From Tuesday 4 to Wednesday, June 5, the 21st AECOC Fruit and Vegetables Congress took place in the Palau de Congressos of Valencia. The event served to analyze the fruit and vegetable consumption data in Spain, as well as to look into some consumer concerns, such as the excessive use of plastic in packaging, the lack of products that facilitate the consumption of fruits and vegetables, the transparency of information, or the search for the organic and environmentally-friendly. There were also discussions on technologies such as Blockchain applied to the food chain, or the impact of "fake news" in the agro-food sector, among other issues.
The wide hallway leading to the large conference room hosted several exhibitors and was a meeting and networking point for fruit and vegetable producers and exporters, manufacturers of packaging, phytosanitary solutions and other auxiliary industry products, as well as purchasing managers of large distribution chains and other authorities of the sector. They all shared experiences, challenges and trends in a one hundred percent professional environment.
Last year, one out of every three Euro made in the consumer market corresponded to fruit and vegetables, which account for 13% of spending in groceries. The main discussion topic at this edition was the need for innovation in the sector in order to boost consumption, since according to the Nielsen data presented by Ricardo Alcón, head for New Businesses at Nielsen and the AECOC consultant Marta Munné, while Spaniards in 2018 spent 7.3% more in fruits and vegetables (10,290 million Euro) than a year earlier, this was due to the 8% increase in the price of fruit and 12% rise in the price of vegetables.
Despite the higher spending, consumption has dropped by 2.8% in the case of vegetables and by 1.6% in the case of fruit. Consumers have purchased products with more added value and, therefore, more expensive prices, following three guidelines: health, convenience and pleasure.
Consumers, and especially the new generations, are looking for healthy products that are also easy to prepare due to the quick pace of modern life. People want to eat fruit and vegetables, but there is no time to peel and cut them, or even cook them. That is the main reason why only half of Spaniards consume 1.7 pieces of fruit and vegetables on average every day, very far from the 5 pieces a day recommended to lead a healthy life, which shows that there is still much growth potential in this market. The key will be to increase the frequency of consumption; for example, by not eating fruit only as a dessert, but also as breakfast, lunch, a snack etc. That is why innovation will be needed to supply more convenient "on the go" products that facilitate snacking.
The search for healthy products is largely covered by the bio segment, which has grown substantially. The consumer is increasingly looking for local and sustainable products; in fact, 45% of consumers look for local products, 39% tend to go for products with a lower environmental impact, and 31% chooses more affordable organic products. 57% of consumers admit that they would be willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly fruit and vegetable containers.
52% of Spanish consumers buy fruit and vegetables at hypermarkets or supermarkets, 39% go to traditional stores and only 8% buy them online. However, it is still the traditional store that generates higher levels of satisfaction among consumers.