Consumer Demands in Fresh Produce: A Retailer's Guide
Consumer demands rely on price, quality, consumer confidence and cultural trends. The notion of ‘value’ in fresh produce has changed since the dawn of the 21st century. This piece looks at what demands were, what they are now and how retailers can prepare for future consumer trends.
Consumer Demands in Fresh Produce: The Last Decade
An enduring theme this century has been one of health. We have witnessed healthier eating, healthier living and the building of healthier habits. 2013 saw an average of 26% of adults in the UK consuming five or more fruit and veg a day. This rose to 28% in 2018, with female adults eating more and men and young people eating less. As education grows on healthy eating principles, this trend is likely to stay.
Demand for exotics has risen in the fresh produce sector and exotics sales have become increasingly diverse in the last decade. In 2016, produce that could be grown in the UK was seeing major drops in production and was aligned with lower demand for local produce. Vegetables like mushrooms, brassicas and lettuce were being exported at higher rates, despite the possibility of being grown in the UK.
An aim for the rest of the decade was to increase demand for home-produced, sustainable horticulture. Also, to promote higher consumption of fruit and veg among UK citizens. As we will see later in this piece, the demand for local has risen and leading retailers are riding this trend.
Demand for fresh produce was slightly lower in the last decade. This was due to less focus on healthy eating. The demand for local, ethically sourced and sustainable produce was also lower.
What are the factors affecting the consumer demands for fresh produce?
Today, demand has complex roots and the notion of value for fresh produce has changed. Value for the UK market involves convenience, price, ethical/sustainable sourcing, and quality. Demand in 2022 must also consider recent events like the pandemic, Brexit, growing environmental awareness and war.
During the pandemic, Emma Richards from Tesco’s produce buying category mentions: “We were seeing extremely strong demand for UK-grown vegetables used in roasts, stews and soups so it looked as if many people were going back to old family recipes or digging out cookery books since they had more time at home.”
Branston, a leading potato supplier, mentioned that the demand for warmer meal occasions was higher, with roast dinners being particularly popular. This demand peaked during the pandemic. But, as the number of people working from home remains high the trend of warm and homecooked meals will stay. Thus, fresh produce like potatoes, onions and garlic will remain in the top 10 vegetables in demand.
The pandemic also gave people more time to cook but many still wanted the convenience and efficiency of the ready meal. Instead of ready meals, retailers have seen a rise in demand for pre-prepared fresh produce. This gives consumers the chance to make an easy meal while still seeing the raw ingredients and making the meal themselves.
Pre-prepared veg mixes often include casserole veggies like carrots and onions and Mediterranean mixes like onion, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes.
Contemporary Factors to Consider
2022 has some unique factors affecting consumer demand such as:
Cheap has always been in demand. But, with growing socio-economic pressures, we see a pressing need for affordable, local, and sustainable. The difficulty is that cheap methods of providing sustainable produce are proving difficult.
Recent Consumer Demands for Fresh Produce
Among current trends, we have seen a change in consumer demand for local, organic, and exotic produce as well as an increase in digital retail.
2021 saw the highest demand for fruit and veg in the UK this century, which is good news for fresh produce. 2022 has experienced rising costs of living in the UK and more people are entering the ‘food insecure’ bracket.
Food Insecurity and the Search for Cheap Produce
The food insecure are urged to buy basic brands and simple meal ingredients. This means that cheap and off-brand fresh produce is increasing in demand.
Currently, it is even more important to reduce waste in the fresh produce sector. Many children are turning up at food banks with empty lunchboxes and 2 million adults in the UK went without food for at least a whole day in April 2022.
Local Produce and Sustainability
There is a growing demand in the UK to buy locally sourced food.
Climate change, Brexit and the pandemic have all been driving factors in raising this demand.
A 2020 study for Waitrose found that 75% of consumers wanted to see more supply from British farmers. The study also found that searches for British vegetables on their website were up 200%.
This consumer demand also affected the food buyers. Sodexo’s research suggests that UK food supply chain heads are looking to source more food domestically (35%).
Fortunately, Britain’s top 10 most popular vegetables can all be grown in the UK climate, and this may act as an incentive to meet locally sourced fresh produce demands.
Leading retailers like Aldi are making serious steps towards a more locally sourced fresh produce sector. In 2021, the Hereford times quoted that “Aldi has announced plans to increase the amount of food and drink it buys from British supplies by £3.5bn a year within the next five years as it continues its rapid expansion across the UK.”
