The two biggest trends in the industry in 2006 have been the switch to healthy eating and the increase in customers' ethical concerns. As it's 'the green issue' this week, I thought I'd ponder just how green our greengrocers are.
The consumer is starting to be more vocal where the environment is concerned. It's not that clear why these issues are suddenly moving up the list: it might be that the BBC's Climate Chaos series tweaked a few consciences. Tory party leader David Cameron cycles to work. But moving up the list they are, and the supermarkets are responding.
Suddenly, the majors are getting large chunks of airtime for their respective green pushes. In the past fortnight, Sainsbury has launched compostable packaging, replacing plastic: half its fruit and veg now comes in this packaging (saving it 3,550 tonnes of plastic per year).
Meanwhile, Asda's latest initiative is the Green Card, a payment card for schoolchildren that ensures that mum and dad's money isn't spent on burgers and chips in the school canteen, but that the kids have to buy healthy food. This follows on from Andy Bond's call for a common sustainability agenda.
Tesco has been very keen to emphasise its environmental side: the advert that springs most readily to mind currently is the one about their attempts to reduce carrier bag use, and other initiatives from the market leader have included setting a target of halving the average energy use in all its buildings by 2010 and switching distribution from lorries to purpose-built 'green' trains.
But are these proactive moves born out of a genuine desire to put the environment first, or are they simply reactions to consumer opinion? Unfortunately, we think it's the latter. Why else would the food retailers have chosen 2006 to up the ante on green issues? It's not as though environmental concerns have just emerged. They're simply doing what they always do: giving the punters what they want. And green issues provide delicious soundbites.
So don't be fooled. Next time you hear one of the majors applauding itself about its environmental actions, ask why they're making so much noise. It's not because they've just had a sleepless night on the topic; it's because it's what you want to hear.
Don't pat them on their green backs...because they just want your greenbacks.