Increasing fruit and vegetable intake can play an integral role in improving the health and wellbeing of the consumer – but what about the function of the fresh produce industry itself? According to the National Farmers Union (NFU) in the UK, there’s a lot more that the sector could be doing to help facilitate a healthier nation
When it comes to public health, the NFU firmly believes the entire fresh produce trade should be fostering greater consumption of fruit and vegetables. Ali Capper, vice-chairman of the NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board, is passionate about what the organisation is doing to help make this belief a reality but, importantly, she is also urging people the length and breadth of the fresh produce supply chain to get involved and make a difference.
Back to basics
Capper, who grows top fruit and hops on her farm in Worcestershire, claims we live in a society full of “obesogenic” environments – that is, environments that make it easy for people to eat unhealthily and do little exercise.
If we consider how the average convenience store is usually laden with shelves full of chocolates, sweets, and crisps, she may well have a point. With that in mind, Capper argues that the fresh produce industry needs to cut through the confusion and “get back to basics” by encouraging our society to eat more fruit and vegetables.
Whatever your role in the supply chain – whether you’re a marketer, a packer or grower – Capper believes everyone has a “moral imperative” to do everything possible to increase consumption.
First, all sections of the supply chain are advised to start thinking differently about the way in which fruit and vegetables are presented to the consumer.
“We need to start making on-the-go eating a much healthier proposition with fruit and vegetables,” Capper says, adding that studies show increased fruit and vegetable consumption reduces the likelihood of becoming obese and developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
While the National Health Service (NHS) spends £5 million every year on these kinds of diseases, Capper points out that the UK population is only eating an average of three portions of fresh produce a day, rather than the recommended five portions. One reason for this, she says, is that more than one is six meals are eaten outside of the home.
Capper has firm ideas of how retailers, packers and growers can get actively involved to help improve public health.
Retailers – should concentrate on the ready-to-eat market, through initiatives such as introducing small snack packs containing fruits and vegetables. “More retailers are doing a good job of this but there’s a lot more work to be done,” she claims.
Packers and other members of the supply chain – can also work with their customers to create new innovations for consumers, so that people can eat fruits and vegetables “wherever” they are.
Growers – should start developing the discussions that will improve convenience packaging for healthy eating, as well as create more awareness of the nutritional value of their produce.
The NFU’s board for horticulture and potatoes is wasting no time in trying to achieve the overarching aim. It is concentrating on three core areas:
Ensuring the industry has clear and consistent messages within its healthy eating campaigns.
Influencing retailers to promote fruit and vegetable consumption by improving point-of-sale meals and product placement.
Encouraging producers to develop more consumer-friendly products to satisfy consumer demand for convenience eating.
So, what has the NFU done so far? “We have had a lot of meetings and different engagements and discussions, including [conversations] with AHDB Horticulture, talking about launching a study to really understand the healthy eating campaigns that exist – what’s good, what’s not working and why,” explains Capper.
“We have spoken with the British Growers Association about linking into any promotional activity that its organisations are doing too.”
The NFU has also met up with the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to better understand the health claims that the fresh produce industry can make. And, the organisation has sat down with the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) about a proposed ‘Healthy Eating Harvest Festival’ that would coincide with the National Fruit Show in October.
“Defra is also planning to hold a session in London involving different [government] departments to discuss and engage with British farming, in particular the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme,” reveals Capper.
On top of that, the NFU recently held a meeting with the organisers of the Food Dudes Programme, whose stated aim is to apply the science of behaviour change to improve children’s health and wellbeing.
“They have been going for a long time and are one of the most successful, scientifically robust school food programmes in operation,” Capper says. “We think they may help to get the healthy eating message out to members of education.
“It was a shock for me to hear the Food Dudes team tell me that they get feedback from parents where the parents did not realise they could eat a carrot raw, or that it takes just 20 minutes to cook a potato. We have nearly two generations of people who have grown up not knowing how to cook and we need to fix that.”
When it comes to encouraging the government to give more support to the Food Dudes Programme, the NFU claims to be “on the case” and has even been invited to join the Food Dudes team at an upcoming meeting with Public Health England.
The organisation is also working with Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) and the London Food Board to help educate London school children about farming. And Capper points out that the NFU got involved with BNF’s health eating week in June (2015), when fruit grower Anthony Snell held a webinar, which saw the importance of eating fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet discussed with hundreds of school children.
With so many organisations, schemes and programmes to tap into, there is ample opportunity for retailers to join marketers, packers and growers and play their part in nurturing a healthier nation.