Easy peasy? Veg campaign reports mixed progress

Foodservice has set the pace in the first year of Peas Please but retailers are lagging behind. By Nick Hughes

A year ago this month an eclectic bunch of 41 organisations including food retailers, manufacturers and caterers pledged to help the British public eat more vegetables. Twelve months on and the results of their efforts to date have been revealed.

The news is largely positive. The Food Foundation, which is co-ordinating the Peas Please campaign, reported that an extra 4.8m portions of veg have been served in the eight months until July 2018. And it’s the foodservice sector that has been setting the early pace led by the likes of BaxterStorey and PwC, which has already hit its initial target of increasing the overall percentage of veg purchased across the PwC UK estate to 20% by the end of 2018.

Such has been the speed of progress that the target has been raised to 25% by 2020. BaxterStorey, meanwhile, has launched its own company-wide pledge of raising fruit and veg purchases from 12% to 15% by 2019.

Although the Food Foundation will not reveal data for every pledger until next year’s report, it’s clear that progress in retail has been much harder to come by. The think-tank says the fall in sterling and the continued squeeze on many household budgets have contributed to veg sold through retail channels only “holding steady”, and adds that it will be doing some “soulsearching” if it doesn’t see movement by this time next year.

Challenges aside, the event at City Hall this week was in the main a celebration of success stories. Birds Eye reported that the brand had spent 42% more last year advertising its vegetables range on TV, equating to more than £1m. And this year it will spend another £1m to promote its Steam Fresh range.

The Welsh wholesaler and manufacturer Castell Howell, meanwhile, said that by reformulating 10 of its ready meal product lines to include at least 80g of vegetables, it had been able to sell an extra 138,186 portions of veg since it made its initial pledge.

Such is the momentum behind Peas Please that a further 15 pledges have been made since the campaign kicked off last October. Among the newcomers are Vacherin, which has committed to increase the volume of veg it offers by 20% by July 2020, and TUCO, which will support its members to encourage students to increase their veg consumption.

Seven of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains, representing over 80% of the market, are now on board while the Food Foundation has also managed to pull in more leftfield organisations such as the football centre operator Goals, which from now on will serve veg crudités and fruit at children’s parties across all 46 of its sites.

And the biggest announcement was saved for last, with the news delivered by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that £2m in advertising space on ITV will be dedicated to a new Veg Power campaign created by the agency adam&eveDDB and funded by a number of UK supermarket chains.

Peas Please has already managed to unite a diverse group of food stakeholders behind a common aim – to drive up veg consumption and in the process tackle some of the environmental and health problems associated with meat-centric diets. Its next challenge will be to build on the success stories unveiled this week, and to ensure that the retail sector finally comes to the party in 2019.

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