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28 May 2019

Convenience gives a new life to fruit and vegetables in Europe

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Adapting to different lifestyles remains a challenge for the food industry in Europe. For this reason, in recent years many companies have focused their efforts on developing products that facilitate consumption outside the home and, at the same time, are healthy and compatible with a balanced diet. These are the so-called convenience foods, prepared to be eaten at any time and place. This segment has become well known in the fruit and vegetable sector, with a large number of references arising from the trend.

56% of Spaniards recognise that they use ready-to-eat products due to lack of time, according to a study prepared by AECOC. Specifically, the convenience food report states that the main reasons that lead to the purchase are the time savings and peace of mind of having alternatives in case of emergency. There is also another large part of the population (42%) that turns to them because they do not know how or do not want to cook. However, one country stands out among the most high-profile economies in Europe, the United Kingdom. According to Statista, its income was €12.591 billion in 2018 for the sale of these products, and it was the fifth nation anywhere - only behind the US, China, India and Japan - in turnover volume.According to the French Centre of Competence for Fruit and Vegetables of the IV range, this market has also grown in France at a steady pace since 2015, and 75% of French people are familiar with this type of products. While in Italy, as stated by Giancarlo Colelli, researcher at the University of Foggia, at the European Convenience Forum held in Hamburg, consumption varies according to the area of the country (north / south) and economic status.

Supermarkets, based on these data, already have specific sections for convenience fruit and vegetables. These references differ from the rest in incorporating an added value and being packaged in smaller formats. The case of the British chain Tesco is striking, since it is one of the few European retailers that has created its own area for on-line sales. In this section it offers a range of products that goes from 4- or 5-piece packs to prepared vegetable dishes. The differential factor of Tesco, compared to other firms operating in Europe, is its commitment to range IV fruit. In addition to the usual tubs of cut fruit, its catalogue includes duos consisting of two fruits, fingers (strips) and wedges of fruit, themed fruit salads (tropical and berries), dehydrated mixed fruits, dried fruits and nuts and chocolate.

According to Statista, after the United Kingdom, France was the second European market (€ 8.877 Billion) in terms of income from convenience food in 2018. It was followed by Germany (€ 5.794 billion), Italy (€ 3.016 billion) and, rounding off the top 5, Spain (€ 2.668 billion). Indeed, last year Italy launched a large number of benchmarks in this category, such as 'Buoninsieme Solarelli', a ready-to-eat product prepared by Apofruit Italia Soc. Coop. Agricola- which combines a typical local cheese with a selection of fruit and vegetables cut for dipping in it. Similarly, Italian company La Línea Verde Soc. Agr. continued to commit to pre-prepared dishes and presented a minestrone gourmet soup made with kale and quinoa. Also, Spreafico Francesco & F. lli SpA did the same with 'Vitamia', a combination of cut fruit, nuts and yoghurt in a takeaway or eat-on-the-street format. And Zerbinati srl expanded its 'Bowl'Z' salads with recipes based on beans, muesli and fresh vegetables and fruit.

However, the convenience fruit and vegetables segment are not yet very integrated into Germany's consumption cycle. Its proposals, for the moment, follow the line of producers located in the United Kingdom, France and Spain. In this regard, supermarket chains such as Lidl or Aldi stock range IV salads and purées and vegetable soups. One of the highlights here are Aldi's vegetable "meatball" snacks in a 'Mein Veggie Tag' vegan line sauce. According to the European Convenience Forum, German spending on this type of product increased by 20%, and fruit and vegetables experienced the highest growth of the category in 2017. As for innovation, Levenig Fresh GmbH launched glasses of strawberries, blackberries, currants and raspberries accompanied by a topping, and duos of grapes with Gouda and melon with ham; and, throughout 2019, it will add to its catalogue a line of convenience foods focused on child consumers.

France and Spain, on the other hand, have gone hand in hand in relation to the evolution of this product in the market. In both countries, the change in consumer habits has led to the normalisation of the category, since it has found a great ally in healthy eating. Thus, the sale of range IV salads increased by 25% in Spain, according to Nielsen data on 2018, as compared to the previous year. The consultancy firm states that vegetables, which are around 30% in volume and less than 20% in value, will be those that best evolve in the short term, within convenience fruit and vegetables, with a forecast of 33% in volume and 45% in value. In this line, and to mention just a few examples, Florette made the leap to ready-to-eat fruit; 'Sun & Vegs', of Grupo Alimentario Citrus, started marketing its 'Superensaladas' in the supermarkets Dia & Go and La Plaza; and Comfresh expanded its range of snacks with baby tricolour carrots and a vegetable minidish.

In short, Europe is opting for healthier and lighter products such as reduced fruit formats or vegetable snacks instead of conventional ones. In particular, according to IRI, if they can be stored at room temperature. The business managed to raise € 96 billion in 2017 in the main European economies, with an average growth close to 1.4%. Datamonitor and Mintel also support these figures. The former states that both singles and the young population (up to 34 years old) are the ones that most include convenience products in their shopping cart, while the latter ensures that 80% of Europeans choose them when they do not have time.

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