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Americans are eating more fruits and vegetables.

U.S. consumption of fresh vegetables increased by 5 percent in the 1970's, and then jumped by 22 percent in the 1980's. This may illustrate an increasing concern about nutrition, according to economist Gary Lucier of USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS).

"Produce, especially fresh items, appeared more frequently on the plates of Americans in the 1980's as they gained an increased understanding of the nutritional advantages of such foods," he says. Most fruits and vegetables are low in calories and fat and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

In addition, since 1975 growth in consumer spending for fruit and vegetables has been exceeded only by spending for poultry, Lucier points out in a recent issue of the Agriculture Department's FARMLINE magazine.

On a per capita basis, U.S. consumers used about 90 pounds of the major fresh vegetables in 1990, up from about 70 pounds in 1970, according to economist John M. Love, also of ERS. Major vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, lettuce, sweet corn, celery, tomatoes, and honeydew melons.

Lucier attributes the increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, and so forth) to rising health concerns as well Americans' consumption of all fruits--fresh and processed--also rose between 1970 and 1990. Fewer fresh oranges, grapefruit, and lemons were used, per capita, but these declines were more than offset by the rise in consumption of such noncitrus items as pears, apples, peaches, grapes, and nectarines.

For example, the average American consumed 50.6 pounds of noncitrus fruit in 1970, compared with 69.8 pounds in 1990. Another ERS economist, Boyd Buxton, attributes much of this growth to greater quantities of fresh fruit imported from Latin America during the winter.

Imported fruit rose from 22.5 percent of the total U.S. supply in 1970 to 29 percent 20 years later. Tropical fruit, in particular, has been in demand.

Changing Demographics

Over the past two decades, Americans' eating habits have led to these changes in the fruit and vegetable market:

* Numerous salad bars in restaurants and supermarkets,

* A variety of items eaten year-round, thus boosting import demand,

* Improved selection and new varieties, and

* Fast-food restaurants that offer tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and other fresh vegetables as condiments, as well as fruit and vegetable salads.

Lucier also attributes the growth in the industry to the influx of Latin American and Asian immigrants, who are accustomed to vegetable based diets, and the rising popularity of ethnic restaurants, whose menus rely heavily on vegetables, including beans and lentils.

At the same time consumption has been rising, the incomes of Americans have been growing: between 1970 and 1990, household income rose an average of 2.7 percent per year, after being adjusted for inflation. Within the same period, the proportion of all working women grew from 43 to 58 percent.

"With more income and less time to prepare food at home, consumers have sought greater convenience," Love explains. They began eating more meals away from home. In 1990, 32 percent of the average U.S. household food budget was spent on meals away from home, up considerably from 23 percent 20 years earlier. Also, fresh produce requires minimal preparation.

Increasing Export Demand

Another major boost to the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry has come from rising exports.

In fiscal 1991, the United States exported about $2 billion worth of fresh and processed fruit, and about $1-6 billion worth of fresh and processed vegetables. Fresh and canned vegetables, grapefruit, and apples recorded the biggest gains that year.

Most of the fresh orange and grapefruit exports, totaling just over $450 million, went to Japan, Canada, the European Community, and Hong Kong. Canada, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are important U.S. markets for fresh apples and grapes. Raisins typically account for nearly 10 percent of total fruit exports, with almost $200 million in sales a year, mostly to the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Germany.

Edmond Missiaen, an economist with USDA's World Agricultural Outlook Board, attributes the United States' success as a produce exporter to three factors. 'First, even before the Berlin Wall came down, foreign trade barriers had begun to crumble as countries strove improve their economies," he says. "In 1991, trade liberalization helped U.S. exporters increase their sales to South Korea from $59 million a year earlier to $79 million, and helped them boost sales to Venezuela from $9 million to $30 million."

Many countries throughout the world began moving away from government controls and toward free markets, Missiaen says. As they did, they opened their borders to agricultural imports, especially fruit and vegetables, in an effort to control local prices and promote competition. Missiaen expects this trend to continue even if the Uruguay Round fails.

The Uruguay Round is the latest phase of negotiations being conducted under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), an international organization that began setting world trade rules in 1947. "The second factor contributing to success in this area is export promotion," Missiaen continues. "Sales increased because of greater advertising and marketing abroad." USDA contributed part of the funds for this work through the Market Promotion Program. In fiscal 1991, horticultural organizations received 48 percent of the $200 million earmarked for these activities.

Also, devaluation of the dollar in the mid-1980's benefited fruit and vegetable exports. Total produce exports increased 16 and 20 percent, respectively, in fiscal years 1987 and 1988.

Missiaen anticipates that in fiscal year 1992, U.S. exports of fruit and vegetables will increase 13 percent from the previous year. He cites the high quality of U.S. produce, combined with rapidly increasing world demand and diminishing trade barriers, as favoring continued export growth.

Long-Term Consumption To Rise

Love notes that the U.S. produce industry has set a goal to double domestic consumption of fruit and vegetables by the year 2000. The Produce for Better Health Foundation is promoting five servings a day af fruit and vegetables, as recommended by the National Cancer Institute. (The foundation was set up in 1991 by the produce industry to promote nutritional awareness nationwide.)

Five servings a day would require that the average consumer double his or her current consumption. "Therefore, meeting this goal will challenge the foundation," says Love. "On the other hand, USDA's new dietary guidelines--emphasizing fruit, vegetables, and grains--lend support to increased consumption."

Love points out, however, that Americans already raised their rate of consumption of vegetables by 22 percent in the past decade and 5 percent in the 1970's.

"Whether we double our consumption will depend on a number of factors, such as more sophisticated educational programs, targeting groups who have yet to alter their eating habits, or possibly a scientific breakthrough linking specific foods to specific health benefits," he explains. "It's a complex issue, and it's too early to tell what will happen in the 1990's."

The industry will also likely become more responsive to consumer demand for low-priced, high-quality supplies of a variety of items. "The industry is changing from being production-oriented to being market-oriented," Missiaen notes. "If consumers prefer one type of apple over another, for example, that message will get back from the supermarket to the grower."
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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