This is a guest blog post by Eve Pearce:
Overcoming Barriers to Fruit and Vegetable Purchasing to Increase Consumption
A 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted that only a third of American adults meet recommendations for daily fruit intake and even less for vegetables.
This is despite widespread delivery of the message that we need to eat more of this important food group. Food choices are complex and rarely do people make a purchase based on nutritional considerations alone; fruit and vegetables are no exception.
Knowledge of the factors influencing people’s purchasing of fruit and vegetables isn’t just important to those working within the area of health promotion. It’s also relevant to those within the fruit and vegetable industry, who also have a role to play in increasing the nation’s intake of their produce.
From this, it’s possible to identify how these barriers can be overcome through the use of practical measures that have the potential to influence fruit and vegetable consumption.
A good overview of this subject was published by a team at the University of Leeds in the UK in 2002, which evaluated 494 global articles relevant to factors influencing fruit and vegetable intake. This highlighted a number of common themes that had been consistently shown to impact on someone’s choices in relation to fruit and vegetables. Since then further research has added to our knowledge of the subject. Here we take a look at these influencing factors and suggest the application of this knowledge for increasing purchasing by the public.
With those on the lowest incomes, price is the most important factor influencing the purchase of fruit and vegetables. Indeed a recent Dutch study showed that when 50% discount coupons were provided to be redeemed against fruit and vegetables, this increased the amount bought each fortnight in comparison to the provision of extra nutrition advice, which had little impact.
With imported goods available all year, consumers have perhaps forgotten which fruit and vegetables are in season at any particular time. Use of seasonal crops grown close to home offers far better value for money to consumers, allowing them to purchase more fresh produce on each trip to buy their groceries. Education of consumers on this point, therefore offers great potential to boost fruit and vegetable consumption. This is particularly relevant to people within lower socioeconomic groups who are statistically more likely to suffer chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, for which fruit and vegetable intake can offer a degree of protection.
This is a factor which again has greater impact on those with the lowest incomes, who are less likely to have their own transport and therefore rely more on local convenience stores, which are less likely to sell a range of fresh fruit and vegetables.
However, this could equally be the case for seniors and those with medical or physical disabilities who tend to shop closer to home. Local stores as a general rule stock a lower variety of produce which is more expensive, so consumers are penalized for their necessity to use these outlets. Working with community groups to set up local fruit and vegetable co-operatives, where local people have access to fresh produce at a reasonable price, is one possible measure.
Sensory appeal, habit and advertizing
The quality of their appearance and taste are the two most important sensory factors when it comes to deciding which fruit and vegetables to buy, though texture and smell are also taken into consideration. It is well appreciated that taste can be a barrier to the consumption of produce with a bitter taste; an American study from 2010 highlighted this as an important factor in fruit and vegetable consumption.
However, a Danish study from 2011 found that possession of the gene that makes us sensitive to the bitter taste of the glucosinolates in the likes of cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli does not necessarily reduce consumption of these. It is understood that it can take up to twenty tasting occasions for a food initially considered as unpalatable to be accepted, though people may not be inclined to persevere.
Out of habit – another influencing factor – they choose to stick with familiar items, which a Canadian study from 2010 identified to get in the way of broadening fruit and vegetable consumption.
Whilst every effort is made to ensure that fruit and vegetables reach the point of sale in good condition – ticking the box for visual appeal – retailers perhaps need to interact more with their customers to demonstrate how less widely used fruit and vegetables can be incorporated into dishes. The availability of leaflets that detail recipes is always popular with consumers, so the distribution of these to outlets for how specific fresh produce can be used at mealtimes is an additional idea. Both could be considered as a means of advertizing, as unlike branded snack and convenience foods, fruit and vegetables receive comparatively little. The message relating to the benefits of these is being put across, but a practical focus is also needed if strategies to raise fruit and vegetable consumption are to be a success.
Whether someone eats alone or with others also influences whether fruit and vegetables are included with meals. A piece of research from 2012 showed that children are less inclined to have vegetables if eating by themselves in comparison to if parents or friends were present at the meal. Earlier studies have shown the same to be applicable in adults, so promoting the benefit of eating together socially may be of value in relation this.
The finding may in part be determined by social pressures, where people conform to what is expected, though social support is also thought to play a role.
Researchers from Maryland who investigated psychosocial factors in relation to fruit and vegetable intake found those who had more social support were more likely to eat vegetables, indicating that with social backing, it may be easier to implement dietary changes.
It also appears that fruit and vegetables are viewed by men as less appropriate for their gender – last year a team of American researchers showed that men didn’t view vegetables as being manly, instead preferring to focus on meat at meals. Using marketing strategies that show fruit and vegetables as potentially benefiting factors such as improved appearance and sporting performance, in addition to health benefits, may help; few men realize their nutrient content can benefit these areas. While effective supplements can boost hair growth and muscle bulk, what better way than through their diet?
The time taken to shop, prepare and cook vegetables has often been cited as a reason for not eating more of them, as owing to their perishable nature it is generally regarded that they need more regular purchasing, meaning more trips to the grocery store. When the extra time perceived to purchase and prepare fruit and vegetables is combined with hectic lifestyles, this discourages their consumption.
In part this has led to some people choosing to use pre-prepared items such as ready washed salad leaves or chopped vegetables, canned or frozen versions. While these offer more convenience, this comes at a price. Demonstrations within grocery stores can show how easily fresh produce can be prepared, dispelling myths in relation to this, as well as providing guidance as to how each item should be correctly stored to maintain freshness and therefore reduce shopping trips. Brief information guides about fruit and vegetables at the point of purchase could alternatively provide this.
With so many factors influencing consumer decisions in relation to fruit and vegetables, the task of increasing consumption is a challenge. However, for each, there is a possible solution.
Note on the author: After graduating in health sciences, Pearce has worked as a freelance writer for almost a decade, writing articles that aim to educate and inform readers about the benefit of a healthier lifestyle to physical and mental well-being.