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Food and Drink

Dan Parker

Dan Parker has worked in marketing and advertising for 25 years. As Chief Executive and Executive Creative Director of marketing innovation agency Sponge, he pioneered online, mobile and location marketing for the world's largest food, restaurant, grocery, media and technology brands. Since 2015 he has consulted on the role of advertising in public health and childhood obesity for UNICEF, EU, OECD, Jamie Oliver, Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health & Social Care. In 2018 he partnered with The Food Foundation, Baroness Boycott, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Sir John Hegarty to launch Veg Power. Veg Power is a not-for-profit organisation which inspires kids to eat more vegetables, best known for the multi-award-winning Eat Them to Defeat Them campaign. The campaign has so far increased vegetable sales by over 500 million children’s portions. In 2021 Veg Power took on its second challenge: to encourage people to buy seasonal British vegetables to reduce their carbon footprint, support British farming and enjoy tastier vegetables.

One business success

  • In Q4 2020, we launched our industry-first membership programme which has been supported by 25 leaders in the horticulture sector with representation from suppliers, grocers and growers. This has given us a stable financial base to continue the success of our first two years and allowed us to expand our work. For example, we have increased not only the size of the team but the skill base within it. We have also expanded the Eat Them To Defeat Them schools programme which is set to reach 1 million kids across the UK in 2022. It also allowed us to scale up our Seasonal Vegetables campaign which reached 23 million people on social media in 2021.

Two challenges for the sector

  • Labour: this is a major challenge for the horticulture sector and is connected to the wider issue of pricing and costs as demands from higher labour rates and environmental standards as well as lower prices continue. We need to meet this challenge by strongly communicating the benefits of UK-produced seasonal vegetables to increase their perceived value.
  • UK dietary patterns: our data, kindly donated by IRI, suggests that the market has quickly returned to the grocery purchasing patterns of 2019. The uplift in veg sales during the first year of the pandemic has almost entirely gone as food services reopened and people returned to their workplaces and schools. We are seeing the lowest share of basket spend for vegetables we have in the data we have going back to 2018. The message from the pandemic is that the largest health scare we are likely to face has not nudged the UK towards a healthier diet, we need a Plan B.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • There will be growing pressure to reduce prices from cost-conscious consumers in a highly competitive retail market against a background of tighter consumer spending, inflation and higher interest rates. At the same time, the pressure will only increase the costs of labour, environmental standards and capex. This will come to a head in 2022/23 as retailers struggle to achieve their own environmental standards from a diminishing domestic supply. We need to increase the perceived value, and therefore, the price UK consumers are willing to pay for vegetables. A parallel worth studying is the major market shift from the battery to free range eggs over the last 15 years, free range has gone from 27% to 56% overall market, and 71% retail market share. Consumers are choosing a better egg and a happier chicken for a slightly higher price. We believe something similar is possible with UK seasonal vegetables - fresher veg, a happier planet for a slightly higher price. But it will take a huge marketing effort and public awareness campaign to bring about that change.
  • The move to a more plant-based diet will continue to build more and more momentum with the emphasis on moving from vegan purism to a more practical "a little less" for the mass market. However, the data suggest that many people turning towards plant-based are not increasing their consumption of actual plants but purchasing powerfully marketed protein bars, vegan ready meals and meat alternatives. With many of the latter having a poor nutrient profile and environmental story. This needs to be fixed, this is one of the most powerful forces for change in diet at this time and we need to direct it squarely towards vegetables.
  • For many desk-based workers flexi-working mixed between home and office is their new normal, and it is here to stay. Kantar has predicted that 650 million meals a year will change as a result. What does the working from home lunch look like? What about breakfast when you have a little more time? We predict that many will move to a mindset of 2-3 healthy at-home days per week with better meals, more exercise and family time. We need to make sure that veg features highly in these meals.

January 2022