“Certainly, among the (cohorts), we looked at there was a clear trend of decreasing demand for younger, demanding less than older,” he said.
The report uses inferences from consumer expenditures to make inferences about the fruit and vegetable consumption.
Economists found a strong relationship between a household’s per-capita expenditures for fresh vegetables for home consumption and the head of household’s birth year.
“What the data tell you that people that are born in a certain time period behave similarly because of characteristics of life when they were born, and they carry those behaviors with them,” Lucier said.
Lucier said the data show that younger consumers who eat less than their parents eat will carry that behavior forward over time.
“If someone is eating fewer vegetables today, 20 years from now, they will still be eating fewer vegetables, and 40 years from now, they will be eating fewer vegetables,” Lucier said.
The study said marketplace could feel the effects in various ways. Compared to their parents, younger consumers may buy smaller quantities of fresh vegetables, purchase a narrower mix of vegetables that excludes expensive items, or both.
Unlike the 1960s, Lucier said modern lifestyles do not necessarily revolve around the family dinner hour. Vegetables that used to be eaten at home more often, such as turnips and sweet potatoes, are rarely purchased by the young.
Changing behavior may be more difficult and expensive, Stewart said.
“If people are eating on the go and eating out all the time, it kind of argues that you should try to get more fruits and vegetables in the foodservice arena,” he said. “The produce industry needs to work harder at getting restaurants and foodservice operators to use products.”
In addition, marketers could emphasize convenience of fresh vegetables for at-home use, Stewart said.
“Some innovations in fresh-cut produce had a significant effect on demand for fresh vegetables -- things like broccoli florets and bagged salads -- help to stimulate increased demand for fresh vegetables, and you would hope that more such innovations down the road would do the same,” Stewart said.
If prepared foods and away-from-home foods fail to fill the gap created by reduced demand for fresh vegetables at home, the report said government programs to educate Americans about the role of vegetable consumption to health might be important.