It’s true, sadly. Despite the best efforts of industry and government, per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables has slipped lower in the past decade.
In the U.S., U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show that all forms of fruit showed a decline in per capita availability from 285 pounds in 2000 to 258 pounds in 2010. Fresh fruit per capita availability was virtually stable at about 128 pounds in both 2000 and 2010.
In the vegetable category, the USDA reported all forms of vegetables showed an erosion of consumption from 424 pounds in 2000 to 393 pounds in 2010. For fresh vegetables, the USDA reported per capita availability dropped from 200 pounds in 2000 to 187 pounds in 2010.
A recent Rabobank report address the issue of fruit and vegetable consumption (all forms) in the U.S. and Western Europe and said that observes the decline and proposes a few reasons why. A news release about the report said that lower incomes and perceived price increases, along with competition from processed and convenience foods, were the biggest factors in the erosion of demand.
It is a little counter-intuitive that the Rabobank report urges the industry to move away from marketing based on health benefits. I don’t agree, for example, that ignoring the health benefits of blueberries or citrus is a winning formula. True, most consumers “already know” that fruits and vegetable are good for them. But shouldn’t fresh produce marketers try to maximize the health message to consumers rather than leave it unsaid?
Obviously, creating more convenient ways for consumers to access fruits and vegetables is critical (fresh cut apples can take a bow at this point) and implementing marketing campaigns that highlight the “convenience, taste, enjoyment and versatility of fruits & vegetables” seems logical enough.
But does the collective industry have the resources in place to accomplish such ambitions? Recent Produce for Better Health research showed that only 26% of moms were familiar with the brand. Though that is up substantially from a few years ago, the "Fruits & Veggies—More Matters" brand has not been backed by significant consumer advertising dollars.
Given the favorable winds of government support and consumer motivation to change their health outcomes, it seems incongruous that per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables is still declining. Yet it is so.
Government messaging has been stellar. Yet unless there is a massive and collective industry self-help effort to promote fruits and vegetables to consumers, there is little reason to be believe the trend of declining consumption will reverse itself.