Demand for vegetables is growing worldwide. Not just because of population growth, but also because consumers have an increasing awareness of the food on their tables. The trend is not limited to Western countries.
The World Vegetable Map 2018 shows the main vegetable trade flows. It also highlights some key global trends, like the growing importance of production in greenhouses.
The rise of portion-based packaging
An estimated 70% of all produce is still sold as whole, fresh vegetables, but demand for pre-washed, cut and packaged vegetables has grown worldwide in recent years. This trend is related to the demand for convenience foods and the increased number of smaller households, which has led to more demand for reduced package sizes.
More pre-packaged vegetables means more packaging material and thus waste. “However, the impact on the total amount of waste remains to be seen,” says Cindy van Rijswick, Fruit and Vegetables Analyst at Rabobank. “Companies processing the vegetables work highly efficiently. They use as little water as possible and discard far less of the produce than we do when we prepare our own leeks or lettuce. And because a reduced package size is better geared to consumer needs, we are less likely to throw away food at home.”
Who still eats canned vegetables?
Demand for canned vegetables has dropped, even though canning is a good way to preserve produce and reduces waste. Van Rijswick: “In many countries canned vegetables are looked down upon because the canning process alters their flavor, they are seen as old fashioned and 'unhealthy' ingredients like sugar and salt are sometimes added. In recent years the sector has seen some innovation, like the mixing of vegetables, the addition of sauces, and less added salt and sugar. Packaging is more attractive and easier to open these days, and pouches and glass jars have replaced cans to some extent.”
Organic vegetables: more than just a luxury product for affluent countries
The popularity of organic vegetables is gaining pace worldwide. According to Van Rijswick consumers have different, often personal, reasons why they opt for organic. “People want chemical-free, healthy, local, small-scale, sustainable and flavorful produce. Whether or not organic vegetables actually offer these advantages remains to be proven. However, these products fill a gap in the market for consumers who want to make conscious choices.”
“The market share of organic vegetables is growing in China”- Cindy van Rijswick, Analyst Fruit, Vegetables, Floriculture at Rabobank
Organically grown vegetables are generally more expensive, so their consumption is partly related to income. Availability is another key factor. Growers who wish to switch to organic cultivation have to deal with a transition period (during which they have higher costs, but not yet higher revenues). Meanwhile, the risks associated with organic cultivation are higher than with traditional methods.
Van Rijswick: “Nevertheless, organic vegetables aren’t a luxury product for the Western World alone. Market share in countries like China is growing on account of various food scares there: this led to consumers worrying about the excessive use of crop protection.”
The greenhouse effect
The map shows that all over the world vegetables are grown in greenhouses and vertical farms. This is in response to demand for consistently high quality, contaminant-free produce year-round, grown using minimal resources.
“Biological crop protection in greenhouses has made huge advances worldwide. A controlled environment like a greenhouse makes it possible to use bugs to tackle pests. In an open field they might fly away. Growing the plants in substrates helps prevent disease and means water and fertilizer use can be carefully controlled. This makes it very sustainable, even more so because you can secure far larger yields per liter of water compared to farming outdoors.”
“It is no surprise then that more and more vegetables are grown under glass around the world. However, a major obstacle is the high investments needed to build greenhouses. Some governments support the development of a sustainable, local food supply and offer loans and subsidies for greenhouses. However, banks with an understanding of the sector have a crucial role to play in the switch to greenhouse farming.”
“We will eat more and more vegetables in future”- Cindy van Rijswick, Analyst Fruit, Vegetables, Floriculture at Rabobank
Future trend: vegetable-based meals
Van Rijswick thinks that a considerably larger proportion of our meals will vegetable-based within the next few decades, instead of grain- or animal protein-based. “I see a slow but steady trend. There is a lot of talk about alternatives such as cultured meat or insects, but switching to vegetables makes more sense.”
“There are various high-protein vegetables like spinach, sweet potatoes and peas, plus they are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, consumers are more and more aware of this while professional chefs are using more vegetables in their kitchens. The growth in vegetable consumption depends partially on offering consumers tasty vegetables, ideas and recipes. Convenience and flavor will increase consumption faster than health-related arguments.”