NETHERLANDS — Consumption of fruits and vegetables in the United States has decreased over the past decade due to lower incomes and perceived price increases along with competition from processed and convenience foods, according to a study from Rabobank.

“The challenge for the fruits and vegetables industry is to close the gap between what consumers say they want and what they actually do,” said Cindy van Rijswick, Rabobank analyst. “Surveys have shown that, in principle, consumers are positive-minded about healthy eating, but in practice they are easily swayed by creative marketing of processed food and beverages and exhibit a strong bias for convenience products.”

The report found a link between income and fruit and vegetable consumption, so in hard economic times consumers respond sensitively to changes in price. There is also a misperception that unhealthy food is cheaper than healthy food. In fact, average prices for fruits and vegetables actually fell less in price between 2006 and 2011 than prices in the total food category, but consumption levels declined.

Processed foods have become such a competitor to fruits and vegetables due to availability, taste, marketing, product range and convenience. Consumers looking for healthier choices often choose processed foods in the health and wellness category instead of a fresh product.

Rabobank said the industry needs to do several things in order to increase consumption. First, inconvenience needs to be reduced. Washed, cut, diced, sliced and packaged products are becoming more popular, so the industry needs to find ways to increase convenience, such as possibly offering chopped vegetables that may be heated in the microwave without removing packaging. Second, the industry needs to market fruits and vegetables on more than just its health benefits. Consumers are already aware of the benefits but are looking for convenience, taste and versatile products. Also, there needs to be better cooperation in the supply chain to keep low-quality products off the market, Rabobank said.