Everybody knows that eating plenty of fruit and vegies is good for you — and we are well placed in Australia to do this, with a climate that means we can get most fruit and vegetables fresh pretty much year round at very reasonable prices.

The official rule book that sets out what we should eat is the Dietary Guidelines for Australians. It advises that the key to eating well is to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from each of the five food groups.

Sounds simple but the reality is most of us do not do as we know we should.

Research has shown that most Australians eat only half the recommended two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.

So what is the secret to encouraging people to eat more fruit and vegetables?

According to one Australian study, the answer is to lower the price.

The Supermarket Healthy Eating for Life trial done by Deakin University was the first randomised controlled trial in Australia and one of the first in the world to examine how pricing affects food-buying behaviour.

The study found people buy 35 per cent more fruit — or 2.4 additional servings — when the price is discounted by 20 per cent.

The effect of discounting had less impact on vegetable consumption, which is perhaps unsurprising, as fruit is seen more as a discretionary purchase, akin to a treat.

Fruit is often seen as a seasonal bonus too — when mangoes are in season at Christmas, a price reduction will encourage people to buy more to enjoy while they can.

Vegies are staples for many and halving the price of spuds, for example, is unlikely to see us stocking up on extras.

In light of this, it would be easy for policymakers to simply say that we could achieve better health outcomes by making fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper.

In fact, I have sat in the offices of senior politicians and health bureaucrats who have said exactly that — and told me my job was to get the farmers to charge less for their products.

I was lost for words.

When we buy produce, we think we are paying the farmer. This is true in a very basic economic sense as some portion of what we spend at the store does trickle back down to the hands that worked the land.

Understandably then, we think that if food costs more, it must be because the farmer is getting more for it. The problem is that is untrue.

In reality, for every dollar we spend on groceries at the major supermarkets, less than 20 cents goes to the farmer and that generally remains the same, no matter what the circumstances.

The rest is sucked up somewhere else in the chain that ensures food makes it from paddock to plate.

Farmers know well the opposite is true and that when we pay less at the checkout, the farmer makes less.

We have seen this over recent years with $1/litre milk and “down, down, down” pricing. Everyone knows these prices are below cost of production.

Even the supermarket giants admit this is a push for market share and that it is unsustainable. Yet the margins large retailers make never seem to take a hit.

There is no room to reduce retail costs by forcing down prices at farm gate. What we need to focus on is saving through preventative investments in healthcare.

If governments invested in healthy eating campaigns, the savings would be reaped many times over in reduced health costs.

I am talking about things like healthy school eating programs. Another approach would be supporting Go for 2+5 campaigns as a public health message, much as we saw decades ago with the Life, Be In It programs that showed Norm could get many of us off the couch.

Article by Jan Davis, an agribusiness consultant and former chief executive of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association.

Original article by The Mercury

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