For Fruits and Vegetables, Americans Favor 'Fresh.'

By Hecht, Annabel | FDA Consumer, October 1985 | Go to article overview

For Fruits and Vegetables, Americans Favor 'Fresh.'


Hecht, Annabel, FDA Consumer


Little Mary and Johnny may spurn the vegetables on their dinner plates, but there are plenty of other people out there who are making up for them. Americans are eating more than they have in the past 25 years, and consumption of fruits and vegetables is keeping pace.

Bountiful supplies, low prices, more disposable income, changing consumer preferences, and increased consumer concerns about health and nutrition have all played a part in increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables, particularly fresh ones, in the nation's diet. It fact, fresh fruits and vegetables have been one of the fastest growing categories in U.S. supermarkets, accounting for $20 billion in sales in 1984.

Americans ate 209.2 pounds of vegetables per person in 1984. Canned and frozen vegetables accounted for about 59 of these pounds, while the remaining 150 pounds were fresh vegetables, including home-grown produce.

The traditional salad basic--lettuce--topped the 1984 fresh vegetable list, followed by onions (including shallots) and tomatoes. Nearly half of the canned vegetables were tomato products, such as whole tomatoes, pulp and puree, paste, sauce, ketchup, chili sauce, juice and blends. The second-ranking individual food item in the canned category was pickles.

Consumption of fruit in 1984 came to about 142.9 pounds per person; more than half of it was fresh. Bananas ranked first among fresh fruit choices, followed by oranges and apples. Melons--counted separately--accounted for another 2l pounds of fruit per person. An important trend has been the increased consumption of fruit in the form of juice. Fruit juice consumption increased by 50 percent since 1967 and reached a high of 32.4 pounds (7.1 gallons) in 1983.

(Although these figures refer to "consumption," they actually represent produce that "disappeared" from the marketplace rather than what was actually eaten. The portions of vegetables discarded through peeling and spoilage are counted, as well as the servings left on Mary and Johnny's plates.)

Per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables was actually slightly higher in 1950, just as the country was recovering from the austerity imposed by World War II, including rationing of meat and other foods. At that time, Americans were enjoying 214 pounds of vegetables and 151 pounds of fruit per person.

For the next 15 years, consumption of fresh produce declined. At the same time, the nation's cooks were turning to the more convenient processed foods, particularly frozen products.

Frozen food as we know it today didn't come on the scene until 1930. The development of equipment for "quick freezing" made it possible to freeze vegetables, fruits and berries quickly, thus avoiding formation of large ice crystals.

In the post-war years, consumption of frozen vegetables began a steady climb. Between 1950 and 1960, per capita consumption more than doubled to seven pounds. By 1970 it was up to 9.6 pounds. Today Americans are eating about 11 pounds of frozen vegetables per person per year. Some 30 different vegetables, processed singly and in combinations, are available, but corn, broccoli, peas and snap beams account for half of the total consumption.

Since 1950, use of canned vegetables also grew, but a slower pace, and has actually declined in the last five years. Still, today's grocery store shelves are stocked with more than 130 different vegetable products and mixtures.

In contrast to the increased consumption of frozen vegetables, consumption of both canned and frozen fruit has declined steadily, dropping 40 percent and 20 percent respectively between 1967 and 1983.

But the biggest trend in fruits and vegetables is in the fresh produce department. Thanks to increased consumer demand, supermarkets are providing a greater variety of produce than ever before. The average number of items offered rose from 65 in 1972 to 173 in 1983. …

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