Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer

The message that fruits and vegetables are healthy and you should eat more of them seems to have fallen on deaf ears, if consumer actions are any indication.

During the past decade, per-capita vegetable consumption has remained relatively flat, according to a recent report from Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory group.

That’s in spite of a 2010 survey by the Produce Marketing Association that found most consumers ranked eating healthier as the top reason for purchasing fruits and vegetables.

Where Rabobank sees potential growth for the vegetable industry is in the marriage of health and convenience in value-added products, such as salad kits and microwave-in-a-bag vegetables.

“We see both health and convenience as the main two drivers for the next five years of growth,” said Karen Halliburton Barber, Fresno, Calif.-based assistant vice president and senior agricultural analyst for the Rabobank advisory group.

“If grower-shippers haven’t entered into the value-added arena, they may want to consider doing so.”

The report also predicted opportunities if healthy convenience is melded with new flavors or cultural preferences.

Weight watching

Rabobank’s report is timely and coincided with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weight of the Nation Conference, May 7-9, in Washington, D.C.

At that meeting, Duke University researchers predicted that 42% of the U.S. population will be obese by 2030, up from 36% in 2010.

Put into hard numbers, that could mean 32 million more obese people by 2030 on top of the current 78 million.

(The CDC considers a person obese if their body mass index — which factors in height and weight — is 30 or higher. A person is considered overweight with a BMI of 25-29.9.)

Following on the heels of the conference was the four-part HBO mini-series “The Weight of the Nation,” which aired May 14 and 15.

Among the many themes of the special were weight loss, eating better, moving more and an attack on much of the food system.

Rabobank’s report also comes at a time when more women than ever are working outside the household.

Although many of these women say they want to make healthy meals for their families, they’re pressed for time.

It may be easier to go through the drive-through and pick up a bag of burgers or a bucket of chicken than to come home empty handed to face, “I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

Promoting convenience alone has worked against produce demand in the past, with fast foods and processed foods winning out, according to the Rabobank report.

Just look at the countless hours and dollars the U.S. Potato Board has invested trying to reinvent the potato to make it more attractive to time-pressed household cooks.

A recent New York Times article reinforced that notion by finding that “real” food costs no more than processed or fast food. But the time it takes to cook fresh vegetables is a deterrent.

Add the two together — health and convenience — and you may just have the needed synergies to bolster per-capita vegetable consumption.

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