The Italian fruit & vegetable market looks healthy

Genoa - Consumption is growing but lifestyles are rapidly changing.

Genova - In a less than brilliant landscape for food consumption in general, fruit and vegetables have recorded quite a lively performance during 2016. And it’s the growing interest of Italians in keeping a healthy, well balanced diet and their shift towards fruits and vegetables that has triggered such growth in this market segment, which is performing well in internal consumption and exports alike.

According to a survey carried out by Macfrut Consumers’ Trend, in the first six months of 2016 (according to the latest data), fruit and vegetable consumption is up by 2% over the same period in 2015. Overall, Italian households have purchased 3.47 million tons of fresh fruit and vegetables, partly because prices have remained almost unchanged: while the average cost per pound of fruit has remained stable at €1.59, vegetables have recorded a drop of 1%, and then stayed at €1.81 per kilogramme.

This encouraging performance is mainly due to the fruit segment which managed a 3% jump in terms of volumes between January and June last year: overall, 2.18 million tons of fruit was purchased, while vegetables followed with a +1% to 1.88 million tons. In the ranking of best selling fruit, apples stand out in first place having reached 461,000 tons, a slight increase compared to 2015; oranges come next with a quota of 406,000 tons (an increase of 1%). Pears have had an even better performance: Italian households ended up buying 185,000 tons, 12 more compared to the same period in 2015. Even tangerines and strawberries showed brilliant results with purchases amounting respectively to 127 thousand and 80 thousand tons, marking a +11% and +5% growth compared to the first half of 2015.

Regarding vegetables, the most striking increase observed is for potatoes (+4% to 280 thousand tons) and tomatoes (+3.9% to 268 thousand tons), albeit in smaller quantities, onions have shown positive signs (+8% to 106 thousand tons), chicory (+10% to 37 thousand tons) and asparagus (+13% to 20 thousand tons). 2015 closed with a total consumption of 8.1 million tons of fruit and vegetables and the three year period from 2013 to 2015 recorded an increase of about 8%. Despite the good performance of these last few years, consumption has yet to reach the levels of 2000 (9.5 million tons); that’s when the decade-long crisis started which saw this market segment reaching a low of 7.6 million tons.

“Bearing in mind the many changes of the recent months all over the world, one might describe the status of this market sector with three brief observations,” explains the president of the Italian Fruit and Vegetables Services Centre, Paolo Bruni, “Food consumption appears to be growing, albeit slowly; there are deep lifestyle changes in motion and the new food trends are always connected with theories linking food with health and wellness; there’s a great deal of production but the market is becoming more and more protectionist and commercial agreements between Europe and the rest of the world are hard and slow to complete.”

Despite export restrictions to some countries (Russia in particular), Italian fruit and vegetable sales abroad continue to show significant progress. The latest data updated in October show that Italian companies have exported 3,517,000 tons of fruit and vegetables for a value of just over €3.8 billion. Growth was recorded in exports of vegetables (16.7%), citrus fruit (17.7%), fresh fruit (2%) and dried fruit (12%). These figures are even more positive, if one takes into account the price factor, because prices are in deflation: +6% Vegetables, +29.7% for Citrus fruits, +1.1% for fresh fruit and 8.1% for dry fruit. Overall, volumes have grown by 5.8% and revenues by 4.5%; therefore it’s reasonable to assume that the results of 2015 (€4.5 billion of exports) will be greatly exceeded in 2016. As for imports, Italy has bought about 2,722 million tons of fruit and vegetables for a value of just over €3 billion. In terms of individual sectors and volumes, the only ones showing signs of growth were the dried fruit (13%) and tropical fruit (3.8%) sectors; the ones that showed a clear decline were fresh fruit (-7.9%), vegetables (-4.8%) and citrus fruits (-26.2%). As for revenues, only the tropical fruit sector can boast of a positive sign.

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