Nutrition experts hammer home the message to eat more fruits and vegetables at every turn, and Americans are listening, at least when it comes to fruit. Vegetables are a persistent third on the list of the foods we eat most of, according to a new report, and fruit has moved up to second place.
Fruit is now the most popular snack and dessert item in the U.S., and overall it is second only to sandwiches on the latest list of foods Americans eat most, according to NPD Group’s annual Eating Patterns in America Report, a trend that reflects U.S. consumers’ efforts to reverse obesity trends without sacrificing the convenience we crave, said industry analyst Harry Balzer.
“It’s funny, fruits and vegetables are two and three, yet we’re always hearing we should eat more fruits and vegetables,” he said. “More than what?”
More produce consumption may be a factor in the fact that obesity rates in America have leveled off at 30%, he says, and health concerns may be a key reason for the rise in fruit consumption. But the age-old driving forces of convenience and price are still very much in play, as evidenced by the grab-and-go nature of the most popular fresh fruits. Bananas, apples, oranges and grapes top the list, he said. “And the number one carrier for fruit in this country is yogurt.
“I think fruit is a lot like yogurt. It’s self-contained, there’s no preparation needed, all that’s really required is that it be fresh. It’s the number one dessert in America, it can be a snack, it can be a meal. In many ways, its part of the larger issue of ‘How do we make our lives easier?’”
The report doesn’t explore whether local, seasonal and organic produce are rising in popularity, but Balzer says it’s likely that the expanded availability of fresh fruits year-round likely has spurred increased consumption over time.
Convenience is also likely the reason vegetables, while a popular part of the American diet, aren’t moving up the list. Unlike fruit, Balzer says, vegetables usually need to be prepared or at least cut up before they can be consumed and there’s more cleanup involved.
As fruit moved up the list, other items including carbonated soft drinks, milk and fruit juices moved down. Fruit juice has been replaced by fresh fruit in many American diets, Balzer said, and together fruit and fruit juice makes up 10% of everything we eat.
Are restaurants catering to this shift?
“I don’t know, but I do know restaurant meals are changing. Within the restaurant industry, the movement has really been that we don’t use restaurants as often as we used to, and two, the fast-casual segment has been the fastest growing. Fast casual’s strength is the focus on the food. People perceive it to be healthier than other places, but it’s really about the food quality, and that it’s prepared the way I like it. That’s what fruit is, it’s about the food. America right now is in love with real foods.
“I think America always wants to eat healthy, it never wants to eat unhealthy. The issue is how do we define health? The primary factors are time and money. Habits are very hard to break, we’re always looking for better options for what we’re already eating.
“We don’t go to restaurants for health, for the most part. We go for convenience. Fast food had captured that market and then fast casual came along and put the focus back on the food.”
Sandwiches, including burgers, always come in first — is there anything new there?
“The changes in the last 20 years have been profound. Sandwiches are the most popular, so it affects the most people. The restaurant industry understands the need for fresh when it comes to sandwiches. And restaurants are winning because we want convenient and fresh when it comes to sandwiches, and you’re more likely to get a fresh sandwich in a restaurant. The grocery store has more fresh ingredients, but you can’t make a sandwich as fresh at your house as the one you can get at a restaurant. That’s why three of the top five fastest-growing restaurant brands are sandwich places.”
Top 10 Foods and Beverages in the American Diet
Carbonated Soft Drinks
Source: NPD Group