Episode 146: The State Of America’s Fruit And Vegetable Consumption


Episode 146 Wendy Reinhardt Quote

Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, President and CEO of the Produce For Better Health Foundation, and return Produce Moms guest (check out episode 16 and episode 52), is serving up some interesting data about our current state of fruit and vegetable consumption. 

Every five years the Produce For Better Health Foundation commissions The NPD Group, an American market research company, to do research on America’s fruit and vegetable consumption trends, which includes consumption at home and away from home as a part of the State Of The Plate assessment. State Of the Plate started in 2005, with research going back to the early 2000s, so they’re able to track consumer trends across 20 years.

In the last five years the research has shown a gradual decline in how often someone is consuming a fruit and vegetable. Even with the rise in plant-based or plant-forward lifestyles, why is this? Wendy thinks it’s because this isn’t a habit that’s formed early on and therefore when someone grows into adulthood, they don’t have those healthy habits to keep growing on.

The research is based on volume data (consumption data from the government which is measured in cups) and even though the dietary guidelines for Americans is to make half of your plate fruits and/or vegetables, only one in 10 Americans is meeting that recommendation. This equates to a 10% annual decline in fruit and vegetable consumption by Americans every year.

Episode 146 Wendy Reinhardt Quote

The good news is we’ve seen an increase in how often fruit is being eaten as a snack and as a side, and before the pandemic, vegetable consumption was up in the food service sector. The downside? Once the pandemic happened, we lost options for veggies in public at restaurants and items like salad bars at school programs. There’s been an overall double digit decline in vegetable consumption with millennials and Gen Zers (who are younger parents) as well as a decline in juice.

So who is eating fruits and vegetables then? The one out of ten Americans that eat enough fruits and vegetables are eating them at every single meal and snack occasion. On top of it, the research is showing these parents aren’t as influenced by what their children say (like “mom, I don’t eat green stuff!”). These are also the types of people who are interested in trying new recipes, whereas people who aren’t eating enough fruit and veggies are more dependent on eating them away from their house and aren’t interested in trying new recipes.

How can we improve? Wendy says it’s not just about understanding how healthy and nutritious fruit and vegetables are, it’s about creating an enjoyable, pleasurable experience with them. If someone is enjoying the full experience of what they’re eating, they’re more likely to recreate the same behavior voluntarily. Parents of picky eaters, take note!

Wendy believes we need to leverage the types of emotions that appeal to all levels of consumers in all types of situations to help them create a new, pleasurable behavior, a new experience and therefore a repeatable behavior that becomes automatic. The “know, feel, do” approach is what makes this happen. One way to do this is to focus on complementary pairings. For example, the number one breakfast food people eat fruit with is cold or hot cereal. Only 10% of cereal consumers are eating it with fruit. It’s such a simple, enjoyable, repeatable meal pairing and hits a ton of emotional triggers that could make it a habit. If marketing efforts focused on reminding people to eat their cereal with fruit, we might see the data of fruit consumption increase.

The other opportunity we have is to start eating fruits and vegetables first as a part of our meal or snack. Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty in households right now and people are spending their grocery money differently, Wendy and Lori believe the myth that fruits and vegetables are expensive might be dispelled if produce was eaten first at every meal, instead of left to go bad and eventually be thrown out.

“There are other important spheres for which fruit and vegetable consumption could be very positively effectuated. That could be in the public health sector, the policy sector, retail sectors, the food service sector. There are other organizations and other leading voices that need to be a part of that coalition to then elevate this to a national priority.” – Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak (34:30-34:57)

What’s the Produce for Better Health Foundation doing to utilize this data positively and turn these numbers around? So far, PBH is applying the know, feel, do framework by sharing this research with important stakeholders like The Produce Moms, and using “everyone’s favorite” song lyrics paired with fruits and vegetables in digital marketing. Creating a catchy play on words can start to tie memorable, enjoyable emotions to eating fruits and vegetables. They’ve also formed a new scientific advisory council that will be looking at what behavioral levers to pull for each type of consumer (high, medium and low frequency fruit and vegetable eaters).

Want to do better at eating fruits and vegetables yourself, or improve your family’s habits? The Produce for Better Health Foundation recommends incorporating the “know, feel, do” method in your daily life! Have fun with your kids in the kitchen singing songs, cutting up vegetables and making a game out of their time spent with produce. Serve (and eat) fruits and vegetables before other parts of your meal and make it a habit to enjoy your produce in the ways you love most.

How to get involved

  • Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
  • Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.

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Episode 146 Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Instagram Card

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Author: Lori Taylor

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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