Prior to the London Produce Show and Conference this year, we wanted to update our readers to some of the priorities Freshfel is emphasizing. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to find out more:
Q: The industry has shown its diversified resilience, fortitude and flexibility to adapt and reinvent itself. Still, moving the dial on overall produce consumption has proven elusive for decades. What is behind “Freshfel’s optimism for 2022 to progressively fill gaps in produce consumption,” based on the latest Eurostat report and Freshfel Consumption Monitor data/analyses? Second, what strategies and action steps are necessary to capitalize on opportunities to increase produce consumption?
A: With our Consumption Monitor, we work based on official data statistics. We have to see how consumption stands regarding the minimum recommendation of the World Health Organization, which is 400 grams. The Consumption Monitor has consistently indicated over the years that across Europe, we are below the 400 grams on an aggregate basis. We are around between 340- and 360-grams per capita per day, which therefore is insufficient.
And I think we’re connected also with this Eurostat report, which has a slightly different approach, based on interviews on the number of citizens in different countries. They are questioning them about how many portions of fruit and vegetable they eat, and you’re seeing from this report that they have three options. You eat nothing, you eat between one to four options, or you eat five. And I think, five is the ideal because that corresponds more-or-less to the 400 grams because maybe one portion is about 80 to 100 grams, depending on the size of the product.
Q: Eurostat indicates only 12% of Europeans over the age of 15 are eating at least 5 portions per day. The report estimates 55% of the EU population eats between 1 to 4 portions and even 33% of the population over the age of 15 are not eating any portion of fruit or vegetables at all. Could you elaborate on how this finding is coherent with the conclusions of the Consumption Monitor?
A: Whatever you do in terms of methodology for these consumer surveys, it’s the same parameter on all the countries, and with our data based on the calculations adding to production, the volumes which are imported, those that are exported, analyzing by population, and then per capita. Both reports indicate we don’t eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables.
For me what is most alarming in the Eurostat data is what is happening with those who are not consuming any fruit and vegetables at all. Right now, we can put them into the loop and see how we can engage with them, so that they can also become consumers, discover the diversity, learn how to prepare them, look at the convenience that the fruits and vegetables could have, teach them about the possibilities, and I think that’s probably the priority.
Q: Could you break down these segments, and the people who are not consuming any fruit and vegetables? Wouldn’t those people be the most challenging to convert?
A: Who are those people? Well, I think the weaknesses today is mainly around the younger population. Millennials is one of the groups, of course, which is of interest. Maybe they like more junk food, but I think this is a segment that is important because these are the people who are from the age of 18 to 30, who are becoming independent.
That’s when they start to take the control about their food options, their eating habits, their lifestyle. I think it’s quite important to educate them and to communicate about the benefit and the facilities, about the diversity of products.
The second part of this — which may apply to young parents in this group and what is happening with the younger school-age kids — is what is the attitude of the parents in helping their children overcome a certain reluctance to eat fruit and vegetables?
Like you have in the United States, we have a program to educate the children at school. This program is currently under review at the European level. Basically, it’s a law to have at least one piece of fruit to be circulated, to be distributed per week. This is not enough, because the ideal will be at least to have one piece of fruit to be made available in the school per day.
Q: One piece of fruit per day for children in school, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t sound that transformative.
A: Of course, we can be disappointed that we only have up to 350 grams, and that’s many years that we tried to stimulate consumption, and it’s never really kicked off to move from a general awareness in the public that eating fruits and vegetables is good. But it’s hard to convert this awareness into a concrete action of consumption, and that’s where I think we can be optimistic first, because I think the political and societal environment is positive towards our product.
I think we can rely on the scientific community. We can rely on the value of the product. We can rely maybe on the change of policy, because within this European Green Deal debate, one of the things that is really on the table is how to move to a more plant-based diet.
Moving into this, it’s a win-win-win situation. It could be winning for the health of the Europeans, it could be winning for the planet, because I think the burden for the planet, of producing fruit and vegetable is much less than producing meat with all the complex chain of the animal supply chain.
Philippe Binard is the General Delegate for Freshfel Europe, the Brussels-based European Fresh Produce Association. In Part 2, Philippe will discuss promotion, political and funding strategies to boost consumption of produce in Europe.