The concerns among traders in Europe fresh produce industry tend to mirrow those in the U.S. Here is a summary of a May 2009- through April 10 activity report from Freshfel Europe, the European Fresh Produce Association.  Note the frustration with sagging consumption, false consumer perceptions and the messaging by  both industry and the government. The challenges of budget deficits, sagging currencies and stumbling economies are shared by the world now, but so is the hope for new inroads in providing more access to fruits and vegetables to children and growing long term demand.

An excerpt:

Ramon Rey, ARC Eurobanan / Total Produce President Freshfel Europe

The “laissez faire” policy of the past has suddenly shown its weaknesses. Authorities are now taking corrective actions to safeguard the functioning of the banking system, to regulate financial markets and exchange rates, and to introduce new budgetary discipline which might impact on the public support currently granted to agriculture, health or research.

Closer to us, authorities are also looking at actions that could be taken to move towards a better functioning of the food supply chain. As the Euro is coming under pressure, adjustment measures are being planned across Europe to control  Member State deficits and to restore confidence in the European currency.

While a weaker Euro temporarily improves the competitiveness of our exports on the world market, the plan to remedy the national deficits will probably come with painful measures which might further impact on the purchasing power of consumers.

This complex social and economic environment is coming upon the confirmation from the latest edition of Freshfel’s Consumption Monitor that fresh produce consumption across Europe continues to be at best stagnating and in many cases shows dangerous declining trends. Today, regretfully, we must note that citizens of 15 Member States out of the 27 are not eating on average the minimum 400 grams per day recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The above situation is reinforcing my belief that our association needs to be increasingly proactive in communication and enhancing the image of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the past years, fresh fruit and vegetables have often been depicted as being expensive, as being unsafe given the presence of pesticide residues or as having lost  nutritional value.

Not only are these statements incorrect and need to be rectified, but they should also be counteracted by an increased support from public authorities to better communicate on the health assets of fresh produce. Besides this, in a time when the climate change debate is at the top of the European and international agenda, the positive  contribution of our products compared to other food items should also be highlighted. Indeed, fresh produce is comparatively a low water user and low CO2 contributor.

One should also demystify the perception that fruit and vegetables are “travelling” too much as indeed the bulk of consumption across Europe is local. Looking internally within the EU, 62% of fruit production is consumed or processed in the Member State where it was grown, while 78% of vegetable production is consumed or processed locally.

The  intracommunity  trade and imports complement this local sourcing. In regard to third country imports, fresh fruit imports into the EU represent up to 12% of consumption, but over half of these imports refer to exotic produce not grown in any great quantity in the EU. In regard to vegetables, only 2% of the EU consumer assortment is imported. The association, together with the national associations, has a responsibility to provide the most favourable environment for its operators and to secure a regulatory framework that reflects the need and expectation of the sector. In the past 12 months,

Freshfel has been looking at a wide range of issues ranging from quality, to sustainability, nutrition, health claims, trade concerns, methods of production, promotion policy and the School Fruit Scheme as well as looking at new market segments, such as the foodservices area. Many dossiers are ongoing and will continue to be on the association’s agenda. Most of these topics represent challenges for our companies individually but in many respects these issues can be better tackled collectively by Freshfel. I greatly appreciate in this respect the good triangular cooperation between the individual companies, the national associations and the European umbrella association. I also welcome the spirit of cooperation among the membership regardless of their representation of a particular market segment.