Consumers are overloaded with health information from manifold sources, but argues leading nutritionist Azmina Govindji, the fresh produce industry could make big strides by offering simple tips on how and why to eat more fruit and vegetables
A tomato at breakfast, some baked beans with lunch, a portion of broccoli at dinner, and grapes or apples as snacks – this, says award-winning nutritionist and registered dietician Azmina Govindji, is how consumers can incorporate five portions of fresh produce into their daily diet.
Admittedly, this doesn’t seem too complicated but the best-selling author of The Gi Plan claims consumers remain confused about the 5-a-day message.
“It’s because understanding [of this message] is very poor,” she explains. “What accounts for a piece of veg, for example? And how much is one portion?”
The “5-a-day” principle is based on the World Health Organisation’s 2003 recommendation that people should eat a minimum of 400 grams of fresh produce each day to stave off chronic diseases. “The UK chose to represent that as 80g times five portions a day,” she explains.
But, as the government’s recent National Diet and Nutrition survey reveals, only around a third of adults are actually eating five portions of fresh produce every day.
Govindji says that the fresh produce industry has a valuable part to play in helping consumers incorporate the recommended amount of fresh produce into their daily diets. This, she says, is because the public is getting confused by, and being overloaded with, health information.
For example, Govindji says according to a 2002 report by the American Dietetic Association, 43% of consumers like to hear about new [nutrition] studies, yet 22% claim to be confused by such reports.
Furthermore, Govindji explains that a study into consumer attitudes toward food safety, nutrition and health – published in 2012 by the International Food Information Council Foundation – claimed three out of four consumers feel changes in nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe, while half say it’s easier to do their own taxes than to figure out how to eat healthily.
“As confusion goes up, consumer confidence goes down,” says Govindji.
A simple approach
People would benefit from some practical advice on how best to incorporate fresh produce into their diets from those who know it best, she suggests. “People need a simple sort of approach to help them make sense of it. Instead of bread sticks with hummus, have vegetables. Eat a ready meal but put some veg in the steamer while you are at it.”
She cites several case studies that have successfully used this method to increase fresh produce consumption – or encourage people to eat more healthily. This includes the government’s Change for Life plan, which suggests ways of forming healthy-eating habits such as making all of your snacks fruit for 28 days, and the HGCA’s Shake Up Your Wake Up breakfast website. Govindji helped develop the latter, which uses colourful images to show people a range of nutritious breakfast recipes.
Consider your target audience
When thinking about the kind of information and handy tips it provides to consumers, Govindji advises the produce sector to consider its target audience. She uses the example of a typical consumer, whom she nicknames “Jackie” and explains her “key influencers”.
“Jackie,” says the nutritionist, “is a knowledgeable, young mum with a hectic lifestyle who watches her weight and is keen to look after herself. Jackie’s influencers – that is, her sources of information – are likely to be “Dr Google, social media, magazines and friends. The industry needs to take note of these key influencers and use them to engage with its target audience.”
Govindji has worked with the NHS (National Health Service) to create an NHS Choices YouTube video advising people on how to attain their five a day. She reveals that the video has received more hits than any other NHS Choices video to date. The renowned nutritionist therefore suggests the fruit and vegetable industry could follow suit and also use YouTube to help show consumers how to best utilise fresh produce.
“People just do not know what to do with a full head of your veg when they buy it,” she points out. “Ask yourselves: ‘How can I help people to do this better?’ If you can engage with them [consumers] by giving them knowledge, that would be great.”
Govindji says the industry can also engage with its target audiences by uploading pictures of their food onto social media sites. “Pictures of your healthy foods are really important,” she says – adding that Facebook and Twitter could be utilised better.
She gives the example of how fun Twitter chats have helped bring out the personality of the Brassica Association’s Love Your Greens brand. “You could all get in there – you could be part of that,” she says.
Govindji also uses the example of #RDUK – a monthly Twitter discussion about nutrition. Last February (2014), one such chat on the sugar debate involving 85 participants trended on Twitter for 45 minutes and reached 1.6 million people. “Jackie could be listening,” she says.
Key opinion leaders
As well as using social media tools such as Twitter to engage with consumers, the industry should also be engaging with what Govindji describes as “key opinion leaders” or KOLs. These are people or media channels that influence consumers’ food choices and include health bloggers and journalists, practice nurses and nutritionists, as well as websites and forums such as Mumsnet.
“Get bloggers in and get them to engage with you about how they can promote [your produce],” suggests Govindji. “Go to a nutrition or health conference and start promoting the good food that you produce.”
Govindji spoke at this year’s Brassica and Leafy Salads Conference