The health & well-being trend in food is well-documented but, as we’ve noted previously, eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day seems unattainable for most families across Europe. In the UK, consumption statistics are based on actual fresh produce purchases not on disappearance data (i.e. volume of production + imports – exports divided by population) which they are for most other countries and explains, in part, why Brits appear to score so pathetically on eating fruit and veg. But, increasing amounts of fresh produce are now being purchased in a fresh prepared/processed form and are not included in UK fresh produce consumption statistics.
In UK supermarkets, chilled food rules the roost. Many newer convenience stores have 50% of their shelves refrigerated to maintain the safety and condition of ready meals, sandwiches and, yes, smoothies, pressed juices, fruit and vegetable salads. Ah hah, a clear example of laziness and declining moral turpitude in modern consumers. Bring back the lash you say?! Of course, it’s responding to what they demand, viz. tasty, convenient, healthy meals, mini-meals and snacks.
Much more than price level, the major factor constraining consumption of most fresh produce items is their intrinsic inconvenience – to prepare, eat and consume on the run. So, the industry provides a solution – drink your fruit and veggies. They can even link to the current fashion of using ugly/misshaped produce and give the consumer an additional benefit of saving waste and the planet!
Branded companies are substantially better at communicating the consumer benefits of their products than commodity suppliers. Innocent comes to mind and its ability to relate to a younger consumer base and link its products with worthy campaigns (e.g. putting little wooly hats on smoothie bottles in the Winter and charging 25p extra which goes to supporting an old age charity). Fresh fruit juices and smoothies led the pack in earlier years but were whacked heavily by revelations of their high sugar content and reduced health benefits because of fibre removal in processing. Now, vegetable-based smoothies/juices are all the rage (tipping our caps to the venerable V8 juice which is 67 years old) and the product offering is becoming increasingly sophisticated with cold-pressed juices (stealing some of extra virgin olive oils’ thunder), and “banana-free” and “celery-free” products showing that it’s just not gluten and lactose that have the mark of the devil!
What’s the impact of this fresh processed trend for the regular fruit and vegetable market? Likely not much in terms of volume loss, although the indicators of consumer preference for easy-to-eat produce have been well-signaled – e.g. the fastest growing fresh fruit categories over the past 10 years in the UK have been fresh berries and grapes (so easy to snack) and the slowest has been traditional citrus (isn’t life too short to peel an orange?!). The loss for the traditional produce players is in high value customers; those that are younger, higher income, less price sensitive and, importantly, higher margin for the business. Retail shelf space will expand for higher value products at the expense of the traditional. The humble traditional fruits and vegetables will be left for those that have to chew their way to 5-a-Day one carrot and one turnip at a time. There’s a serious social problem here: those consumers that are furthest away from eating recommended levels of fresh produce are those that can least afford the convenience offer. For society’s and the traditional produce sector’s best interests, we need to be creative in crafting an offer for them that meets their pocket book and purchase preferences.