David Shapley
The UK's fruit and vegetable consumption is set to rise 2% by 2004 following a lengthy period of static consumption.
That was the prediction by the Fresh Produce Consortium at the NFU/FPC Horticulture in Focus conference.
Full data are set to be published in the consortium's annual review later this month.
Also announced was the decision to create a new industry champion backed by a board of eight industry experts
The board will elect a chairman to act as industry spokesman when it meets for the first time on March 14. NFU president Ben Gill said: "A horticulture champion and board will be able to direct the NFU's significant resources at the industry's core challenges."
Meanwhile, leading food lecturer Tim Lang criticised the government's 5-a-day campaign and said it should be closer to eight a day. "Five is actually pathetic," he said, claiming the figure was a compromise to satisfy other sectors such as sugar and processed foods. But he also warned growth in consumption of fruit and veg could encourage imports and add more food miles.
However, at a separate session Jackie Healing, Sainsbury senior manager for fresh food quality, said it was time to challenge the food miles debate. Sourcing abroad, she said, was "often more simple for us, and less expensive". While Sainsbury was committed to sourcing British fare, it would not be at any price, she said.
However English growers were being encouraged towards more added value lines such as premium tomato varieties, prepared salads, speciality potatoes and organics with biodegradable packaging.