Nielsen IQ’s exclusive study for Valente: Green revolution and trend in the demand for fruit and vegetables in Italy

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During the company’s 60th anniversary celebration event held last June, there was an interesting talk by Nielsen IQ, the company that has been studying and monitoring consumption and purchasing trends in Italy and around the world for 100 years.

Basically, we talked about shopping behaviour at the supermarket and what are the opinions, concerns and priorities for citizens.

During the talk, hosted by Stefano Galli and Matteo Bonù, two main topics were addressed: the first is related to consumer opinion on the so-called green revolution or green transition, while the second is related to a study, conducted specifically for our event, aimed at investigating the trends and evolution of the demand for fruit and vegetables in Italy compared to emerging consumer needs.

The basic assumption is that, as far as consumer attitudes are concerned, we are experiencing one of the most difficult times in the last 30 years.

The majority of consumers worldwide, 62%, think they are experiencing a recession and 48% think they will remain so in the next 12 months.

This recessionary mindset leads to a phenomenon known as ‘polarisation’ in consumption behaviour; in practice, people are saving on certain consumption and then buying premium products in other areas.

There is therefore a return to saving, but not under all circumstances.

For instance, compared to the past, and despite the negative economic scenario, today the consumer looks much more at mental health, physical well-being and sustainability. 

Mental and physical health also involves buying and consuming products of superior quality, products of certain origin, products that have certain ‘reassuring’ characteristics for the consumer.

In addition, the topic of sustainability – financial, social, agricultural, all environment-related practices – has entered the priorities of consumers as never before in the last two years.

The four items that benefit the most from this attention are fresh products, meat, health and wellness products and dairy products.

Nielsen studies show that about 1/3 of the world’s citizens have decided to increase their expenses on both personal care and food products, choosing those that respond most to freshness, wellness, health and quality criteria.

Looking at spending behaviour in the area of food products, one of the key factors is sustainability, which drives about 11% of consumer choices in front of the shelf.

This 11% were asked how important sustainability is today compared to the past, and 42% answered that in just two years this aspect has increased very strongly, becoming a central issue even in spending behaviour.

This shows that, at last, sustainability has entered the agenda of consumers, not only of institutions, not only of companies, but awareness has grown at all levels and in all countries of the world, even the emerging ones.

And for the young generations these percentages are much higher, so as we move on in age this trend will only become more and more important.

Buying only what is necessary to avoid waste is also a trend that has become important worldwide; about one in two consumers do their shopping more often but buy less products, especially if we are talking about fresh products such as fruit, vegetables, fish, meat.

Having said that, we now come to the second topic, the focus on the world of agriculture and fruit and vegetables in Italy.

As anticipated, this is an analysis carried out specifically for Valente, so the data we are now going to analyse, compared to previous data that are part of Nielsen’s broader global studies, are an exclusive you won’t see anywhere else.

The first interesting fact is related to consumption behaviour, i.e. where the consumer goes shopping, which sees a predictable dominance of the supermarket/hypermarket channel, but in second and third place we find the greengrocers and markets. 

Each person, in fact, on average visits more than two of these channels and mainly for three reasons: the first is a trust issue, the second because they feel they are in some way shortening the supply chain and, in the final analysis, they most probably also perceive a benefit in terms of quality.

There are then four main influencing attributes to make this choice, which are seasonality, price, appearance and place of origin. 

An important point is that seasonality and place of origin, two aspects that are particularly linked to sustainability issues, are the two most growing attributes. 

The consumers therefore do not want to stress the supply chain, they look for a seasonal product, possibly grown close to their home.

The second element is price, and we have already mentioned how, to date, the perception of the sustainable product is that it is substantially more expensive.

However, sustainability is precisely one of the elements to break down the price barrier; in fact, consumers say they are willing to pay more for fruit and vegetables if it comes with sustainability qualities.

They prefer to avoid products that are not sustainable, thus also creating an exclusion mechanism against those who are not able to convey this message, and this is the direction in which it will physiologically go from here to the next 10 years.

If today sustainability is a distinguishing feature, in 5 or 10 years’ time it will simply be the condition to stay in the market and those who have failed to adapt will risk being left out.

To return to the subject of price linked to the value of sustainability, when we say that the consumer is willing to pay more, it is also important to see how much more.

In the fruit and vegetable world we are talking about 11%.

Consumers were then asked which agricultural techniques they are most familiar with today; organic farming reached 55% of responses, zero residue fruit and vegetables 25%.

Awareness, however, does not necessarily go hand in hand with purchasing behaviour, and zero residue and organic farming experience a very different dynamic in these terms.

For example, when the 25% of the above-mentioned consumers who stated that they were very/quite familiar with the zero residue technique were asked how much importance they assigned to this issue when buying fruit and vegetables, 92% gave it a very high importance, a sign that this part of consumers, even if smaller, has in some way embraced the cause.

The same is not true for organic food, where the number of people aware of it is larger (55%) but the percentage who rate this as a very important feature in the purchasing process drops to 68%.

Moreover, when consumers were asked what they meant/looked for in organic farming, the answers mainly referred to the concept of ‘without’; that is, without fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, chemical compounds, therefore they were looking for a natural cultivation, proving that there is still some confusion in the consumer’s mind and, probably, even an overlapping of these two concepts, organic and zero residue, because in fact they are looking for the same things in some ways.

At the same time, there is still some scepticism towards organic cultivation and some consumers consider it more of a marketing operation.

Among those who declared themselves to be very or fairly familiar with organic farming, in fact, there are 35% who say they do not trust and are not quite sure how things are being told to them. 

So, beyond agricultural technology, the important topic is education; it is up to brands or retailers or both to bring forward a clearer and effectively stronger, more transparent communication for consumers.

In conclusion, let’s summarise what has been said; consumers are experiencing a stressful situation, but they have not given up on sustainability, in fact they have made it one of their priorities for 2023 and beyond.

They are obviously consumers who can influence change, because when they are looking for a certain type of product the market will have to make sure it meets their demand, but they are equally influenced by what they experience, what they see and what is communicated to them.

Sustainability therefore represents an opportunity, because people are willing to pay more when there is a certain type of message linked to the product, whether organic or zero residue, but clearer communication and education in this regard are needed to achieve a real and lasting growth path for this industry. 

Below you can find the full video of the speech.

Italian, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles are available.

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