Parents on lower incomes face barriers to affording fruit, veg and wholegrains

Healthy food

Parents on lower incomes face barriers to accessing and affording fruit, veg and wholegrains across major UK retailers

Friday 15th March 2024 - New data from The Food Foundation, published today as part of its Kids Food Guarantee programme, has found that:

  • 14% of the lowest priced fruit and veg products across major retailers in the UK contain added salt and/or sugar
  • If poorer families were buying the lowest priced fruit and veg available, it would cost between 34-52% of one person’s weekly food budget to afford a week’s worth of 5-a-day. This compares to 17-26% for the wealthiest 10% of families
  • The cheapest fruit and veg items that appear online are often not stocked in stores
  • Just 16% of common carbohydrates, including bread, pasta, rice and noodles, are wholegrain, with wholegrain foods costing more on average than comparable white carbohydrate products

The Food Foundation worked with Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank, to monitor the price and availability of fruit, veg and wholegrain products (pasta, bread, rice, noodles) across seven major UK retailers including Aldi, ASDA, Morrisons, Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Co-op, with data collected in November 2023.

Fruit, veg and wholegrain products were the focus of the study as they are items that are essential for a healthy diet (1)

More than one in seven (14%) of the lowest priced fruit and veg products across the seven retailers looked at contained added sugar and/or salt.

Vegetables were more likely to contain added salt or sugar than fruit products, with baked beans, tinned peas and tomato sauces most likely to contain added salt and sugar.

This is concerning given that young children are advised to have only very limited amounts of salt and added sugar in their diets, and these products cannot be purchased with Healthy Start vouchers so low income families will be more limited in their options.

The study found a week’s worth of fruit and veg (at least 35 portions) for one person can be purchased for less than £14(2). Fruit is on average twice as expensive as vegetables, at 19p per portion compared to 10p per portion for veg.

The average weekly expenditure on food per person for the poorest 10% of UK households is £25 per week, compared to £50 for the wealthiest 10% of households.

This means that even if poorer families were buying the lowest priced fruit and veg available, it would cost between 34-52% of one person’s weekly food budget to afford a week’s worth of 5-a-day. This compares to 17-26% for the wealthiest 10% of families.

It is little surprise that consumption of fruit and veg is where the widest inequalities are seen between high and low income households.

The National Food Strategy showed that just 55% of low income households meet the 5-a-day recommendation compared to 85% of the highest income households.

The Food Foundation staff and Young Food Ambassadors visited 30 stores across the UK to spot test how widely available the 10 lowest cost fruit and veg items for each retailer are.

They found that the majority of the stores (60%) had 5 or less of the 10 lowest cost items identified in stock.

On average stores had five items available, although this was lower in the local/express stores visited, where an average of four low-cost fruit and veg products were available.

The study also shows that wholegrain items can be difficult to access. Across all four carbohydrate categories looked at (pasta, rice, bread, noodles), most available options are white, unrefined products.

Just one in six (16%) of all products were wholegrain, whole wheat, brown, or 50:50, with only six whole wheat noodle products available across all seven retailers.

Additionally, the price of wholegrain and brown products is, on average, higher than the closest comparable low cost white product across all four categories making it difficult for low income families to buy healthier products(3).

The average price difference is greatest in the rice category, where on average it costs 77p more per 100g to buy brown rice compared to similar white rice products.

Surveys show that 95% of adults don’t eat enough wholegrains (a great source of fibre) and nearly one in three get none at all. Intakes of fibre are also very low, with just 9% of adults meeting the recommended daily intake of fibre.

Rebecca Tobi, Senior Business and Investor Engagement Manager, at The Food Foundation, said: "There are very few people who would argue with the fact that fruit and veg should be the absolute cornerstone of a healthy diet.

"Which is why it’s crucial that supermarkets and policy makers act to close the inequality gap when it comes to supporting low income households to access and afford healthy staples.

"The Eatwell Guide and a large body of evidence supports the critical role fruit, veg and wholegrains ought to play in a healthy, balanced diet.

"But our food environment is setting families up to fail, with the healthiest options often the hardest to easily access and afford.

"The government ought to ensure the cost of a healthy diet as recommended in the UK’s healthy eating guidance is factored into benefits and minimum wage levels.

"And retailers need to do more to ensure that competitively priced healthy essentials are available across all product categories, and in all stores."

Rushda, 15 from Halifax, is a Food Ambassador for The Food Foundation and took part in the research, testing which of the cheapest fruit and veg products listed online could be found in store.

She said: “Everyone should have access to fruits, vegetables, and wholegrains because they are packed with essential nutrients that our bodies need to stay healthy as they can help prevent diseases and boost our overall well-being.

"It's important for everyone to have the opportunity to make healthier choices and lead a balanced lifestyle. It's unfair that healthy food options can be more expensive compared to unhealthy foods.

