Every little (bit of fruit) helps…

I was wondering if I was still dreaming last week when I read in the newspaper that the UK’s largest supermarket, Tesco, has started to offer free fruit to children as part of a four-week trial in15 of its Glasgow stores. The paper reported that the supermarket wanted try to ‘encourage healthy eating and make your shopping trip that bit easier’ after a similar scheme launched by a branch of the store in Lincolnshire grew to become very popular. Tesco is offering bananas, apples and oranges which parents can help themselves to as they enter the store and feed to their children while they shop. I have to say that I am not a regular customer at Tesco so this was news to me. In fact, I should really admit that I am not a massive fan of the chain as I find them too large and too crowded so if I have to go shop there I generally get in and out as fast as I can. But what I was reading sounded great because it can be difficult to shop with young children at the best of times without them getting too bored and cranky. If you add hunger into the mix then a simple shop quickly escalates into a battle of wills with a child who has transformed into an irrational beast.

However, it seems that the free fruit scheme hasn’t gone down well with everyone. Critics have claimed that it is a cynical ploy in a highly competitive market and it’s really all about the supermarket’s financial survival. They are desperate to attract more customers by improving their image amid much negative publicity around being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office and the supermarket regulator. Tesco are simply trying to lure in once loyal online customers and those who have defected to the growing array of cheaper discount stores. After all, if the free fruit scheme is really about promoting healthy eating then what difference is it really going to make if the supermarket is still selling aisle after aisle of junk food and readymade nonsense?

I have to admit that like the rest, I was also reading the newspaper with a bit scepticism and looking for the catch. I did not normally associate Tesco with ‘healthy eating’ but more with BOGOF deals of pre-packaged readymade staples that display all 3 red traffic light ratings for fat, salt and sugar. After all, this is the same supermarket that recently introduced the new Chocolate & Cherry sandwich as part of the festive season. That’s right, sitting next to the customary Christmas themed sandwiches such as Turkey & Trimmings, Turkey & Cranberry and Traditional Prawn Cocktail is a new Yuletide creation consisting of two pieces of cinnamon bread slathered with chocolate spread, mascarpone cheese and topped with glace cherries. At a whopping 483 kcals and with the nutritional profile of a cheesecake, even my children weren’t distracted by the ‘sandwich’ label when they said, ‘But that’s a pudding, right?’ Not if it’s one of the Everyday Value sandwiches included in the ‘meal deal’. The deal means you can lunch out on the Chocolate & Cherry sandwich, a fizzy drink and the choice of either a chocolate bar, bag of crisps or a healthy snack (such as mini carrots) for £3. I cannot see this lunch slipping under the radar of many schools’ healthy lunch policy, even if anyone actually opts for the carrots.

Having said all that, offering free, fresh fruit to children must surely be a good thing because there is plenty of evidence to show that children are not eating enough fruit and vegetables to maintain good health. Does it really matter if Tesco may have a commercial motive for doing it? What if it could actually make a difference? It would hardly be surprising if the families who normally buy fruit and get their ‘5-a-day’ made up the majority of those eating the free fruit on offer at Tesco. But what about the families that ideally should be targeted? I wonder if families that should be eating more fruit and veg will be encouraged to eat the free fruit on offer when they see others eating it as they walk around the store. Any parent will tell you that children can be highly influenced by other children and will naturally want to have what someone else is having (even when they don’t know what it is). Could it be that a bit of curiosity, snack envy and peer pressure could also work in favour of increasing fruit consumption?

Only time will tell but it will be interesting to see whether Tesco will continue to offer free fruit after the 4-week trial and if they extend the scheme to more branches. I have already seen that the Tesco in Buckingham and Dover have taken it on and perhaps if the competition sees a commercial advantage they will also start offering free fruit. Is it possible that Tesco could inadvertently start a free fruit revolution?

Perhaps it is all too simplistic and only wishful thinking to hope that a commercial organisation that profits from selling many of the things that we shouldn’t be eating can also make a small positive difference to public health. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a worthwhile scheme when there are clear benefits to families. Despite being sceptical about the supermarket I cannot fault the free fruit scheme because just like the cheesy slogan, ‘Every little helps’. I only wonder if they will consider extending it to parents, as well.

It is not exactly a surprise that this week’s recipe has got to be full of fruit. This Spiced fruit and nut bread with clementines is a great snack for after a hard workout but equally, it makes a great breakfast.


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