How to increase vegetable consumption while also boosting business

A report from Peas Please highlights the changes retailers and manufacturers can make to encourage consumers to chow down on veg.

9 October 2018
food wastehealthmanufactureready mealsstatisticssupermarketsvegetables
image credit: Getty Images

Aldi, Asda and Waitrose have joined 41 other organisations in pledging to encourage consumers to buy more vegetables as part of the Peas Please initiative. The new cohort joins the Co-op, Lidl, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, who signed up in 2017, so that 82% of the UK grocery market is now involved in the nutrition-promoting campaign.

Led by the Food Foundation, Peas Please aims to reverse the decline in veg consumption in the UK. It is targeting the issue in several ways, including asking participants to get more veg into everyday products, making veg more prominent in shops and on menus, ensuring produce is affordable and grown sustainably, as well as just making greens on menus more darn delicious.

Since Peas Please launched in October last year, an extra 4.8m portions of vegetables have been eaten in the UK. Catering operators have made the biggest impact so far, helping the campaign to reach 752,000 adults and 68,000 children.


Healthy hand

  • In the UK, 20,000 deaths could be prevented every year if people ate more vegetables and pulses.
  • Preventing diet-related diseases would also ease the financial burden on the NHS. UK-wide obesity alone is projected to cost the organisation £9.7bn per year by 2050.
  • Diabetes contributes an additional £10bn in costs per year to the NHS in the UK, and Wales spends approximately 10% of its annual budget on diabetes.
  • 80% of adults, 95% of children and 80% of teenagers eat fewer than 3.5 portions of veg per day, when 7 portions are recommended.


But retailers could do more, according to Peas Please, which visited 26 outlets and found only one store had veg at the checkout, while just three had veg on the aisle ends. Only one site was shown to display veg alongside ambient products such as cooking sauces.

“Most retailers could improve the offering of veg options in their lunch and evening meal deals as none was found to offer vegetable options in every store," said the report. "Some retailers could increase the number of veg features on their websites, and only one store advertised that they accepted Healthy Start vouchers.”

However, of all the veg purchased, 40% is wasted in the household and an additional 10% is wasted in the supply chain

“We’re acutely conscious of the danger that increased purchases generate more waste rather than more consumption – and that increases in overall consumption are concentrated among those who are already eating the most veg – so we have built this into our partnerships and our monitoring,” commented Peas Pledge.

So what does the report recommend to tackle the issue?

image credit: Getty Images

Tastings and recipes

A big opportunity to grow the vegetable category is to find ways to help people buy additional vegetables by diversifying and extending their choices. Some 97% of shoppers take home veg every month, but they purchase on average only 18% of the variety on offer. In-store tastings, recipe cards and the grouping of ingredients for meals could increase overall uptake.

Own-brand and ready meals

Veg could become a key part of own-brand strategy for supermarkets looking to differentiate themselves and drive innovation and product development.

In January 2018, meat-free ready-meal sales grew by 15% but sales of vegetables by volume declined by 2%. Increasing the amount of veg in ready meals could be an important step towards responding to consumer demand for less meat, differentiating products for flexitarians and gaining new customer loyalty, while also creating a healthier product. Substituting meat for veg in ready meals is also likely to drive up overall margin. Demand for vegetarian eats is growing too, with more than 30% of evening meals eaten at home containing no meat.


Supermarket stats

  • 49% of supermarket checkouts visited contained less-healthy products.
  • In the average shopping basket, vegetables contributed 7.2% of the weight, but to meet government guidelines they should weigh in at 20%.
  • For all retailers, 5.8% of the shopping basket was made up of veg for households earning less than £10,000, compared to 9.1% in households earning more than £70,000.


Promoting health

Only 2% of veg is bought on volume-based promotion, compared to other category averages of 12% to 15%. As around 40% of all grocery spend is on some form of promotion, produce is massively under-promoted.

Untapped convenience

The real and perceived inconvenience of veg is both an obstacle and an opportunity. Prepared veg, whether for cooking or immediate consumption, adds considerable value to the category and is a relatively untapped opportunity for growth. It might also help people to substitute other less healthy or less energy-dense foods with vegetables.


Wales food wholesaler Castell Howell, along with its sister company Authentic Curry Company, has found success by working with its pub chain client Brains to develop veg-friendly children’s menus.

Starting in spring this year, Brains has sold an additional 88,000 children’s portions of veg by increasing the vegetable content of children’s meals from one to two portions. Castell Howell also holds the contract to supply school meals in many local authorities and is introducing new products such as cauliflower rice.

In addition, through the Authentic Curry Company, Castell Howell has reformulated 10 ready meal product lines to include at least 80g of vegetables, which has resulted in 138,186 portions of veg sold.

Lidl research

The supermarket teamed up with Brighton & Hove City Council Public Health and the University of Brighton to better understand veg usage among low-income consumers and the barriers to buying more. Last year, the discounter made a commitment to include one portion of veg (80g) in every ready meal or an equivalent serving suggestion on pack; to include two portions of veg in all its online recipes and to promote veg in store, online and on printed promotional materials.

Initial findings suggested price reductions alone may have little influence on veg purchases by low-income households, while children’s exposure to vegetables at school made them more receptive to parents’ efforts to feed them greens at home. The research is now set to see consumers take part in surveys and in-depth interviews to help the researchers devise strategies to overcome barriers facing low-income families with regards to veg consumption.


Farming facts

  • Less than 1% of the UK’s agricultural areas is used for fruit and vegetables.
  • The Peas Please Fruit and Vegetable Alliance is aiming to bring an additional 100,000 hectares of land into production and increase the value of the sector to £3.1bn.
  • Currently, 9.3m tonnes of fruit and vegetable are produced for use in the UK. The Alliance wants to increase this by 2m home-grown tonnes, which would result in 25bn more portions of fruit and veg each year.

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