NFU calls for healthy-eating push

Retailers and other food providers can and ought to do more to help consumers increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, according to a new report from the NFU horticulture & potatoes board.

Healthy eating: report points out that the 5-A-Day campaign has fallen short of achieving its dietary goal by 2015 - image: Morguefile
Healthy eating: report points out that the 5-A-Day campaign has fallen short of achieving its dietary goal by 2015 - image: Morguefile

"Consumers are aware of the importance of eating five a day but still fail to match this in practice," states Fit for the Future, published last week. "It is now more important than ever to enable consumers to eat more fruit and vegetables without making dramatic lifestyle changes." It argues that "new and innovative methods need to be developed and implemented by the whole industry" in order to increase consumption.

Latest Government figures show that UK sales of fruit are 14 per cent lower, vegetables five per cent lower and fresh potatoes 20 per cent lower than in 2007. Its 5-A-Day campaign, launched in 2003, aimed to achieve its dietary goal by 2015. "We are still a long way from achieving this," the report points out.

The report is based on a larger piece of work commissioned by the NFU from Dr Louise Manning of the Royal Agricultural University, published last month, that details factors limiting fresh-produce consumption and evidence for measures to boost healthy eating.

It found that a range of "nudges" can increase produce consumption, from educational programmes integrated with school canteen menus to convenience-based fruit and vegetable product lines as well as product placement, space allocation and in-store supermarket messaging.

Another of the report's recommendations is improved storage of fruit and vegetables in the home - "a crucial step to lengthen shelf life and maintain the quality of fruit and vegetables and help consumers save money too".

The need for such change is recognised across the developed world as obesity rates rise and diet-related health problems increase, it notes. Within the food service sector, it also urges health labelling of food products in vending machines, buffets and on menus as well as redesigned layouts of food service areas.

Board chairman Ali Capper, the driving force behind the report, told HW: "As growers, clearly we want this for commercial reasons, but there is also a moral imperative too and the health costs involved (in poor diet) are massive." Explaining the reception so far, she said: "We had a lot of support for this at a recent meeting of crop associations - for farmers and growers, this is kicking at an open door. But we have other big names supporting it too. We have been in front of a couple of major retailers recently with this to explain our proposals on multi-siting, pack labelling and point-of-purchase signage."

Retailers are already committed to playing a role in the push toward healthier eating though their public health responsibility deals with the Government, she explained. "This means they have to demonstrate how they are delivering against public health goals."

At a policy level the drive is also supported by the extensive body of research that the NFU has brought together, Capper pointed out. "Now we want to create a dialogue that creates ideas for retailers - it helps them if it comes from the bottom up, with the fresh-produce industry saying 'we could do this better'."

She added: "With the right convenience packaging you can get multi-siting in the store - for example, smaller pack sizes by the ready meals so they don't have to walk back to the fresh-produce aisle. If we were a brand we would want to be in different formats and all over the store. But for retailers, fresh produce is an own-label offering. Some are better set up for this than others, though almost all could do a better job. They could change their lunchtime meal deals tomorrow - their eat-on-the-go cabinets are already refrigerated. Why not have a good range of fruit and vegetable snack options to go with the sandwiches?"

Much of this is about keeping up with changing retail trends, she said. "For families, there's nothing wrong with a six-pack of apples or a kilo bag of carrots, but what if you live alone or just want something for now? As an industry, we don't do a great job for convenience retailers. Fresh produce is virtually non-existent in garage forecourts." In food service: "Why not make fresh produce the first thing the customer comes to? That would help them make better choices."

Capper, who took over chairmanship of the board last month, explained that this will be one of the board's three core themes over the coming months and years, along with supply chain issues and policy questions around labour and the environment, saying: "This is just the start."

Proposals - agenda set by Fit for the Future

? Position fruit and vegetables in front of customers across multiple parts of supermarkets — in multipacks, snack packs, lunchtime meal deals, alongside ready meals and at the checkout.
? Increase the fruit and vegetable presence in the growing snacks category.
? Make fruit and vegetable products more fun and appealing
to children, both at retail and
food service.
? Reformulate existing prepared foods by increasing fruit and vegetable content and include
more fruit and vegetable options in meal deals.
? Print storage instructions onto fruit and vegetable packs.
? Include a fruit and vegetable section in trolleys.
? Consider a rewards programme for purchasing healthy products.
? Increase staff knowledge about healthy food choices and nutrition.

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