A National Lottery-funded initiative to encourage supermarkets to sell more vegetables looks almost certain to miss its target, amid falling engagement from retailers and the impact of the cost of living crisis on consumers.

Peas Please, which was launched by the Food Foundation in 2019, said progress had been slowed by the impact of the financial situation, with the increase in portions sold having slumped from 461 million last year to just 147 million in the past 12 months.

Despite having commitments from more than 100 supermarkets, restaurant chains and other major food industry players, the Food Foundation said it was on course to fall well short of its target of adding three billion additional portions of veg by 2023, with the cumulative increase since 2019 now standing at an additional 771 million portions.

“As things currently stand it seems unlikely we will meet our goal of three billion additional portions of veg sold by 2023 if the 2022-23 reporting year sees a similarly sluggish rate of change,” warned a new report.

The Food Foundation said the financial crisis had impacted on both retailers involved in the scheme as well as consumers.

“Fourteen per cent of our pledgers this year did not report back to us with the expected information – with many citing staff shortages and more pressing supply chain issues as barriers to being able to collect data on sales and servings of veg,” said the report. “This puts the number of pledgers receiving a black traffic light score (meaning no data received) at the highest level since the programme began.

“While this is partly a reflection of a sector struggling to recover post-pandemic, it is concerning to see food businesses failing to engage with schemes to promote healthy and sustainable diets.”

“This has been a difficult year for food businesses and households, and things are likely to get worse as the cost of living crisis deepens,” said Rebecca Tobi, the Food Foundation’s senior business and investor engagement manager.

“Although we have seen Peas Please progress stall this year with worrying indications that families are having to cut back on veg, it is encouraging to see many of our pledgers continuing to work to champion veg.

“It has never been more important to make sure households are still able to access and afford vegetables, with decisive action from the retail and out of home sectors to protect veg from the worst effects of the cost of living crisis urgently needed in 2023.”