Covid and Brexit put veg revival at risk

A recent increase in vegetable sales is under threat from a slowdown in the rate of retail sales and concerns over the impact of covid-19 and Brexit.

Research from the Food Foundation found that 72.1 million additional portions of vegetables were sold across the UK between July 2019 and June 2020 despite the foodservice sector being shut for much of the final quarter.

However, although retailers contributed a much greater share of growth than in previous years, the charity said that a fall in the share of vegetable sales relative to other grocery categories was “deeply concerning” at time when many disadvantaged people are struggling to eat healthily.

All grocery categories have seen sales surge since March, however the percentage share of retail sales that are vegetables fell 0.1% compared with the previous year.

Although the precise impact of covid-19 on vegetable consumption is yet to be determined, the Food Foundation said striking inequalities had been exacerbated during lockdown when poorer children both snacked more and ate fewer fruit and vegetables than their wealthier peers.

Meanwhile, research from the SHEFS consortium has found that the average British family risks paying 4% more for their fruit and vegetables from January 1st 2021 should the UK leave the EU without a deal, compared with a 0.6% increase that would occur under a free trade agreement. The Food Foundation said that because food prices are a major driver of food choices, increases in prices are likely to reduce fruit and vegetable consumption.

The data on vegetable sales forms part of the latest progress report for the Food Foundations’ Peas Please campaign. Launched in 2017, the campaign asks companies to adopt targets to increase procurement and consumption of vegetables by, for instance, including more vegetables in convenience foods like ready meals and sandwiches and in meals served in catering establishments.

A cumulative total of 162 million additional portions of vegetables have been served or sold over the past three years.

A number of caterers were singled out for particular praise with Interserve (Autograph Education) Bartlett Mitchell, Havering Catering and Caterlink each having exceeded their targets for increasing the amount of vegetables they procure or serve despite having to close a large number of sites between March and June following covid-19.

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