Just when we start to think the produce industry is on an all-time roll of success and good news, we get brought down to earth.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows U.S. per-capita use of fresh vegetables down 5% in 2013 from 2012 and at the lowest level since 1998. 

Such widely consumed items as tomatoes, head lettuce, carrots, bell peppers, asparagus and sweet corn all posted losses from the previous year. Broccoli and potatoes realized gains.

How can this be when fresh vegetables are basking in such good light?

Part of the problem is the U.S. stagnant economy and rising food costs at retail. But that doesn’t explain it all.

A separate USDA report showed that prices aren’t rising as fast as one might expect.

While the drought in California is no doubt stressing growers, it’s not causing much price difference this year.

USDA reported fresh vegetable prices are up just 0.5% in May compared to a year ago. But fresh fruit is 7.3% higher in May than a year ago.

USDA set its inflation forecast for all fresh fruits and vegetables at 3% to 4% in 2014, which is higher than the 0.9% increase from 2012 to 2013.

The industry is making strides in food marketing, share of retail and foodservice accessibility, but it has to start solving this consumption problem.

It can’t ever let up on producing more products, less expensively and with higher quality.

Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.