Stephanie French, of nutrition consultants Harlequin Plus, says the fresh produce sector must wake up to nutrient levelsOrganic fruit and veg are often purchased by the consumer in the belief that they are more nutritious than conventional produce. In turn, the higher prices of organic produce show the consumer is willing to pay a premium for this.
In light of this, and given that production, harvesting and storage methods for fresh produce can significantly affect nutrient content, is there a missed opportunity to offer produce with enhanced nutrient levels but without necessarily being organic?
Mineral content of fruit and veg depends on the soil. The mineral content of fruit and veg grown in the UK has fallen dramatically over the past 50 years.
Waitrose tackled this problem by using a high-selenium fertiliser for the wheat used to make its selenium-enriched bread.
US scientists, meanwhile, have developed a method for enhancing beta-carotene and vitamin C in melons by spraying them with potassium while they are still on the vine. Phytochemicals have been found to accumulate during maturation of red fruits, and an increased maturity of blueberries at harvest has been reported to demonstrate higher antioxidant activity than early harvests.
Trials with strawberries have shown that warmer temperatures produce redder fruits with significantly higher antioxidant content.
These are just a few examples of natural methods for enhancement of nutrient levels in crops. Opportunities might seem very niche. But consumers’ growing understanding of nutrition may at some point cause a backlash against the current focus on yields and shelf life and call into question the perceived healthiness of fresh produce in general.
Producers clearly have a key role to play in working to improve the nutrient levels of their output. But the responsibility does not need to be left entirely in their hands. There are opportunities throughout the entire food chain, with the question of packaging for nutrient retention being particularly ripe for development.
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