Fresh produce consumption in Italy is languishing and consumers are not happy with the way fruit and vegetable taste is developing. Those are two of the key findings to have emerged from the latest study conducted by Italian food industry agency Ismea and fresh produce sector analyst Agroter’s Osservatorio Ortofrutta (Fresh Produce Observatory).
Further findings are due to be presented by the partners at the Macfrut trade fair in Rimini next week, during a special event entitled Think Fresh – Value at the Core.
The first quarter of 2018 has seen steady consumption in Italy in terms of fresh fruit and vegetables – including fresh-cut and nuts – but, as the Observatory’s data show, this continued to fall in value terms: in those first three months, the decrease was 2.5 per cent compared with the same period of the previous year, compared with a 0.7 per cent increase in the volume sold.
“The market for fruit and vegetables is characterised now by rapid changes,” comments Raffaele Boriello, director general of Ismea. “In the context of this interesting development, it confirms the importance of monitoring the dynamics in progress to understand better the sector’s evolutionary path.”
He added: “The agreement between Ismea and Agroter and the professional commitment made together in recent years has allowed us to create this relationship and to work together to share our knowhow.”
Roberto Della Casa, marketing professor at the University of Bolgona and founder of Agroter, said reversing the consumption slump remained a major challenge for Italy’s produce business.
“Even if this year’s Black January (volume -2.8 per cent, value -3.1 per cent) could be explained by comparing with the data from January 2017, when frosts skewed fruit and vegetable prices upwards, the negative trends in February and March lead us to believe that it is absolutely necessary to intervene to increased the perceived value of fruit and vegetables,” he observed.
“Nowadays, the only consumption increases are seen in the summer months, so due to the weather, rather than because of any structural factor: to boost consumption of fruit and vegetables we must work on value, we have dedicated Think Fresh to this crucial aspect of the future of Italian fruit and vegetables. We must put value at the centre of our strategies.”
Think Fresh will also present the most in-depth research ever conducted into fruit and vegetable purchasing and consumption habits in Italy.
In partnership with survey specialist Toluna, Agroter analysed the behaviour of a 3,000-strong representative sample of Italians who buy on behalf of their families.
“The response is crystal clear,” Della Casa suggested. “When asked to comment on the evolution of taste in various food products, Italians tell us they think quality characteristics have improved for currently fashionable products like artisanal ice cream, wine, beer and chocolate. This is something that does not happen for fresh produce.”
For example, the survey found that 33 per cent of Italians thought the taste of fruit had worsened, with 27 per cent saying the same for vegetables.
Going into more detail, those figures were 56 per cent for tomatoes, 54 per cent for strawberries, 36 per cent for apricots, 32 per cent for cherries and 29 per cent for melons.
“Freshness and taste are the two main drivers when it comes to consumption of fruit and vegetables,” Della Casa continued. “There is a significant proportion of Italians who say that products they’ve bought don’t even keep for long enough to eat them; but freshness is now considered a prerequisite for most foods.”
The fact that so many fruit and vegetable consumers appear unsatisfied with how those products taste is a major source of discomfort, he added.
The solution? A complete rethink of the supply chain aimed at guaranteeing fruit and vegetables with the right level of quality.
“[It’s] a path that must begin with genetics, extending to the qualification of work in the fields and the use of technologies that allow you to select fresh fruits with the appropriate standards, right up to promoting the value of these products in the store, giving them a name, a brand that consumers recognise and is a synonymous guarantee.”
Maicol Mercuriali is editor and social media manager at Italiafruit News, which is published by Agroter.