( Photo by The Packer staff )

The future food choices of consumers are difficult enough to predict based on their past behavior.

We know John likes Coke, but what will he think of this Orange Vanilla Coke? Who can know?

But that uncertainty is nothing compared with the fact that consumers can sometimes completely reverse their thinking. Who can anticipate when consumers come to a moment of sudden change? Perhaps John still loves Coke, but he has decided he won’t drink it anymore for health reasons.

Of course, it would be great for the fresh produce industry if John swore off Coke. He would likely be a prime candidate to eat more fresh produce, perhaps along with nutrient-infused fruit and vegetable juices and smoothies.

The point remains that any person can dramatically change their behavior if given enough motivation. 

While much of the processed food industry would probably like John and Jane Public to continue to eat mindlessly and avoid any pivotal moments of self-reflection, this is not the case for the fresh produce marketers. 

We should invite consumers to change their fast food ways and instead buy into healthy eating, calorie-counting and fruit- and vegetable-dominated shopping.

This change shouldn’t be motivated by fad diets, but a long-term view for a better life.    

A recent story in The Independent recounted a social media discussion on effective long-term strategies to lose weight. For example, one strategy is to help consumers understand the “energy balance” of calories in, calories out. As they say, “measure to improve.” 

Another idea is to prompt consumers to eat fresh vegetables when they crave a snack; vegetables can “trick” the stomach into feeling full faster than a share-sized bag of M&Ms.

I was looking at a study by Deloitte this week called the “Future of Fresh.” The white paper examined the future of fresh food from the demand side and the supply side.

According to Deloitte, about 31% of the consumers it surveyed were “forwards,” or the most progressive kind of consumers. 

These “forward” consumers are very committed to health and wellness, typically skew younger, show greater fresh food awareness, and have a strong willingness to purchase (but not always the means to do so).

So-called “followers” account for 47% of consumers, and are described as “not as enthusiastic” about health and wellness, but have a “balanced” attitude. 

“Neutrals” make up 22% of the population. These neutrals have the “lowest commitment” to health and wellness, preferring price and convenience over health. The fresh food awareness is the lowest compared to the other consumer segments, according to Deloitte.

Can the industry move “followers” to “forwards,” and goad those “neutrals” to “followers”? Have a Plant is a start, but I think the call to action should be even stronger. 

The Centers for Disease Control reports that the prevalence of obesity in 2016 was nearly 40% of the U.S. population, with consequences in obesity-related conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and more.  

Let’s talk to that 40% and invite them to change, for the better.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at [email protected].

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