Upping Fruits and Veggies -- February 2010
Kathie L. Wrick, Contributing Editor

Generally speaking, Americans still are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. The Healthy People 2010 national targets are for 75% of the population to eat at least two servings of fruit, and 50% to consume at least three servings of vegetables daily. Some new data show they will not reach those goals.

In late September 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its “State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables, 2009,” a state-by-state review of fruit and vegetable consumption. Unfortunately, as a nation, only 33% of adults are meeting the target daily consumption level of two servings of fruit, and 27% for three servings of vegetables. On average, only 14% of adults consume the recommended amounts of both food categories each day, and only 9.5% of adolescents do. This is not a very good report card.

It is known that fruits and vegetables provide critical vitamins and minerals for good health, and, for more than a decade, nutrition scientists have been working to identify and evaluate the role of a host of different phytochemicals in health and disease prevention. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily for a 2,000 calorie intake.

However, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than other foods, and the “Great Recession” that began in late 2008 has not helped encourage more consumption. Retail sales of fresh produce to mainstream America are growing only slightly, even in the face of significant price declines in some areas. The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association’s October 1 report, for the second quarter of 2009, indicated retailers are continuing to lower prices of fresh produce in order to drive volume, but volume increased only 2% vs. the same period a year ago. Only organic fruit sales have enjoyed sizeable increases, with weekly sales of organic fruit up over 16%, while organic vegetables declined 11% over the same period last year. However, the overall size of the organic market is still very small, relative to conventionally grown produce. The USDA’s first report on the U.S. organic food industry, published in September 2009, shows produce remains the largest single segment of the organic food industry and has grown from about $2 to $8 billion in retail sales, from 1998-2008. High retail demand for organic produce has hampered the availability of fruits and vegetables for development of new ingredient alternatives for the rapidly growing organic prepared foods sector. 

Fruit and Vegetable Ingredients 
Food product development professionals can help out by incorporating fruit and vegetable ingredients into their products. There is a wide variety of fruit and vegetable further-processed products available to use in either the design of healthier product options, or to add more flavor and texture appeal to traditionally prepared products. (See chart “Further Processed Fruit and Vegetable Ingredients.”) Either approach might just help boost intake!

Dehydrated products have the longest shelflife, due to their low water activity (Aw). They come in various particulate sizes, from large cut pieces to powders. Technology developments in dehydration include processes that are gentler on the fruit, retaining better color and improved piece identity, with greater vitamin retention. However, these newer approaches remain more costly than traditional dehydration methods and are not yet in wide use. Today’s technology trends in fruit ingredients also include infusion with not only sweet syrups, such as high-fructose corn syrup, but also with characterizing fruit concentrates, which can potentially provide an antioxidant boost. Dried fruits or vegetables infused with custom phytochemical extracts are also available. Fruit ingredient trends include a search for more tropical and exotic varieties that introduce new flavors and textures to consumers. Likewise, new varieties of more trendy vegetables are available in further processed form, from olive pastes and granules, steam-peeled or fire-roasted tomatillo and crushed chipotle peppers, to a variety of reduced-moisture, frozen vegetables that reduce the purge (or free liquid) of traditionally frozen vegetable products.

For formulators, figuring out what constitutes a serving of fruits or vegetables, when they are added to a food product, can be a challenge, given the many forms available for this ingredient. Preservation methods include freezing, heat processing and dehydration, and, within the latter, fruit and  vegetable ingredients are available sliced, diced, or as granules and powders. To complicate matters, there is no single standard for what constitutes a serving. For example, FDA and MyPyramid definitions for a fruit serving are similar and serve as a guide (see chart “Comparison of FDA Servings to USDA Pyramid Servings”). Suppliers will be a resource for help.  Keep in mind that some further processed ingredients may be significantly lower in some vitamins relative to their fresh or frozen counterparts, which will need to be considered in any potential product claim development. Also, consumer perceptions of the value the added fruit or vegetables bring to a particular product application should be considered.

The wide array of choices in fruit and vegetable ingredients means product formulators have many more options than in the past. Increasing fruit or vegetable content of relevant products just might make a nutritional difference and, in some cases, could satisfy the marketing department’s desire for more natural ways to fortify certain food products. pf