Julie Cleijne cropped

Julie Cleijne

Never before has the strong link between food and human health created such huge opportunities for fresh produce businesses.

Historically, there have been broadly two consumer groups: those whose buying choices have been influenced by food stories, environment, ethics and health over price and taste, and those who are more likely to prioritise affordability or flavour.

But now, more than ever, both of these broad consumer groups are motivated to live healthier lives. They see how they have the power to influence their health through their food and drink choices, where they have individual personal control. It feels achievable, and the impact on physical health can be directly seen.

This provides exciting opportunities for fresh produce businesses to help consumers understand the short and long-term impact of their eating habits on their health, and also the health of the planet.

But how do businesses speak about healthy food to consumers who have not previously had a culture of equating food to health? How can businesses facilitate these conversations?And what are the benefits?

As the current British Leeks Ambassador I have had the opportunity to promote leeks from a health and sustainability perspective – demonstrating that the entire plant is edible and highlighting the great naturally-occurring pre-biotic and gut health benefits for consumers and the NPD sector. For chefs, it’s also important to promote the vegetable’s versatility and availability for nine months of the year.

To demonstrate this versatility, one thing I did was create leek ‘wontons’ using the often-discarded dark green leek leaves, challenging traditional thinking, and create an exciting point of difference.

The more businesses are able to understand and showcase their uniqueness, the better they can build strong relationships with their customers – both consumer and wholesale – allowing them to protect margins, boost their bargaining power, raise their brand profile, and increase profits.

Traditional marketing incorporating annual exhibits or trade shows has already been disrupted through social distancing requirements, which is expected to continue for some time. A positive outcome from this is that marketing budgets can be diverted to innovative, health-centric approaches, including via digital channels.

With consumers engaging in more scratch cooking, businesses can tell their brand story in health-centric ways that consumers can relate to and implement easily in their lives.

In the out-of-home sector brands will need to cater well to these health-conscious consumers, and build closer connections with them, so that shoppers and diners understand their brand’s health credentials and become strong advocates and promoters of their products.

And let’s not forget your staff as customers. The more they understand your product’s health potential, the more they can be your biggest brand assets and advocates.

This opportunity to engage with customers on health issues is so fundamental that it has the power to transform agri-food and fresh produce businesses from straightforward suppliers to businesses that support our health and wellness. We should be aiming for food production that’s good for the health of people, the planet and business.

Staying relevant

Health Profits is a new regular column from nutrition-trained chef Julie Cleijne on connecting fresh produce with health and wellness. It will include insight into how businesses can appeal to both foodservice and consumer audiences, featuring recipes, short interviews and cooking demos on the FPJ website. It is designed to help your business remain relevant in our changing food landscape.

Cleijne is a naturopathic chef, and founder of Sustainable Kitchen Consultants. She works directly with farmers, foodservice, brands and independent retail to connect them to consumer needs, helping them become more sustainable and profitable.