Originally printed in the April 2023 issue of Produce Business.
The average daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in Europe remains well below the recommended minimum of 400 grams (14 ounces) per person per day. Despite a positive momentum for consumption growth, several barriers remain, severely impacting the move toward a healthier and more sustainable diet for European consumers.
In the latest edition of our Freshfel Consumption Monitor, it is clear that even though a few member states show relatively good consumption levels of fresh fruits and vegetables, a large majority show an alarmingly low consumption rate, with 33% of EU citizens eating less than one portion of fruits or vegetables per day. Indeed, the Consumption Monitor shows that the EU average for 2021 was 364 grams per capita per day, a figure expected to decline by at least 10% in 2022.
The most consumed fruits in Europe are apples, bananas, oranges, table grapes and peaches/nectarines. Blueberries are seeing the most dynamic growth, especially in Germany and Poland. For vegetables, the most consumed products are tomatoes, cabbages, carrots, cucumbers and sweet peppers.
The Monitor shows the low consumption figures are driven down mainly by Millennials and the youngest generations — tomorrow’s consumers. We are also seeing a decreasing consumption rate among the lowest-income households, which is becoming of increasing concern.
The economic crisis impacting all Member States following the war in Ukraine, together with growing protectionism in the world, is severely affecting consumer purchasing power and limiting their food expenditure. In times of crisis, these consumers tend to move toward less healthy diets, which are perceived to be more energy-satisfactory and cheaper food options. This highlights a common misconception consumers have about fruit and vegetable prices. Not only do fruits and vegetables have undisputed positive health and environmental assets, but they are also among the most affordable food products.
Indeed, compared to other food categories, increases in fruit and vegetable prices have been lower than the average inflation. A diet with five portions a day, or filling half of the plate with fruit and vegetables, can still be achieved for approximately 1-2 euros per person per day. Comparatively, for public expenditure of social security, the cost of unhealthy diets tends to be twice as high as the total food market value, according to the World Economic Forum. This would correspond to 6 trillion euros in expenditure for social security in the EU.
The sector needs 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. It is important to build on the renewed interest that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic in taking the time to prepare, cook and eat a wide diversity of fruit and vegetables.
European fresh produce consumption is falling among younger generations and low-income households.
With our members, we have reviewed the latest drivers of consumption and confirmed that price is predominantly what influences the decisions of consumers. It impacts the frequency and place of buying, with a concentration of purchases being made at the beginning of the month, usually with a reduced amount of ingredients and items being purchased. We see that the sales of premium labels and organic are segments that are declining more than conventional products. Our members also reconfirmed that consumers remain adamant to buy local and seasonal, and are eager to be informed about origin, variety, method of production, sustainable practices and, when appropriate, preparation or consumption tips.
Still, the most recent data shows that consumption levels are in decline. The purchasing powers of consumers are under pressure, and purchasing patterns are changing.
In times like this, we must continue to build value for our products, despite price becoming the main priority for consumers. Consumers need to be reminded of the affordability of fresh produce, and it needs to be put in perspective to other foods as being a cheap and healthy option. Consumers will have 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 and the continued supply of fresh produce.
Fresh produce is part of the solution to the main EU objectives in health and environmental sustainability. Fresh produce has a small environmental footprint, for instance in terms of water and land usage as well as low levels of CO2 emissions compared to other food products. The objectives of the European Green Deal, the Farm to Fork Strategy and the EU Beating Cancer Plan all overlap with the traits and benefits of fresh produce, which must, to a greater extent, be considered as part of the solution. It is regretful that policymakers fail to be coherent in the implementation of these strategies, which should use fresh produce as an essential driver for success.
We at Freshfel Europe, along with our members, remain confident fresh produce consumption can be stimulated by building partnerships across the supply chain, providing qualitative and affordable products, giving the confidence to build up the category as an essential part of a sustainable and healthy diet for European consumers in 2023.
Philippe Binard is the general delegate of Freshfel Europe, the European Fresh Produce Association. This association is the European fresh fruit and vegetables representative body incorporating more than 200 members (associations and companies) from the fresh produce sector. Freshfel Europe works on topics related to fresh fruit and vegetables, including agricultural policy, trade, plant health, sustainability and nutrition, with a mission to promote consumption and build a strong and efficient fresh produce sector from production to retail.