The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Shopping Seasonally

Shopping Seasonally

Dietitian Dialogues

February 21, 2010

What’s a great way to help shoppers eat healthier, tastier and more nutritious foods while saving money, reducing carbon footprints and increasing store efforts to be more local and sustainable? Easy. Encourage customers to eat more seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. 

Today’s global marketplace allows shoppers to experience cuisines and cultures through a selection of foods from around the world, while indulging in their favorite produce year round. Unfortunately, this luxury, especially with regard to perishable items, is not only racking up the global food industry footprint, but is also increasing the dollars spent on high priced, out-of-season produce. In response to consumer demand and a collective moral environmental responsibility, we must all make the move towards living more sustainably in our daily life. Supporting shoppers in their quest to shop seasonally is a great place to start. 
 
Seasonal produce is tastier, more nutritious and thus healthier. Why? Fruits and vegetables that are meant to grow during certain times of the year are able to withstand the specific environmental conditions generally associated with that season. This results in produce that is able to adequately extract the vitamins and minerals from the soil. The season specific fruits and vegetables in customer’s carts and on their plates are therefore more nutrient dense. 
 
Choosing what is in season in your area, state, or neighboring state also means that the produce has traveled fewer miles to your plate. This “time and travel” aspect of fresh produce is especially important to vital nutrients. For example, spinach stored at room temperature loses between 50 to 90% of its vitamin C within one day of harvest. Time and exposure to light are two other big “nutrient killers.” Light destroys folic acid, while vitamin Cs, E, and the B vitamins are sensitive to time. Produce that is picked green in order to survive long distance transport contains far less of these vital nutrients as compared to fresh, locally picked produce. 
 
Another advantage of shopping seasonally? Saving money. Knowing which fruits and vegetables are in season gives consumers a leg up on what’s least expensive. Out of season items, although hard to identify because the produce section in the market doesn't seem to change much year round, are always more expensive. They have traveled farther and are more difficult to produce, transport and keep fresh, which results in more dollar signs at the checkout – and more expensive food waste for stores. 
 
Reducing our footprint is yet another benefit. Choosing to stock your store with more local, seasonal foods virtually eliminates the environmental damage caused by shipping foods thousands of miles. Remember, it is not just the gas guzzling refrigerated trucks, but tankers, temperature-controlled storage centers at ports and distribution centers, and the impact of our individual stores and customer trips to and from the market that affect our carbon footprint. The food industry on a whole contributes to an estimated 29% of global warming. Stocking more seasonal produce, as can be imagined, cuts down significantly on our environmental impact.   
 
If shopping based on what’s in season has so many benefits, then why aren’t more consumers shopping this way? Part of the problem is that they just don’t know exactly what’s in season. This becomes an even bigger problem in winter months, when our food emotions take over and the only thing anyone can think of is a seasonally summer juicy fruit! 

To help consumers choose what’s best for their bodies, wallets, and the environment, clearly label fruits and vegetables that are in season. Also, make sure customers are well informed about the advantages of eating seasonally. This will reinforce the benefits of fresh produce and will ultimately result in more scans at the checkout. Encourage them to try new fruits and vegetables by including recipes that feature what’s in season as well. Including a little “what’s in season” column in your market’s newsletter or in a convenient location in the produce section will also help customers plan menus and enjoy the tastiest seasonal treats. 
 
Some typical winter fruits and vegetables include grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, pears, broccoli, avocado, Swiss chard, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, snow peas, sweet potatoes, and cranberries – depending on which part of the country you live in. Enjoy!

 

Amanda Rubizhevsky, MPH, currently writes for SupermarektGuru.com, SG|B2B as well as for The Lempert Report; she is also responsible for developing in-store health and nutrition educational programs for retailers. Amanda obtained her Masters Degree in Public Health Nutrition from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with a specific focus on Vitamin D and sun exposure.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at allison@supermarketguru.com.