Tied in with the demand for local produce is a growing market of more sustainable consumers. Deloitte found that in 2021, 51% of consumers bought more seasonal produce, 48% bought more locally sourced goods and 39% reduced consumption of meat and animal products. This reduction in demand for meat is in keeping with the vegetarian and vegan trends we laid out in our last article.
A consistent value that customers have wanted to see in brands is reducing waste in the manufacturing process and supply chain. For retailers wanting to be part of a more efficient supply chain, FruPro offers helpful solutions to reduce waste and raise efficiency. More on this later.
Consumer Demand for Exotics
Contrary to the desire for local produce, exotic fruits are still rising in demand. Drewery’s Reefer Annual Review and Forecast 2020/21 report stated that seaborne trade in exotic fruits outgrew that of all other major commodity groups.
Seaborne trade of exotics rose at an average annual rate of 5%. But it takes many years for trees to bear these fruits, so this trend cannot have occurred overnight. It is the product of many years of rising demand in the UK.
The pineapple trade has slowed, but mangos, persimmons, durians, and avocados have seen soaring demand. In 2019, mangos were the second-largest exotic fruit export after pineapples with 1.3 million metric tonnes of seaborne traffic. There has been an average annual growth rate of 5.2% over the previous 10-year period.
So, on the one side, we are seeing an increase in demand for locally sourced fresh produce but on the other side, a continuous and steady rise in demand for exotics. Therefore, it is fair to say that overall demand for fresh produce, whether local or exotic, has increased steadily the last decade.
According to Soil Association’s research, the UK market reached its highest growth rate for organic produce in 15 years in 2021, outperforming the non-organic sector. The organic sector reached a market worth of £2.79 billion. The same report also found online sales of organic produce increased by more than a third in 2021.
The rise in demand links to a desire for transparency, integrity, and quality. These factors are often associated with organic fresh produce. Further data released this year (12th May 2022) by Defra found that UK organic land significantly increased in 2021 and marginally increased the year before.
In 2021, the area of organic land in the UK rose by 3.6% and in 2020 it rose by 0.8%.
Fruit and Veg Deliveries
As we have just seen, online sales for organic produce rose and the level of online shopping for fresh produce has also risen dramatically. Although the total use of online channels currently holds a small share of the total market, online fresh produce buying is expected to increase.
As stated in a recent McKinsey and Co report “online [shopping] could account for up to 18 to 30 percent of the food-at-home market in some leading European countries… fuelled by evolving customer expectations, increased competition, and technological advancements.” We have seen evidence of this with the rising popularity of online grocers such as Gorillaz, Getir, Stuart and others, who provide a range of fresh produce, usually delivered within thirty minutes.
The surge of online orders has forced supermarkets to make drastic adjustments, including partnering with fast-delivery platforms like Deliveroo and Just Eat.
How the Retail Sector can Deliver on Consumer Demands?
Leveraging these trends is important for retailers in the fresh produce sector. Demand for local produce is rising and was at its highest this century in 2021. Demand for organic fruit and vegetables is also rising and there continues to be a steady rise in demand for exotic fruits. Fresh produce deliveries are rising in popularity and are also linked to increased demand for local and organic produce.
For 2022 particularly, the cost of living and food insecurity is leading to increased demand for cheap fresh produce. Aligning with these trends will have financial benefits for retailers.
FruPro Helps Retailers Meet Consumer Demands
We have worked to make the fresh produce supply chain far more efficient. When it comes to meeting consumer demands, FruPro provides some key benefits to retailers:
The number of businesses using FruPro is growing rapidly and everybody who uses our platform can easily connect. Using FruPro means accessing a wide network, with diverse fresh produce. This makes it easy to find suppliers and meet new demands or old demands.
Thanks to our instant messaging system and transparency, communication with other players is quick, clear and safe. Say goodbye to slow and unreliable communication and say hello to easy networking and instant messaging.
Using FruPro to reach new clients is safe and trusted. We only allow businesses onto our platform once they have been vetted and passed our thorough security checks.
Demand posting for buyers
Our platform allows you to demand post for whatever fresh produce you need. Thus, as consumer demands grow or change, your business can easily source from a range of growers, importers or wholesalers, accessing a wide range of products to meet demands.
As we ride out the rest of this difficult year, retailers will benefit by meeting these consumer demands. With consumer confidence at a record low, according to Bloomberg the UK is set to tighten its budget.
Trends like the demand for cheap fresh produce will continue to be important, as will the demand for local fresh produce. FruPro is the essential platform for meeting these demands, reducing waste and boosting efficiency for all retailers.