(This column first appeared in the June edition of Produce Business)
Despite high uncertainty in the fruit and vegetable business environment, Freshfel Europe urges the sector to continue to stimulate consumption for the benefit of European consumers. The current multiplicity of uncertainties, including Brexit, the Russian and Algerian embargoes, the growing impact of increasing climatic events and other market access challenges, should serve to further stimulate the sector to boost current low consumption levels across Europe.
The European fresh fruit and vegetable sector is facing a tumultuous period that is challenging fresh produce production, trade and consumption. On the one hand, the past two years have been noted for severe weather events, which have impacted produce quality, destabilized supply and demand, and resulted in market instability in many regions. On the other hand, market uncertainties continue to cloud any transparency in the business environment.
The EU’s evolving relationship with the UK, the ongoing Russian embargo and the more recent Algerian embargo, in addition to other Sanitary and Phytosanitary market access challenges, have led to complexity in market diversification. A new wave of unilateralism and protectionism around the world is further contributing to an unpredictable trading environment that is increasingly complex to navigate for businesses.
Waiting for conditions to return to normal however can lead to missed opportunities. Despite this complex trading environment the sector still needs to stimulate consumption on the European market. European daily intake levels remain below the minimum level recommended by the World Health Organisation of 400g of fresh fruit and vegetables per day.
Accordingly, in 2018, Freshfel led a European Commission Thematic Network, as part of the annual activities of the European Commission’s EU Health Policy Platform. Freshfel Europe’s Thematic Network, entitled Stimulating fresh fruit and vegetable consumption for healthier European consumers, was the first-ever selected Thematic Network on a food topic. During the one-year Thematic Network, Freshfel Europe created a joint statement with other stakeholders comprising 43 policy recommendations for all actors in society on how to stimulate consumption across Europe.
The Thematic Network joint statement comprises two parts — a framing paper contextualising current fresh fruit and vegetable consumption levels in Europe and a recommendations paper outlining 43 points of action with accompanying good practices to stimulate fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. All recommendations are aimed at both public and private stakeholders, including government institutions and actors within the agri-food and health sectors across Europe. The Thematic Network joint statement was open for public endorsement by other stakeholders, and 42 organizations and companies officially endorsed the joint statement giving their support and backing of the recommendations outlined in the document. The Thematic Network now operates as a Stakeholder Network on the EU Health Policy Platform, allowing stakeholders to share fruit and vegetable consumption initiatives and resources.
Additionally, this year in cooperation with Aprifel (the French Agency for Research and Information on Fruit and Vegetables), Freshfel Europe embarked on a three-year, European Commission-funded agricultural promotion program entitled Follow me to be Healthy to boost fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.5 million 18- to 30-year-old Europeans, the consumer segment with one of the lowest levels of consumption. The objective of this three-year information and promotion program (2019-2021) is to promote the supply and consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables in Europe with actions taking the form of an inspirational and engaging EU-wide social media campaign, supplemented by events on the ground.
The aim of the program is to increase awareness of the importance of consuming a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in diets and to stimulate the target audience’s consumption levels of fresh fruit and vegetables towards the recommended minimum intake level of 400g per day. European young adults will be invited to take part in the campaign and to eat at least 400g of fruit and vegetables per day via the tagline “Are you up to the 400g challenge?” The specific countries targeted in the program are France, Belgium, Italy, Poland and Germany. Follow me to be Healthy will be launched across Europe this summer.
Freshfel Europe’s members discussed opportunities on navigating this unpredictable business environment and stimulate consumption at its recent annual event in London. Specifically, Freshfel Europe analyzed promotion challenges and opportunities for the fresh produce sector during its open public conference and debating how to operate in the current turbulent global production and trade environment at the joint Fresh Produce Consortium-Freshfel Europe Seminar on Trading with the UK.
Philippe Binard is General Delegate for Freshfel Europe, the European association of fresh produce, importers, exporters, wholesalers, distributors and retailers, based in Brussels, Belgium.