Sainsburys Heaton Park

The rise home eating and a renewed focus on health augur well for fruit and vegetable sales in the coming months. But as the economic downturn worsens, retailers will need to become more price focused as consumers look to save money.

Speaking at FPJLive on 6 October, Joe Shaw Roberts of Kantar noted that new work patterns created by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to create long-term benefits for produce suppliers.

“Many people will probably continue working from home for one or two days a week. This means an additional £45m will be spent on take-home food each week, of which £9m is a realistic target for fresh produce,” he said.

After reaching for indulgent products such as ice cream during the early stages of the pandemic, Shaw Roberts noted that consumers – and especially families –are now reprioritising health.

“Targeting messages about health to families is going to be critical for the industry in the months ahead, so the message we really need to be pushing is that fresh produce is absolutely crucial to maintaining health diets and defending our immune systems against this virus,” he told delegates.

“The good news is that getting your five-a-day is the most important health need that consumers are focusing on, so you need to target families with this message.”

The UK is now 1.6 items of fruit and veg away from hitting the five-a-day target and based on the current growth trajectory this will be achieved by 2025. This translates to an extra £5bn in retail spend based on current prices.

Knowing which particular mealtimes to target will help the industry reach this goal. Shaw Roberts noted that while most people start the day with healthy intentions, this tends to fade during the day.

He believes that while there is potential to increase consumption at breakfast and snacking occasions, lunch will be the key contributor to growth as more of us work from home. According to Kantar, 20 per cent of vegetable consumption occurs at lunchtime and for salads this goes up to one-third, mainly because they offer a fast, practical and healthy option for consumers.

“The good news is that fruit and veg is critical to maintaining a healthy diet and protecting immune systems, and this is the key message to push,” Shaw Roberts said.

An exclusive study carried out by England Marketing for the FPJ appears to confirm people have become more health conscious and are cooking more from scratch. Presenting the findings at FPJ Live, Jan England said the pandemic could serve as a springboard for the produce industry and other institutions like the government, NHS and fitness industry to improve the health of the nation.

“Our research shows that three-quarters of people who bought more fruit and vegetables said they would continue to do so, and the industry needs to look at ways of capitalising on this, whether it’s focusing on seasonal products, reinvigorating promotions or through innovation,” she told delegates.

England suggested that celebrity endorsements could help drive new eating trends, such as vegetable smoothies, or using fruit in main meals and vegetables in baking.

The key, she explained, is in suppliers understanding the sector well enough to take advantage of new opportunities.

“In order to understand the motivations for buying more fruit and vegetables, the industry needs to invest in more research to track how people are feeling and what they will do next,” she said.

Sounding a note of caution, England pointed out that one-third of respondents in the study said if Brexit pushed prices up this would force them to reduce their consumption of fruit and vegetables.

“If it wants to avoid reversing all the good that has come out of Covid-19, the industry needs to work on reducing prices,” she concluded.


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