Blog: Dean BestUK consumers to cut back on fruit and veg - and point to Brexit, study says

Dean Best | 18 July 2017

Whatever your view on Brexit, a piece of research issued today (18 July) in the UK on fruit and veg consumption will likely unite more of you than last year's divisive vote.

A study by market researchers Future Thinking suggests the fall in sterling and rise in grocery prices - both sparked in the main by the UK's decision last year to quit the EU - could "reduce healthy eating".

The researchers said a survey of just over 2,000 consumers showed only 28% of consumers plan to eat more fruit and vegetables this year, down from 34% in 2016 and 38% in 2015.

More than half of UK consumers say making healthy food cheaper would be necessary to encourage them to eat healthier, Future Thinking said.

A quick look at the (too many) images of your correspondent on this site shows an obvious place where a few pounds could be shed from the nation's waistline and, admittedly, fruit rarely appears in my shopping basket, although not for price-related reasons; veg simply tastes nicer.

However, without wishing to sound too hypocritical, such data really raises the hackles - and Future Thinking hits the spot when explaining its findings.

Catherine Elms, senior research director at Future Thinking, said: “With the falling pound putting greater pressure on the purse strings, UK consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy healthy options. The perception that healthy foods are considerably more expensive than unhealthy foods is a significant barrier that brands need to overcome, with two-thirds of consumers saying they see healthy foods as more expensive than unhealthy foods and over half saying they need healthy food to be cheaper if they want to eat healthier.”

Incorporating more fruit and veg into your diet, on a per unit basis, can be a cost-effective way of managing expenditure on groceries. It has become a misconception that fruit and veg are always more expensive.

However, the UK government and industry need to do much, much more here.

One, education is key. More investment in teaching in schools cooking skills and the link between diet and health is vital for shaping future eating habits. Industry can help here - and, for the enlightened among you, it could stand you in good stead to act proactively.

But, two, there is also work to be done by industry on the way promotions are targeted, with fewer discounts and offers on less healthy food and more on produce.

Frustratingly, at least for those of us residing in the English part of the UK, the Government's strategy to tackle child obesity, issued last summer, lacked tighter controls on promotions.

On a more positive note, Future Thinking's study showed one-third of consumers reduced the amount of sugar in what they eat in the last twelve months, while 25% have cut out snacks to stay healthy. Just shy of a third have made some effort to increase their fruit and vegetable intake last year, despite the price increases, the researchers said.

However, the findings on fruit and veg are worrying and, how ever you voted last June, if you care about the nation's health, they should be a cause for concern.

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