Albert Heijn: A major Dutch retailer driving up fruit and veg sales

Retailer Albert Heijn has seen its share of the Dutch market in healthy food products grow from around 22% in 2010 to 29% today, a rise which they attribute in large part to a concerted effort to promote fruit & vegetables (including a branded TV campaign “Fresh Mix”) and a focus on convenience.

Albert Heijn has recently launched a Facebook Messenger service to provide customers with tips to inspire them to eat more vegetables.  From recent research into vegetable consumption it was seen that 46% of the Dutch never eat vegetables at breakfast and 36% never at lunch.  Only 8% shared that they eat vegetables as a snack.  75% do eat vegetables as part of their evening meal but 75% also don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables.

The introduction of a variety of fruit & vegetable prepared snack pots has been hugely successful. Having started out with smaller pots of cucumber, carrots, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, apples, the range now includes a whole variety of sizes, up to an impressive 1kg pot, all presented in transparent packaging, so that the visually appealing fruit and veg really stands out.

The retailer has been working in partnership with the City of Amsterdam health authority and a local university on an initiatives to improve the health of children in lower income neighbourhoods.  In 100 stores healthier checkouts were piloted.  Sales of ambient loose fruit & veg were unfortunately not very successful while chilled cabinets offering the new healthy snack options alongside juice and water have been successful. Recent tests have included healthier products that are on discount and these tests have been successful.  They have been encouraged by customers’ willingness to try new products, but acknowledge that in order to keep offering healthy products in this critical location, sales levels will need to remain competitive. 

As part of the experimentation, young employees were trained as “health coaches” and then gave workshops to young people from local high schools.  The sales of products during school breaks were monitored and the stores involved reported a small shift in the buying behaviour of student customers as a result of the initiative.

And the emphasis on increasing veg consumption does not end there. Albert Heijn has also been working on increasing the quantity of veg in its range of ready meals, which they are also offering in a wide range of different sized convenience packs.

Reflecting a wider industry shift in this direction, they have also been steadily increasing the percentage of vegetables contained in recipes featured in their magazines.

Following the issue of revised dietary guidelines in 2015 which laid down clear recommendations on increased fruit & veg consumption, it is anticipated that demand for vegetables in the Netherlands will continue to grow, therefore it is not surprising that forward-thinking retailers see it as an area of opportunity.