Fruits and vegetables (henceforth referred to as F&V) are very good sources of
vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fibre. Adequate consumption of F&V is
one of the most cost-effective measures to alleviate micronutrient deficiencies and
could help to reduce a wide range of diseases. Therefore, the consumption of F&V is
encouraged as part of a healthy diet which will lead to lower personal and social
health costs. According to medical recommendations, an adult needs a minimum of
400 grams of varying F&V each day to lead a healthy life. However, Sri Lanka's per
capita consumption of F&V remains far below the required average daily intake. Due
to the diverse nature of socio-economic status, the patterns and decisions in F&V
intake may vary from household to household (henceforth referred to as HH).
Understanding this behavior is important in decision making along with the F&V supply
chain as well as in implementing nutrition policies. Hence, the focus of this study is
identifying F&V consumption patterns, contributory factors for consumption, and
barriers and potential to increase F&V intake at HH level in Sri Lanka with special
attention to the urban, rural, and estate sectors.
Multistage Random Sampling Method was employed and 443 HHs representing the
urban, rural, and estate sectors were surveyed using a structured questionnaire.
Descriptive analysis was conducted to examine the F&V purchasing behaviour of HHs.
The F&V intake was measured according to the National Food Guidelines presented
by the Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka, and Food and Agriculture Organization
guidelines. The Simpson Index Analysis was used to calculate F&V consumption
diversity across HHs. The factors which influence HH F&V consumption were
examined using a Regression Analysis. An Exploratory Factor Analysis was used to
identify factors that influence the potentials and barriers to F&V consumption.
Urban HHs spend more than twice the amount that rural and estate HHs spend on
F&V. The budget share of F&V varies across the three sectors showing values of 0.42,
0.32, and 0.29 among urban, rural, and estate dwellers respectively. The vegetable
budget share is higher than the fruit budget share in all three sectors indicating
higher spending for vegetables in comparison to fruits. In the period from 2002
to 2016, there is an increasing trend in fruit budget shares in urban HHs over time
and a declining trend in the rural sector. There is no significant change in fruit budget
shares in the estate sector during this period. Urban HHs show a declining trend
in the vegetable budget share over time in the same period, while the rural and
estate sectors showed an upward trend. However, the percentage of the food
budget spent on F&V is generally small in all three sectors, ranging from 1.9 percent
to 10 percent.
A majority of the urban (69%), estate (69%), and rural (56%) HHs totally depend on
outsources for obtaining F&V, while only four percent of the rural sector and one
percent of estate HHs fully depend on home gardens to obtain F&V. Most of the HHs
in the urban sector are inclined to use supermarkets to obtain F&V while the rural
sector HHs prefer home gardens and the local market (pola). Estate HHs mostly
prefer the local market and roadside vendors. A majority of the respondents (99%)
did not have problems with the availability of F&V at markets. However, there was a
keen interest in buying fresh F&V rather than packed or processed ones. Quality and
freshness were the most important attributes that come under F&V purchasing,
followed by price, safety, and seasonality which were ranked under important
The per capita fruit consumption was estimated and it varied across urban (187.78
g/day/person), rural (151.51 g/day/person) and estate (43.34g/day/person) HHs. The
per capita vegetable consumption was reported as 180.55 g/day/person in the urban
sector, 165.89 g/day/person in the rural sector, and 108.38 g/day/person in the
estates. The Simpson Index Analysis revealed that diversity of F&V intake varies
among HHs and the highest diversity is in urban (0.65) HHs, followed by rural (0.58), and
estate (0.32). In addition, the consumption of vegetables (urban- 0.63, rural- 0.56,
estate- 0.28) is more diversified than the consumption of fruits (urban-0.31, rural-
0.19, estate-0.025). However, quantity, as well as the diversity of F&V intake, is very low
in estate HHs in comparison to the urban and rural sectors. According to the Multiple
Linear Regression Analysis, HH size, gender, education level of the HH head, number
of children, food habits, dwelling in an urban area, and access to the F&V market have a
significant effect on HH expenditure on F&V over other expenditures. The results of
the Exploratory Factor Analysis revealed eight factors that impact potentials and
constraints in F&V consumption. They are, “the willingness to change”, “choice of
F&V”, “awareness of recommendations”, “liking”, “health consciousness”,
“difficulties,” “ease” and “perceived quality of F&V”. All together, these factors
explained 70 percent of the total variation.
Most of the respondents were aware of the nutritional benefits of F&V. However,
the majority of respondents (75%) in the survey were not aware of the National
Food Guidelines, quantity, variety of intake, and terms like serving and serving sizes.
Perception of chemical usage in fruit ripening, poor taste, and high prices were the
most important factors which hindered HH fruit consumption. Awareness about the
nutritional benefits of F&V, quality of the products, availability at home gardens,
reasonable price, and seasonal availability were reported as motives for F&V intake.
The majority of the respondents (97%) highly perceived that the F&V they purchased are
not very safe and believed that they are contaminated with pesticide residues. This
belief negatively affected the F&V consumption and purchasing decisions of a
majority of HHs (74%). Most of the respondents (60%) were aware of organic F&V.
However, non-availability, doubt about the product guarantee, lack of promotion,
and unclear declarations of the organic status were the major barriers for reducing
purchase of organic F&V.
According to the sector of residence, socio-economic status, and the F&V
consumption patterns of HHs varied, which suggests that actors in the supply chain
of F&V should find the most suitable markets for their products across three sectors. The
nutrition policies should place more emphasis on promoting F&V consumption,
making people aware of the importance of a diversified F&V intake, and promoting
better attitudes towards healthy diets. Estate sector HHs, in particular, should be
specifically targeted in such strategies as they have the least F&V intakes in
accordance with dietary recommendations. Assurance of quality and safety of F&V
available at the market is essential and market inspections and legislation
procedures should be strengthened and regulated. It is recommended that scientific
research is done to assess the residual effects of pesticide use and that people are
made aware of this information to prevent misconceptions. There is a potentially
viable market for safe F&V and national legislation for reputable organic certification
will lead to greater trust in organic F&V. Moreover, investments in F&V research
aimed at reducing production costs and enhancing food safety could greatly benefit
population health by helping to lower the price of F&V making them more accessible
to the populations that need them.