With fruit and vegetable consumption per head slowly falling in the UK, the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) this spring launched its Fit for the Future report, which set out 34 options for action that government, retailers, foodservice providers and producers can take to help reverse this decline. A few months after its release, the NFU reveals the document’s impact on the grocery sector so far
NFU horticulture advisor Lee Abbey explains that, as fruit and vegetable consumption is hovering around just three portions a day, the NFU acknowledged that there was a “massive opportunity to try and influence industry and government to redouble their efforts to make sure that consumers are eating a healthier diet – and the fruit and veg is at the heart of that.”
Clearly, getting people to eat at least the recommended five portions a day is no easy task but, as Abbey points out, some positive steps have already been made by the industry since the publication of Fit for the Future in April this year. Abbey says: “We know that this is a difficult challenge; however, since we launched our report the response we’ve had has been extremely positive. We’ve had lots of meetings across the supply chain and with government. They’ve all welcomed the report and demonstrated a keenness to do more.”
He reveals, for example, that the Co-operative “very recently confirmed that its has taken direct action as a result of seeing our report and they have now introduced discount vouchers that are issued at the till for discounts on fruit and veg to increase fresh produce sales. And importantly they are doing it at their own cost.”
He adds that the NFU has also spoken to several other retailers that have shown interest in a number of different actions. “So we are continuing the dialogue with those to try and identify which ones they might be able to take forward.” And this in addition to work by Aldi and Lidl which has seen both retailers sign up to the NFU Fruit and Veg Pledge – a charter of voluntary commitment that the NFU wants to see retailers sign up to as a fair and transparent way of going business “with integrity.”
Fit for the Future also includes many “options for action” for the foodservice sector, such as redesigning self-service areas and repositioning the food in a buffet so as to give fresh produce a more prominent position. To this end the NFU has already had a meeting with one of the major coffee-shop chains. “They said that they are particularly interested in the action around developing products for children – an area they felt they are not doing enough for,” says Abbey. “Evidence shows that children would eat up to 85% more fruit and veg simply if it’s presented or branded in a child-friendly way or cut in a child-friendly shape.”
He adds that the NFU has also spoken to a “major contract caterer” which services thousands of private businesses, schools and hospitals and: “again they promised to identify which of the actions that they can develop or implement with their business.”
The NFU team has also already had discussions with government. “We spoke with Defra’s Great British Food Unit,” explains Abbey “They promised to try and deliver our messages within other departments in government and wherever possible help set up further meetings with us to try and recognise that. There’s lots being done already and our intervention is providing a real boost to those efforts.” Evidently, the Fit for the Future report is starting to gain momentum and Abbey is hopeful that there will be more developments and announcements in the coming months.
Case study: the Coolio unit
One of the recommendations in the Fit for the Future report is for retailers to include multi-siting, in other words for fresh produce to be offered in places around the store. Coincidentally, Berry Gardens has this year done exactly that – and seen great results from its trial.
A Berry Gardens Coolio unit
Berry Gardens’ sales and procurement director Jacqui Green explains that the firm rolled out the trial using Coolio units in selected Tesco stores in south-east England between February and April this year. “We placed it somewhere in the store, such as alongside the sandwich fixture or by the check-outs, but not in the fresh produce fixture,” says Green. “That’s been quite a departure for retailers. We are really encouraged by that.”
She explains that the units, one of which resembles a tall fridge-like unit and another that looks like an ice-cream fridge-style “dump bin,” both contained small snack-pack sizes of traditional punnets of fruit. Green says: “We’ve had encouraging sales. The holy grail of prepared fruit is not as sacrosanct as people thought.”
Berry Gardens has also found that given the popularity of this concept, Coolio is now being put into several hundred stores with the aim of encouraging people to pick up berries “instead of a Mars bar.” This trial arguably demonstrates how the industry can take advantage of consumer trends such as impulse-buying and snacking. And, as Abbey points out, by increasing fruit and vegetable consumption the industry is both delivering commercial growth for the sector and executing “our moral obligations within this industry to make sure consumers are eating a healthier diet.” Perhaps that is what is known as a win-win.
Lee Abbey and Jacqui Green were speaking at the 2016 Fruit Focus event, held in East Malling, Kent, on July 20.