The Race to Be “Best in Fresh”!

Do you eat your “5-a-Day”? If you do, you’re in a small minority – the shocking truth is that less than 10% of UK pre-teens and 35% of adults do so! Most of us crave guiltily for salty chips yet potatoes are not even an eligible vegetable in the UK 5-a-Day lexicon. We’re not alone – only 6 of the 28 EU countries meet the WHO target and we are shamed by consumers in Asia who have double the per capita consumption of fruit and vegetables than we do (mind you, North Americans are even worse than us which is cold comfort!).

Morrisons is the British retailer trying harder to excel in fresh products.

Morrisons is a British retailer trying harder to excel in fresh products.

Enough of the negative, the fact of the matter is that:

  • we all know we should eat more fresh produce (and do more exercise, too);
  • in Europe, fresh fruit is our favourite and most consumed snack and fresh vegetables are our fifth (with chocolate, cheese and yoghurt taking the intervening positions) and snacking is seriously “on-trend”;
  • trending strongly, too, is fresh food with few and “clear & clean” ingredients – when you buy a punnet of fresh berries that’s exactly what you get and not a list of unpronounceable chemical additives;
  • in the UK produce consumption would surge if we could accelerate presentation of it in a form that meets consumers’ lifestyle needs, i.e. as meal/snack solutions rather than compound their meal/snack problems;
  • we are exhorted by worthy agencies to increase our fresh produce consumption and inundated in the media by fresh fruit and vegetable images from companies unrelated to the produce industry who wish to benefit from the halo effect of “fresh”;
  • retailers see fresh food in general and fresh produce in particular as one of the increasingly few ways that they can differentiate their offer from competitors and show off their food expertise – it’s not by accident that fruit, vegetables and flowers are the first products seen by shoppers as they enter most stores;
  • and the intrinsic seasonality of produce can add retail theatre if managed well as nature requires us to change our product offerings; although 52 week availability and lack of basic food education has done its damndest to destroy even the most simplistic consumer understanding of eating what’s in season.

The renaissance of both consumer and retail interest in seasonality of produce is good for our health and good for supply chain members’ businesses. “First of the Season” fruits and vegetables are often the heroes of retail displays which can add much needed sparkle to the weekly drudgery of supermarket shopping …….. as long as those first long-awaited fruits actually deliver on juiciness and taste. Succulent fruits are a particular case in point where, too often, hope triumphs over experience (insipid peaches and nectarines, and perfectly round, perfectly red perfectly tasteless wasserbombe tomatoes come to mind). Forcing produce seems as unhelpful as forcing people – the result in both cases being a reluctance to deliver what was promised, although rhubarb may be an exception!

Waitrose was the first retailer to offer British grown raspberries this year.

Waitrose was the first retailer to offer British grown raspberries this year.

With shopper surveys around the world showing burgeoning interest in fresh food and, particularly, home-grown produce, shoppers can be too easily confused with an excessive SKU range. In his landmark book, “The Paradox of Choice”, Barry Schwartz warned of increasing shopper anxiety with too much choice – shopping for bagged salads, tomatoes, potatoes, and apples in some UK supermarkets induces neurosis when facing a wall of indistinguishable produce! But an additional confusing element for fresh produce shoppers is that one variety does not necessarily deliver the same benefits (taste, texture, etc.) week in week out – which is why putting a brand on a product grown in the ground which is open to the elements is so challenging. The Pink Lady apple brand has managed this well but it’s moot whether, say, Waitrose’s Leckford Estate-grown heritage varieties can do so, too. Romantic these old varieties may be but, like Summer holiday love, their allure may not be long-lasting!

Pink Lady Apples. Great thanks to be constant in good flavour!

Pink Lady Apples. Great thanks to be constant in good flavour!

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Posted in Credentials, Fresh Products

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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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