Western Europe, the U.S. and Japan have all experienced declining consumption of fruits and vegetables in the past decade, despite government efforts to boost demand, Cindy van Rijswick, Rabobank analyst, said in a new report.
“The challenge for the fruits and vegetables industry is to close the gap between what consumers say they want and what they actually do,” she said in the report. “Surveys have shown that, in principle, consumers are positive-minded about healthy eating, but in practice they are easily swayed by creative marketing of processed food and beverages and exhibit a strong bias for convenience products”.
The report said that intake of fruits and vegetables remains below World Health Organization recommended levels in half of European countries and in the U.S. In what Rabobank called a “puzzling phenomenon,” the combination of health promotion, higher levels of trade and marketing innovation has failed to lift consumption levels.
Van Rijswick said it is possible that government campaigns to promote fruit and vegetable consumption are only now just beginning to have an impact.
“Maybe it takes a generation of people to change people’s eating habits, but I think the processed (food) industry is very powerful,” she said.
She said school programs to distribute free fruits and vegetables to schools are common to the U.S. and Western Europe, but it is too early to determine how the free fruits and vegetables change consumer demand when the children become adults.
Besides the marketing and advertising power of processed food, van Rijswick said consumers are motivated by convenience when they purchase food. While fresh cut produce items figure to benefit from that convenience trends, she noted that processed food manufacturers are trying to claim their products are healthy because they may contain some small amount of fruits or vegetables.
“In reality, many of these (processed food) products don’t contain many healthy ingredients,” she said. Even so, consumers may use those health claims to choose processed food over fruits and vegetables.
Consumers may also shy away from fruits and vegetables because of perceived higher costs, though Van Rijswick said in the report that retail prices for fruits and vegetables have increased at a lesser rate than processed foods between 2006 and 2011 in Western Europe and the U.S.