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Veggie campaigners backing pledge for a healthier local community

Three Northern Ireland organisations are now among around 100 across the UK dedicated to increasing consumption of vegetables as the route towards a much healthier nation within the imaginative framework of Peas Please, an initiative by the UK’s campaigning Food Foundation.

In addition, Food NI, the food and drink promotion body, is driving the project here.

The local supporters pledging support are: Mash Direct in Comber, a successful specialist in vegetable sides and convenience meals; Henderson Group in Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland’s biggest food wholesaler and retailer, and Ulster University’s Business School, which has just signed up to the project.

Mash Direct, based on a family farm and now a leading international supplier of vegetable products, and Henderson Group are long-standing supporters of the project.

Since Peas Please was launched three years ago it has delivered 162 million additional portions of vegetables to the food system working across all UK regions.

Eighty per cent of UK retailers have now committed to major initiatives to help drive up vegetable consumption. Supporters also include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Lidl and Co-op.

Peas Please says: “The ambitious targets for veg sales and procurement are vital to increase vegetable consumption.”

This is a main focus of the work of the Food Foundation and partners Food Sense Wales, Nourish Scotland and Food NI in the lead up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September and COP26 in November.

The success shows a real commitment from retailers and food businesses to move towards clear and transparent reporting on vegetable sales, which is seen as a vital part of transforming the food system to be more sustainable and provide healthy food for everyone.

The Ulster University is pledging to serve and promote vegetables to its students to increase consumption in response to UK research showing that 95 per cent of teenagers currently don’t eat enough veg.

Michele Shirlow, Food NI Chief Executive, says: “We are delighted to be supporting the immensely important Peas Please project because of its strategic focus on improving the health and wellbeing of people here and especially children and young people through the greater consumption of vegetables.

“We hope that the leadership being provided by Northern Ireland pledgers Mash Direct, Henderson Group and Ulster University will inspire many more companies and organisations to back the project to improve health here.

“The project is already making a significant contribution to efforts to counter dietary problems and conditions such as obesity, diabetes and cardiac disease and to ensure people here now and in the future have easy access to a healthier, affordable and sustainable diet.

“It is great to see 100 major UK food businesses commit to increasing veg consumption to support better health for millions of people.

“Transparent and regular reporting against targets is vital if we are to turn the tide on our current dietary crisis and see future generations face a better and healthier future,” adds Michele.

Anna Taylor, Food Foundation executive director, continues: “It is great to see so many major food businesses commit to increasing veg consumption to support better health.”

Henderson Group, in its pledge, says: “We are proud to source 75 per cent of our produce from local suppliers, farmers and growers.”

It pledges “to further grow these partnerships with our produce range The Greengrocer’s, with a goal of increasing our vegetable sales by five per cent year on year”.

It plans to achieve this through “a wider range of convenience products like prepared sliced and diced vegetables, packaged leaves and salads along with a new range of stir fry or microwavable packs, promotional pricing, communications and point of sale information”.

Alongside this pledge, the group says it will continue or adopt a range of supportive measures, including:

n Promoting fruit and veg every three weeks to our shoppers via our network of 470 Spar, Eurospar, and Vivo stores in Northern Ireland;

n Advertising these promotions in promotional leaflets delivered to almost one million households across communities in Northern Ireland, 12 times per year;

n Providing recipe ideas to shoppers in how to use more veg in scratch cooking recipes under its ‘InSPARations’ campaign;

n Focusing on value through its fruit and veg sale twice a year, advertised via shopper leaflets delivered to almost one million households across communities in Northern Ireland and advertised on outdoor media.

n Continuing to work in partnership with local suppliers to create innovative products in line with market trends and consumer market research;

n Continuing to develop convenient, easy to serve/heat vegetable products to meet demands of today’s busy shopper, making it quick and easy to consume.

Mash Direct, the Hamilton family farm business, pledges to build on its initiatives last year in sports and other areas by launching a ‘Grow Your Own’ campaign to encourage consumers to grow their own fresh veg or herbs themselves.

The campaign is targetting three key areas: schools, consumers, and retailers.

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