Consumer perceptions of fruits and vegetables as healthful is slipping, whether it’s fresh, fresh-cut, canned, frozen or in juice form, according to a survey from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Primary Shoppers’ Attitudes and Beliefs Related to Fruit & Vegetable Consumption 2012 vs. 2014” shows mostly positive attitudes about fruits and vegetables. More than 80% of primary shoppers said they think it is important to eat fruits and vegetables and 74% found them enjoyable to eat, according to a summary of the report from the Hockessin, Del.-based PBH.

But according to the study, consumers view all forms of fruits and vegetables less favorably than two years ago. Specifically, the survey of 600 adults found that 91% of consumers viewed fresh fruits and vegetables as healthy, down slightly from 95% in 2012. Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables also slipped in consumer perception, with 65% of consumers considering that category healthy compared with 75% in 2012.

For 100% juice products and canned fruits and vegetables, consumer attitudes eroded even more severely. One-hundred-percent fruit and vegetable juices were rated healthy by 65% of consumers in 2014, off from 79% in 2012. Only 30% of consumers rated canned fruits and vegetables as healthy, down from 38% in 2012. Frozen fruits and vegetables were considered healthy by 65% of consumers in 2014, down from 73% in 2012.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of PBH, said she isn’t sure why the rankings are slipping. Researchers did change the methodology, interviewing consumers over eight months in 2014 rather than just one month in 2012, but Pivonka said analysts that didn’t account for the lower numbers. In regard to canned fruits and vegetables, a few consumers may be reacting to the controversy of the chemical BPA, while others could be concerned about sugar and sodium levels, she said.

“The primary culprits in the American diet for sodium and sugar are not canned vegetables or canned fruits, so we’re trying to make sure health professionals get that message,” she said.

Pivonka said PBH is planning a Web seminar to discuss findings from the report and an earlier study about mothers’ shopping preferences.

It was discouraging to see declines in consumer perceptions, Pivonka said, but consumers who buy different forms of produce tend to eat more.

“The fact that consumers who had all forms in their home were the ones more likely to be eating fruits and vegetables — that’s a key piece I thought was good,” she said.

“Even though there was some negativity about other forms of fruits and vegetables, one thing that continued to go up was (consumer) reaction to More Matters,” she said.

The survey found 27% of consumers making less than $50,000 were aware of the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign, up from 17% in 2012.

“The lower-income consumers seem to be more interested in eating fruits and vegetables in 2014 than they were two years ago,” Pivonka said.

Consumers in the survey cited different preferences in their family as the biggest barrier to consumption (47%), followed by cost (46%), spoilage (44%) and lack of preparation ideas (40%).

Other highlights from the report:

  • Shoppers report eating more fruit and vegetables each day in 2014 than in 2012, though half of them believe they still eat too few;
  • Roughly one in three consume less than a cup of fruit and a cup of vegetables each day;
  • One in four primary shoppers thinks eating fruits and vegetables is a chore and don’t know how to prepare them;
  • Concern about spoilage is cited as more of a problem in 2014 than in 2012;
  • Primary shoppers report that TV news segments, supermarket flyers or newspaper ads, and in-store display signs are the most effective ways to relay health messages; and
  • Lower-income households consume fewer fruit and vegetables than higher-income households, yet they equally perceive that they consume enough.