Voedingscentrum (the Netherlands Nutrition Centre) is the independent organisation funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Ministry of Health to educate, inspire and stimulate consumers to choose healthy and sustainable diets. It is at the forefront of a recently launched initiative that recommends Dutch consumers eat at least 250g of vegetables each day, which would almost double consumption of vegetables in Holland. Produce Business UK talks to Karin Bemelmans, Voedingscentrum’s programme manager in The Hague, ahead of its presence in The Health Zone at next week’s Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference
Q: You launched a new initiative on October 16. Can you explain to our readers what that is all about?
A: One of the educational tools we use is the “Wheel of 5”, which was launched as long ago as the 1950s. It has been revised on several occasions, but this March we revised it again to reflect new research-driven advice from the Health Council of the Netherlands that recommends that everyone eats at least 200g of vegetables a day. A report published by the health council in November last year said that there is now enough evidence to prove that higher consumption of vegetables – or at least 200g a day – can have a positive effect on the prevention of cardiovascular and other diseases.
Previously, we had been recommending that people should eat a minimum of 200g of vegetables a day, but we have raised the bar to 250g and the campaign encourages people to eat 50g more a day and gives them a lot of advice on how they incorporate that extra 50g into their diets.
We launched the initiative on World Food Day and the campaign received a huge amount of national exposure, including featuring on that evening’s TV news programmes and across the national newspapers.
We have had nothing but positive response – nobody thinks it’s a bad thing to recommend eating more vegetables!
Q: Unfortunately, people do not always practise what they preach though, do they – what is the average daily consumption of vegetables in Holland now?
A: It is around 127g per person a day at the moment, which is way too low. We are not one of the worst countries in Europe, but considering we produce so many of the vegetables that are eaten around the world, it is very disappointing that consumption remains so low. It hasn’t really changed in the last 10 years, despite greater awareness of the importance of healthy eating and the work that Voedingscentrum and other organisations are doing.
So, we are asking people to double their consumption and to help them, we have created a Vegetable Metre, which is on our website and across social media. The metre illustrates the amount of all sorts of vegetables that a consumer might need to eat to build up their consumption level to 250g from where it is today. We are also encouraging people to start eating vegetables at different times of day, to create new consumption occasions. Most people only eat vegetables with their evening meals, but we are showing them how they can have vegetables at lunchtime or as snacks between mealtimes.
Q: What do you find are the main barriers to increasing vegetable consumption?
A: There are three main things that we hear as the reasons for people not eating enough vegetables. They either think they are too expensive, that they are difficult and time-consuming to prepare or that they don’t taste nice. Our job is to make sure that vegetables are a more attractive option for them and addressing their concerns is one way we can overcome them.
Among our tools, we have a What’s App group that receives and shares recipes for everyday use and we are creating new recipes that make it easy for consumers to include more vegetables in their lifestyles. Things like vegetable spreads for sandwiches for instance – the Dutch eat a lot of bread, but rarely with vegetables. However we introduce vegetables into more diets, it can only have a positive effect.
Q: Voedingscentrum is the lead organisation in the Health Zone at next week’s Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. How would you like to engage the trade and what can the produce industry do to help your cause – and vice versa?
A: Well, we will of course be continuing our campaign and I want to talk to as many people in the industry about that as possible. But attendees at the show can also expect a significant announcement from the Agriculture Minister, who is going to commit funding to a national campaign to increase fresh produce consumption.
What we do already is good, but the figures show that there is a lot more to do and any additional support from the government has to be welcomed.
We want to see more vegetables in the menus of far more settings – canteens, cafes and restaurants, and to do that, we need everyone in the chain to work more closely together.
I think the key word for the industry is innovation. We need to look at vegetables in new ways, whether that is new varieties of vegetables, new ways of preparing them for consumers, a new outlook on the correct portion sizes to encourage healthy diets, or new places to sell vegetables, to improve accessibility for consumers.
I would love to speak to as many people as possible at the show, but anyone reading this can of course get in touch with me at any time to discuss ways of collaborating to increase vegetable consumption.
Visit our stand at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference to measure your own vegetable consumption and get some advice.