Freshfel Consumption Monitor finds that fruit and vegetable consumption remains “well below” WHO recommendations

The outlook for consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables remains under pressure in the European Union.

Woman buying apples Adobe

This is the conclusion of Freshfel Europe’s Consumption Monitor after a review of trends across Member States, covering 75 per cent of the EU population.

”Despite a very positive momentum for consumption growth, many barriers are severely impacting the move towards a healthier and more sustainable diet for European consumers,” Freshfel stated.

Figures could decline

The latest findings from the Freshfel Europe Consumption Monitor have revealed that the average consumption for fresh produce stood at 364g/capita/day in 2021, a figure that could decline by around 10 per cent in 2022 once the final data is known.

Freshfel said that this was particularly worrying given it remained well below the minimum 400g recommendation of the World Health Organisation.

”These figures are driven by the low level of consumption by millennials and the youngest generations, which are tomorrow’s consumers,” the association explained. “Under the difficult economic conditions, the consumption among the low-income population is also of particular concern.

”Informing and engaging with consumers to choose healthy, affordable and sustainable diets was identified as a priority not only for Freshfel Europe but also for retailer organisation EuroCommerce and the consumer organisation BEUC who attended the meeting to share their perspectives.”

The economic crisis impacting all Member States because of the war in Ukraine and growing protectionism in the world have severely impacted consumer purchasing power and limited their food expenditure.

Consumer misperception

In times of crisis, consumers tend to move towards a less healthy diet, which is perceived to be more energy satisfactory and a cheaper food option.

“Consumers have a basic misperception about fruit and vegetable prices on the shelf in supermarkets,” said Freshfel Europe general delegate Philippe Binard.

”Fruit and vegetables are the most affordable products and have also undisputed health and environmental assets,” he continued. ”Price and value of fresh produce are both very attractive in the food assortment.

“Compared to other food categories, rises in fruit and vegetable prices have been lower than the average inflation. A diet with 5 portions a day or half of the plate with fruit and vegetables can be achieved by €1 or €2 per person per day.

”Comparatively, for public expenditure of social security, the cost of unhealthy diets results to be twice as high of the total food market value, corresponding to €6tn expenditure for social security in the EU according to the World Economic Forum.”

Freshfel said there was a need for the sector to bridge the gap between awareness of the benefits of fresh produce and concrete actions to be undertaken by authorities as well as by consumers.

According to a Eurostat survey, only 12 per cent of consumers across the EU reach their five portions per day and 33 per cent do not eat fruit and vegetables every day.

“It is important now to build on the renewed interest of consumers during the Covid-19 pandemic to take time to prepare, cook and eat a wide diversity of fruit and vegetables,” Freshfel said.

Essential element

Fresh produce has been demonstrated to be an essential segment of the food assortment and is part of the solution to the objectives of the European Green Deal (contribution to carbon neutrality and low CO2 emissions), the Farm to Fork Strategy (move towards a plant diet) and the EU Beating Cancer Plan (preventive role of fruit and vegetables for non-communicable diseases).

“Regretfully, policy makers fail to be coherent in the implementation of these strategies and lack ambition in their measures, which should use fresh produce as an essential driver for success for their strategies,” Binard commented.

Efficient promotion policy towards generation Y (millennials) and Z as well as education programmes in schools for generation alpha were crucial, the association said,  with sector’s role important in accompanying consumers to convert their awareness of the health benefits of fresh produce into concrete eating behaviours.

In addition, better communication with consumers on expectations regarding societal concerns, price and image misperception would remain key while providing attractive tastes, diversity and convenience of products, it noted.

“In this changing environment it is important to continue to build value for our products despite price becoming the sole priority of consumers,” Binard outlined. ”The affordability of fresh produce needs to be reminded to consumers and put in perspective of other food as being a cheap and healthy option.

”Consumers will have also to take their share of the rising costs for producers and other stakeholders in the supply chain to guarantee profitability and survival of the essential fruit and vegetable sector.”

Market size

In 2021, the market size for fresh fruit and vegetables amounted to 75m tonnes, made up of 11.6m tonnes from Italy, 11m tonnes from Germany, 10m tonnes from France, 9m tonnes from Spain and 7.2m tonnes from Poland.

The most consumed fruits in Europe in 2021 were apples, bananas, oranges, tables grapes and peaches/nectarines, while blueberries was the segment experiencing the most dynamic growth in many members states such as Germany and Poland.

For vegetables, tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, cucumbers and sweet peppers were the most consumed products respectively.

In the review, Freshfel Europe members confirmed that price was predominantly influencing the decision of consumers in recent months across Europe and consumers were buying less alimentary items.

“This trend is impacting the frequency and place of buying, where a concentration of purchase is occurring in the beginning of the month along with a reduction of ingredients and items purchased,” said Binard. ”Premium labels and organic sales are those segments declining more.”

Association members also reconfirmed that consumers remained adamant in buying local and seasonal, were eager to be informed about origin, variety, method of production, sustainable practices and when appropriate preparation or consumption tips.

”Freshfel Europe members remain confident that fresh produce consumption can be stimulated in the coming months by building partnerships across the supply chain with all actors, providing quality and affordable products, and giving confidence to retailers to build the share of the category as an essential part of a sustainable and healthy diet for European consumers in 2023,” the association added.