.
Explaining that vegetable consumption is the main problem, he says: “Almost 75% of Dutch people think they eat enough vegetables but only 15% of the Dutch actually eat [the old recommended amount] of 200g.” Despite this grim reality, he and his research team determinedly viewed this problem as an opportunity. “Most people only eat these [vegetables] at dinner. So we thought – what can we do to reach consumers? People want to eat healthily, they know fruits and vegetables are ok but somehow they don’t manage to do it – so let’s help them.”
He reveals that the research institute carried out a project that aimed to help people form new eating habits by making the vegetables “convenient, attractive, and normal.” “When it becomes a habit you don’t think about what you are eating – you just do it.” As part of this experiment, the university served vegetable snacks to:
- children aged between one and four in a day-care centre
- teenagers at secondary schools and
- in the workplace.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the healthy snacks were all devoured. Peppelenbos says: “The day-care centre usually served fruit in the morning and biscuits in the afternoon. Why not have a vegetable moment in the afternoon?” But he warns buyers that, currently, such products are not there. He also woefully describes secondary schools as a “vegetable desert.
“For a long time we thought that this age group was not interested in vegetables – but they are interested. But the caterers are finding it problematic to bring the vegetables in. We need creativity there. A 13-year-old will not eat the same thing as a three-year-old. There’s room for innovation, room for new concepts.” Moreover, the workplace experiments also highlighted the fact that there’s “room for vegetables during meetings.” He says: “Most of you are in meetings, maybe even every day. What can you find during your meeting? Mostly tea, coffee, water, and cookies.”
Lowering the barriers
Yvonne Vanlier, marketing and communications manager for Greenco, reveals that Greenco is also working on increasing vegetable consumption in the workplace. It is achieving this by further developing its snack vegetables product line, Tommies, to include a [email protected] and a [email protected] brand. She reveals that “lowering barriers” has been at the heart of these new strategies, which so far has seen the firm work with university researchers to serve attractively packaged mini-vegetables at workplace cafeterias and in meetings. She says: “There’s a lot of attention being brought to [the benefits of] fruits and vegetables but we still don’t eat enough of them. What’s going on if everyone knows that eating fruit and vegetables is so important? The problem is that preparing fresh produce is a hassle. So you have to lower the barriers – make it relevant and more fun and make it available and attainable.”
She highlights that the pilot project has successfully resulted in office workers eating 30% of their recommended daily amount. Meanwhile, a second pilot project for the [email protected] brand has, since last autumn (2015), seen the Greenco team visit sports clubs to offer children mini-vegetables in fun, football shirt-shaped packaging. “We created a whole story to make it relevant,” says Vanlier – who also points out that logistics are crucial to this sort of programme, which Greenco hopes to roll out nationally [in Holland] later on this year.
Yvonne Vanlier: lowering the barriers
Using bloggers and chefs as trendsetters
Educating children on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables is evidently a priority for the fresh produce industry, which is why international seed supplier Rijk Zwaan organises excursions to growers’ farms for schoolchildren as part of its lovemysalad.com initiative.
The programme was created in 2009 in Australia and, having gained momentum, now has 250,000 people interacting with it on social media platforms such as Facebook. Marteen van der Leeden, Rijk Zwaan’s account manager for retail and trade in Holland notes that the website, which features dozens of salad recipes, was primarily set up to help Rijk Zwaan better connect with consumers. He adds that the initiative’s most recent development has seen the firm host events for Holland’s key food bloggers – who have met growers, enjoyed chefs’ demonstrations and are regularly updated on new salad products.
Marteen van der Leeden: going the social-media route
Educating those who cook for a living, including bloggers and chefs, is clearly necessary because, as Remco de Boer, director of Sous Fresh points out, chefs can be trendsetters. His company has therefore, he reveals, collaborated with fresh produce firm Valstar Holland to deliver to chefs the Sous Fresh Inspiration Box – a monthly consignment filled with six “surprising fruits and vegetables” as well as handy product information and recipes.
De Boer explains that the primary aim of the scheme is to raise awareness of the strategy behind the firm’s Chef’s Inspiration range, which aims to “inspire the professional chef to put fruits and vegetables [at] centre stage on the plate – 80% fruits and vegetables and 20% fish/meat.” He adds that this is generally not the way that the majority of chefs cook because they are “used to putting meat in the pan.” He divulges: “Chefs told me they are trained in meat and fish but have little understanding of how to work with fruits and vegetables. And they take more time. But when you have 20% less meat and 70% more vegetables, people like it and enjoy it.” Fortunately, Sous Fresh’s efforts are so far being well received. De Boer says: “Reactions have so far been positive. Valstar delivered its first inspiration box to the UK in April 2016. In the meantime, approximately 1,200 Inspiration Boxes have been delivered to professional chefs.”
Happily, Holland’s efforts to improve fruit and vegetable consumption are clearly starting to infiltrate the UK – which can no doubt learn from the way in which Dutch innovators have targeted many different places and social groups.