(* A version of this news story was first published in The Herald, October 25, 2017)
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl, Co-op, Gregg’s and Nestle are among those who responded to an invitation to announce new commitments to help Scotland realise its ambition of eating one extra portion of vegetables a day at the first ever National Vegetable Summit in Edinburgh, a UK-wide event organised in Scotland by Peas Please and held simultaneously in London and Cardiff. M&S and Waitrose were among those who declined to take part.
Lidl said it would include one portion of veg in every ready meal, two portions of veg in all online recipes and promote veg in store and online. Tesco said its Finest evening Meal Deal will always include two vegetable side dish options, and that reformulated and new products will increase the amount of vegetables, while Sainsbury’s promised to increase by 30 the number of products that contain ‘one of your five-a-day’ message, and to position fresh vegetables in high-footfall areas in stores.
Gregg’s pledged that 100% of its soups and leaf-based meals salads will provide at least one portion of vegetables, and to sell an additional 15 million portions of veg from January 2018 to October 2020. And Sodexo, which provides one million meals a day to hospitals, schools, the armed forces and prisons, pledged to increase vegetable procurement by 10% by 2020 and to provide dishes that are at least two-thirds plant-based. (Continues below ...)
Research shows that most teenagers – 95.5% - are not eating enough vegetables. During the Edinburgh conference, which was attended by delegates from the Scottish Government, farming, research, social care, retail, hospitality and social enterprises sectors, though not education - it was also suggested that creating separate compartments for vegetables in supermarket trolleys to encourage shoppers to fill them. Allan Bowie, chair of the newly-formed Fruit and Vegetable Leadership Group and former president of NFUS, also suggested a ‘vegetable credit card’ system for children in supermarkets.
Access to affordable fresh vegetables and fruit was described as a “basic human rights issue” by Cath Cooney of the Health and Social Care Alliance, and yet while vegetable growing in Scotland has increased by 25% in the past 10 years, consumption has fallen, with most Scots eating an average of just three portions a day compared to 3.3 three years ago. Those in more deprived areas, where vegetables at local shops are more expensive than in supermarkets, eat 2.5 portions at most. Yet eating just one extra portion of vegetables a day could save 20,000 premature deaths in Scotland, and could grow vegetable production by 60%.
The challenge was not helped by the fact that vegetables make up a tiny 1% of all food advertising on television, and in diners are getting half a portion of veg for every three meals eaten out in restaurants, and many charge extra for a side dish of vegetables. The eating-on-the-go culture of a panini and coffee precludes vegetables.
Vegetable sales in Scotland are worth £410m, but that figure is not growing as quickly as sales of fruit. “Some 80 per cent of all vegetables are sold through the top five supermarkets, which have a combined turnover of billions of pounds and have massive influence on buying habits,” said Allan Bowie. “If we can engage with them and consumers then we have a chance this can happen while avoiding legislation.”
“The five-a-day message hasn’t worked, said Veg Summit organiser Pete Ritchie of Nourish Scotland. “It’s the most recognised campaign in the world, yet numbers haven’t shifted. It’s time for retailers to step up to the plate to do their bit to boost government dietary targets.”