Brace yourself: Americans consumed less vegetables in 2013. A lot less, in fact.

The dip was reported in a recent USDA ERS report, which reported that U.S. per capita use of fresh vegetables dipped 5% in 2013.

Preliminary numbers show per capita use of fresh vegetables (excluding potatoes and melons) in the U.S. totaled 138.8 pounds in 2013, down 5% from 145.5 pounds in 2012 and off 5% from 146.8 pounds in 2000, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. That preliminary number is the lowest per capita use of fresh vegetables since 1998’s tally of 136.1 pounds.

While the numbers are preliminary, one wouldn’t expect later revisions to be all that much different. Weather factors and yield swings mean we can’t read too much into a one-year nosedive, the numbers are not a good look for the industry.

The report reflected a decline in most of the major fresh vegetables tracked in 2013 compared with the previous year, including tomatoes (-3% to 19.6 pounds), head lettuce (-12% to 12.5 pounds), carrots (-4% to 7.6 pounds), bell peppers (-10% to 10.3 pounds) and sweet corn (-4% to 7.4 pounds). Other less consumed vegetables also showed declines, including asparagus (-5% to 1.6 pounds) and snap/green beans (-5% to 1.7 pounds).

Fresh vegetables that showed stable per capita use included cabbage (7.1 pounds) and cauliflower (1.2 pounds).

Fresh potato and broccoli per capita use was higher in 2013, according to the USDA.

Should the industry feel good about their position in the food marketing space now? Check out Dan’l Mackey Almy’s blog post  on “Will We Keep Our Seat at the Food Marketing Table?.” Will the use of smart tactics, consumer engagement through social media and building influence through marketing efforts by our leading fresh produce companies represent enough “heft” to compete with other food marketers?


 Another interesting tidbit from the same report shows that imports accounted for a record 27.3% of fresh vegetable use in the U.S. in 2013, up from 25.1% in 2012 and double the import share of 13.2% in 2000. When I started working for The Packer in 1984, the share of imports in total fresh vegetable utilization was about 10%.

A look at one of the extreme examples is particularly revealing. The import share of domestic utilization of fresh asparagus was 10% in 1980, 39% in 1990, 59% in 2000 and 90% in 2013. That’s right folks, the import share of fresh asparagus use flip-flopped from 10% in 1980 to 90% in 2013. Apart from value judgments and hand-wringing analysis, that swing is simply amazing.