Do you eat good, nutritious food most of the time and really enjoy eating? Is food something that adds value to your life and health; or does it simply provide fuel to keep you going?
If you struggled to answer these questions, don’t be alarmed. A recent Lancet study has revealed concerning food and lifestyle trends across the world – ‘Obesity a bigger problem than world hunger’ And, modern eating habits are now a global health issue.
Essentially, a lot of consumers have become disengaged with the quality and flavour of their food. While reality food shows and celebrity chefs have been taking our world by storm, many of us are trapped in an ’eat-what-is-available’ mindset. We want our food to taste better and to be healthy, but the reality often is packaged food, or food that lacks flavour, variety and maximum nutrition.
Growing up in the farming and fresh produce industry, wholesome and flavoursome food was the norm for my family. Fast forward to my 21st century adult life, and I must admit, I have to think really quite hard to not lose connection to what I eat. Along with many of my friends and colleagues, I’ve slipped into unconscious eating and started to forget what truly tastes good and is better for me. At times, I am also victim to the misconception that it’s hard to eat well, and healthier food is not going to taste great.
As a fresh-food marketer, premium produce fruit and vegetables are high on my radar. So, this trend towards ‘losing touch’ bothers me. Not only are many of us missing out on some really quite simple and healthy eating excitement, the full potential of fresh produce industries across the globe is often unrealised.
The current food-shopping environment is one where many of us unconsciously settle for second best. Being nourished has become confused with filling up on empty energy. As Professor Neal is quoted in the above-mentioned Sydney Morning Herald article “Incredibly cheap, incredibly unhealthy food has been made available … everywhere.” We have developed a dependence on faster, cheaper foods to satisfy our hunger. And, our economies have gravitated towards supplying this type of food.
While a small amount of fast, easy food serves its purpose, our over dependence means that we don’t eat enough of the right foods. Many retailers and marketers have been part of the equation. We’ve helped to convince people they need cheaper food and lots of it, so that’s what is created and sold on mass. The goal to load a food trolley as high as possible for the least money has increasingly driven consumer behaviour. It feels good to spend less and get more, but what is more? And, there’s logistics. Supplying multiple stores with similar ranges of products means that averaging and commoditisation has won over invention and individual lines from creative, possibly smaller players.
Despite these trends or perhaps because of them, eating more fresh produce is slowly coming back into vogue. However, our tastebuds are trained into believing that only bad food tastes good. Perhaps our notion of healthy doesn’t capture our imagination or tantalise our tastebuds. So, it can be hard to be motivated to consistently eat good food.
Can we feed our communities with beautiful healthy tastes? From the supplier and retailer levels, becoming more innovative with produce offerings and providing simple, relevant information about flavour and other food attributes is essential. The truefarmers’ market is a good benchmark for taste and service. Offering a variety of beautiful tastes and a direct link to the people who grow the produce, creates an environment that offers quality and soulful experience.
Visit any farm or produce packing shed, a place where staff have unique and constant contact with certain fresh produce, and ask them which lines they choose to take home for their family, and why. These real people always give great insight. Does size or flavour matter? Presentation or texture? What is the ideal way to prepare or cook produce lines? We need to pay attention to the values that create a pleasurable eating experience and be driven by these values.
This notion of resurrecting local, foregone tastes is a great opportunity for fresh produce supply chains. Increasing health concerns relating to lifestyle, means that more consumers want to eat better. And, to make better food part of their lifestyle, they prefer the food experience to be enjoyable. It’s not about winding back time, it’s about making mouth-watering, better food more readily available and visible.
Consumer and whole-of-supply-chain education is also essential. Our industry should provide shoppers with the choice between $150 of a highly-stacked trolley versus $150 of selectively-chosen foods for taste and nutrition that can readily fit in with their lifestyle. Consumers need to understand the tradeoffs and be confident to change the way they eat and feel.
Ultimately we need to translate the passion of quality, fresh produce from the farm to the shelf.