Sales of fresh broccoli are falling sharply as shoppers switch to frozen broccoli or other vegetables they find cheaper, tastier or more convenient.

Total volume sales of broccoli have fallen by 5.7% year-on-year to 89 million kgs [TNS 52 w/e 14 June]. Although value sales rose 2.6% to £174m, this was caused by inflation, TNS analyst Teresa Fisher said.

The UK's overall consumption is also in decline, falling by 2.1% year-on-year to 1.4 billion occasions [TNS 12 m/e May 2009].

The slump had been caused mainly by falling sales of fresh broccoli as shoppers switched in the recession to cheaper frozen broccoli, Fisher said. "Most broccoli is consumed from fresh. But frozen broccoli is gaining in importance, especially in a recessionary climate," she said.

Growing awareness of wastage and portion control was also encouraging consumers to buy more frozen, said NFU chief horticultural adviser Philip Hudson, as were recent campaigns to promote the benefits of frozen and the perception that frozen veg contained more nutrients than fresh.

Broccoli was also losing out as people scaled back their overall spend on veg in the recession, said vice chairman of the Brassica Growers' Association, Alistair Ewan. "Instead of buying four veg a week, they're buying three," he said. What made the sales figures especially disappointing, was the fact that this year had seen an excellent crop and good supply.

The overall fall in consumption has been most pronounced among adults aged 35 to 44, according to TNS. Men in that age group have eaten 21% less broccoli this year than 12 months ago and women 16% less.

"I don't think the markets are moving half as much broccoli as they did last year," said Martin Sanders of grower PGE & MP Sanders.

Good weather earlier in the year had deterred people from using the vegetable in meals, he claimed, and they were also looking for convenient alternatives that did not involve a lot of preparation.