Food In Canada

Bridging the nutrient gap

By Valerie Ward   

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Consumers are increasingly looking for help from fruit and vegetable processors to meet their daily nutrition needs

Most of us know that fruits and vegetables are important sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. We also know that eating five to 10 servings of them a day can reduce the risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Unfortunately, the majority of us don’t act on what we know. According to a 2011 Statistics Canada survey, just 40.4 per cent of Canadians age 12 and older reported eating the recommended daily servings of fruit and veggies, down in 2010 for the second year in a row. The U.S. faces a similar situation. A 2010 Gallup poll noted that while most Americans reported easy access to affordable fresh produce, only 46.6 per cent said they consumed their five plus servings five or more days a week.

Enter so-called stealth-health products. These foods make it easier for people to get the fruit and vegetables they need by including them in innovative, convenient formulations, ranging from beverages and snacks to entrées. Some products explicitly target families with children who are picky eaters. For example, one of Kraft’s KD Smart lines contains a half serving of cauliflower in three-quarters of a cup of the prepared noodles. “The pickiest eaters won’t know what hit them,” declares Kraft’s website. Pepperidge Farm marked the 2009 back-to-school season by adding veggies to its Goldfish baked crackers. The company’s news release positioned the move as an “effort to help moms provide wholesome, tasty snacks their kids will love.”

But the market for such products goes far beyond fussy youngsters. Seniors who want more leisure, on-the-go parents, and career-focused singletons are all looking to the food industry for tasty foods that make it simpler and faster to boost fruit and vegetable intake.


Starved for leisure time

Several factors are at play here. First and foremost is the desire for more free time. A 2008 Datamonitor survey found that 70 per cent of Americans 16 years or older don’t feel that they have enough time to do everything they have to do. And as our lives become more hectic, consumers are spending less time planning and preparing meals. In a 2010 consumer trend report, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada points to U.S. data showing that 60 per cent of consumers expect to spend a total of 30 minutes preparing, cooking, eating and cleaning up their meals. The report also notes that more people are now skipping meals, and that they’re more often eating alone, while in the car, or pursuing work or leisure activities. Finally, declines in cooking skills are driving demand for high-convenience meals with nutritional benefits. To quote another Datamonitor study, culinary skills are no longer passed from to generation to generation, and although consumers regularly consult the Internet to find recipes, they often aren’t familiar with basic cooking terminology or techniques.

The food and beverage industry is stepping forward to provide healthy solutions. Campbell Company of Canada expanded its selection of V8 beverages by introducing the V8 V-Fusion Smoothie made with 100-per-cent vegetable and fruit juices and purées. “By drinking a 250-mL glass, Canadians can now get a full serving of vegetables and a full serving of fruit before they’ve even set foot out of the door in the morning,” says Andrea Dunn, the company’s Nutrition Strategy manager. “Many Canadians are searching for convenient ways to add more vegetables to their diets. Products like V8 V-Fusion beverages and smoothies can help bridge that gap.” The Campbell beverages have no added sugar and are made without artificial flavours or colours. In addition, the company offers a line of V8 V-Fusion Light drinks with 25-per-cent fewer calories than its regular varieties.

Canada Dry Mott’s has made a similar move. In addition to its Garden Cocktail beverage and Mott’s Fruitsations snack line, the company has introduced Fruitsations Fruit Rockets and Mott’s Fruitsations + Veggies, which provides one serving of fruit and vegetables. “Mott’s Fruitsations Fruit Rockets and Mott’s Fruitsations + Veggies will appeal to anyone who wants healthy options,” says Alison Bing, Corporate Affairs manager at Canada Dry Mott’s. “This includes families and mums looking for healthy additions to school or work lunches, and snacks for sports practice.” Having the products in different formats also makes them ideal for a wide variety of meal occasions, she notes. For example, the company’s kid-friendly Mott’s Fruitsations Fruit Rockets are sold in squeezable pouches so no spoon is required.

Reinventing classics

Smaller companies are also finding new ways to deliver fruit and vegetables. San Francisco-based Peas of Mind sees itself as reinventing the classics, keeping the great taste of comfort foods such as pizza and fries but making them healthier. All recipes use real vegetables rather than dehydrated ones, and minimize salt and sugar. The company’s products include: veggie bites called Pull-a-parts that can be dunked in a ready-made sauce; fat-free Veggie Wedgie fries in broccoli, carrot, cauliflower and apple varieties; Puffets, hand-held meals with organic ingredients in Carrot Risotto, Black Bean Polenta, Eat Your Greens and other flavours; and Peas of Pie, a line of low-fat pizzas with 1.5 servings of carrots and broccoli kneaded into the crust. Some of the products are available in allergen-free formulations.

When Peas of Mind launched eight years ago, its original market was families with children. Since then, says founder and CEO Jill Litwin, the company has been discovered by the diet community and other segments of consumers seeking to lead healthier lifestyles. Buzz around the company’s products was heightened when Will Nevins began to promote them on social media and on his weight-loss blog, Duct-Tape Wedding Band. Nevins, who has appeared on CNN to talk about his success in losing 175 lbs, praises Peas of Pie, calling it the best frozen pizza he’s ever eaten. He also writes that he used to be “scared to death of cauliflower,” but that thanks to Veggie Wedgies the flavour has become a favourite.

As Litwin sees it, adding fruit and vegetables to processed foods is part of a broader trend that’s here to stay. “There’s also a lot of concern about obesity and that isn’t going to go away,” she notes. “And consumers will continue to demand health and convenience. This is just the beginning.”

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