Balancing sustainability costs with rising prices in our fruit and vegetable industry

20th April 2023

Balancing sustainability costs with rising prices in our fruit and vegetable industry

Research conducted last year showed nearly two thirds of Kiwi shoppers were unwilling to pay a premium for fruit and vegetables grown, picked, packed and delivered with sustainable practices.

For the country’s $6 billion horticulture industry, keen to develop sustainable measures to protect the future of the business, that reluctance poses a significant problem.

Dr Hans Maurer, Chair of the United Fresh Technical Advisory Group, says the balance between increasing sustainable practices and maintaining affordability is a tricky one.

“We’re walking a tightrope at the moment. Shoppers are struggling with inflation, budgets are tight, but making vital changes to the way we do business is just so important,” he says.

“United Fresh is currently developing a set of Sustainability Guidelines for the entire fresh produce value-chain, but the changes that the industry will want to make on the basis of these guidelines will require investment,” says Dr Maurer.

The United Fresh Sustainability Guidelines will set a blueprint for how the entire fresh value-chain can work towards contributing to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of seventeen key objectives which, if adopted worldwide, are expected to lead to a safer, more prosperous future for people and the planet.

“We have a responsibility to do our very best to meet the UN’s SDGs. The fresh produce industry in Aotearoa takes those responsibilities very seriously and major work is going on to improve and strengthen sustainable practices,” says Dr Maurer.

Convincing shoppers that sustainability measures are important is part of the challenge.

“We know that since the pandemic, shoppers’ priorities have changed. Health and wellbeing are more important, so fresh fruit and vegetables, with their high nutrient levels are in demand everywhere around the world,” says Dr Maurer.

“Convenience is also a major driver, but increasingly conscience is just as important. The understanding that individuals play a part in climate change is motivating more people to look harder at how they can live more sustainably,” he says.

In addition to sustainability expenses, external pressures such as rising fuel and fertiliser costs, labour shortages and transport gridlock along with adverse weather conditions have seen fresh produce prices increase.

“The weather events we’ve been through in the last few months have really brought home just how much our climate is changing, and just how urgently we need to act to bring sustainable, low-emission practices into the industry wherever possible,” says Dr Maurer.

“We’re hoping that shoppers will support the actions that the industry is taking, but there’s also a role for government to take in seeing the value that fresh fruit and vegetables represent for the entire population and backing our growing community to make these positive changes affordable,” he says.