"It can make it challenging for people to make healthier choices, especially those on a tight budget. As access to affordable and nutritious food should be a priority for everyone.

"It's important for communities and policymakers to work together to address this issue and make healthier options more accessible and affordable for all."

(1) The government recommends following the Eatwell Guide to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. This states everyone should eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day and that starchy carbohydrate foods, such as bread, rice, or pasta, should make up just over a third of the food we eat, with wholegrain items being by far the healthiest option.

There is significant evidence showing that the amount fruit and veg a person eats directly impacts their disease outcomes. Similarly, wholegrain bread, rice and pasta contain up to 75% more nutrients than refined cereals and have a number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease, type two diabetes and some cancers.

(2) This is the price of purchasing a week’s worth of 5-a-day for at least one person in the packages, bags or tins the lowest costed items are sold in, to reflect that many types of fruit and veg are not usually bought on an individual portion basis but are purchased by the bag or tin.

(3) We selected the lowest priced 10 white products for each category and looked at the next cheapest wholegrain equivalent product and its price per 100g


Please contact: Juliet Grant on 07929075489 or email


Anna Taylor, Executive Director, The Food Foundation 

Myles Bremner, CEO, Bremner & Co

Twitter: @Food_Foundation 

The Food Foundation Podcast
For more in-depth analysis and lived experience listen to our podcast

The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.        
Registered Charity Number 1187611.


The Kid’s Food Guarantee is a set of actions which we think supermarkets should have in place as a minimum if we are to effectively tackle rising levels of food insecurity. These are actions that citizens have told us they are eager to see, and which align with existing areas of focus for food retailers.


For this Guarantee area The Food Foundation worked with Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank working for a healthy, sustainable, just and animal friendly food system.


To monitor this Guarantee area we worked with Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank, to look at whether wholegrain, whole wheat and/or 50:50 staple carbohydrates are available at price parity or at a lower cost to the white equivalent. We looked at seven major UK retailers; Aldi, ASDA, Morrisons, Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-op. Data was collected between the 21st – 25th November 2023.

For each category we looked at the food item in its simplest form. For example, for the bread category we looked only at loaves of bread, excluding fresh loaves baked onsite (as the nutritional information is not listed online), rolls, wraps and flatbreads as well as other baked wheat products such as bagels. See our technical report for more details on our methodology and our full list of inclusion and exclusion criteria.

There is no agreed definition of wholegrain in the UK nor a a legal minimum requirement for a product to be called wholegrain. This means that even products with small amounts of unrefined grain ingredients can be called wholegrain. To categorise products as wholegrain, we therefore looked first at the product name, and then at the first and second ingredient listed using a broad-brush definition of wholegrain to capture relevant products. Cereals described as wholegrain, brown, whole meal and black were categorized as being unrefined or wholegrain carbohydrates. Although this is not a foolproof methodology, and it is likely our figures are an overestimate of wholegrain products given the lack of regulation around wholegrain claims, it nevertheless still provides a useful indication of higher wholegrain (and therefore higher fibre) products within each category.

Fruit and Veg

To monitor this Guarantee area we worked with Questionmark Foundation, an international non-profit think tank, to look at 1) the price of fruit and veg across UK retailers, and 2) assess how easily accessible the 10 most competitively priced fruit and veg products for each of the seven retailers we assessed are.

We looked at seven major UK retailers; Aldi, ASDA, Morrisons, Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Co-op. Price data was collected between the 21st – 25th November 2023. Additionally, The Food Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors and staff ran random spot-checks in 30 stores between 5th –and 16th February 2024 to explore how readily available the lowest priced fruit and veg products identified are across the retailers in scope.

To capture price data we looked at the 70 lowest priced fruit and veg on a price per portion basis for each of the seven retailers. Fresh, frozen and tinned items were all included given that frozen and tinned fruit and veg can be more affordable than fresh and offer comparable nutritional benefits.

As there are no clear government guidelines on fruit and veg portion sizes for children, and because the Kids Food Guarantee looks at family or household shopping baskets, we used a standard 80g portion size to calculate price per portion. A final basket of ten low-cost fruit and veg portions was then selected for each retailer.

In line with NHS guidelines we limited the number of bean/pulse and fruit juice portions (up to 150ml) included in the final basket to a maximum of one each. Items with added salt and/or sugar were excluded, with each basket containing six types of veg and four types of fruit.

We included a higher proportion of veg to fruit in the final baskets given that vegetables can be more widely used as a cooking ingredient. To ensure that a variety of types of fruit and veg were included, we stipulated that for fruits a maximum of one could be juice and one a tinned fruit.

For the vegetables, a maximum of one could be beans/pulses, and a maximum of one could be a tinned vegetable to ensure dietary variety. For further information please see our technical report.

I am looking for...