Free fruit: A healthy freebie or a patronizing gesture?

Since the beginning of November there has been free fruit at the entrance to all WUR buildings where staff work. The fruit@work project team is offering staff at least one apple, pear or banana a week. But is that an employer’s task? And will it make people any healthier?
Teun Fiers,Anne van der Heijden,Liza van Kapel

text Teun Fiers, Anne van der Heijden and Liza van Kapel illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

Ricardo Kristo

Facilities and Services employee at WUR in The Hague‘Fruit was brought in for staff here for the first time on Tuesday. People were very positive about it. It was all gone by Wednesday. I think it’s a great initiative. I reckon some other companies have been doing it for years; I don’t know why WUR has only started now. It is healthy, because people will eat more fruit if it’s there for the taking than they do if they have to bring it in to work themselves.’


arleen Henkens Researcher at Virology ‘I read on the intranet that we get the free fruit from our own experimental farm in the Betuwe. I don’t know what used to be done with that fruit before this, but I like the fact that it goes to staff now. If WUR sold the fruit externally I would be less positive. Then I would say: you had better take a look at the bigger picture of the food on offer. The campus is full of temptations to eat fast, unhealthy food; there is a vending machine in every building and at Campus Plaza it’s mainly fast food restaurants. You can’t make up for that with a couple of apples a week, of course.’

Marie Wesselink

Researcher at Wageningen Plant Research in Lelystad ‘We got fruit in our department for the first time last week; it was delicious! I understood that the fruit was left over at the orchard in Randwijk, so I think it’s great that it’s is eaten by staff. We cracked jokes in the canteen that we could return the compliment with a tipper truckful of potatoes. Personally I don’t buy as much fruit as I would like, so an extra piece a week is a nice little bonus. In my view, staff are responsible for their own health, so WUR didn’t have to do this. But we are enjoying it.’

Henry ten Klooster

Head of De Bongerd Sports Centre‘In my view it is only normal to encourage healthy eating habits, just as we encourage people to exercise. In think WUR especially should do all it can, not just to publicize its mission but also to apply it to its own students and staff. De Bongerd Sports Centre supports the mission too, and contributes to the quality of life of our own staff by providing them with more healthy food. We also offer exercise programmes for WUR staff in their workplaces, and for students in between lectures. That is to counteract the negative effects of too much sitting still.’

Linda den Blanken

Receptionist at Orion‘A nice initiative! I took a mandarin orange. It has gone down well with my colleagues too, although they wouldn’t mind a bit more. They said there would be 1.6 pieces of fruit per person per week. That’s not an awful lot, especially if they miscalculate like they did this week. We have to pick it up at the Forum, which is a bit odd too. Last week it stayed there and we didn’t have any fruit. But this week everyone enjoyed the fruit.’

Maxime Visser

BSc student of Nutrition and Health ‘On the basis of my degree subject I can say it is good to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables. Most people could do with eating a bit more fruit, and it is definitely better than a cookie or other snacks. I do wonder why they don’t hand it out free everywhere. It could be that students, with their beer consumption and frozen pizzas, need that fruit more than staff do. I myself don’t always get the recommended weekly amount, so when I saw the crate in Radix recently, I took an apple. It would be good to bring down the price of fruit in the canteen, too. You can easily pay 70 cents for a banana there, whereas in the supermarket you get a kilo for one euro.’

Ingrid Lubbers

Lecturer in Soil Geography and Landscape ‘It just so happens I took my first apple yesterday, and it was delicious. I think it’s a good initiative. Only I do think it is the people who already love fruit who are the first to take a piece. So I don’t know whether it will change people’s eating habits much. At first it wasn’t entirely clear to me who it was intended for. Later I saw an explanation on the intranet, but I hadn’t noticed the text next to the crates. So I can well imagine it’s confusing for students and that they sometimes help themselves too.’

Written response from the fruit@work WUR project group

‘It is very important to Wageningen University & Research for our staff to be and stay as healthy as possibly, both physically and mentally. Then they can do their jobs with enthusiasm, motivation and inspiration. Fruit@work, part of the vital@work programme, aims at promoting a healthy lifestyle through a healthy diet. It would be fantastic if WUR could offer all students free fruit as well. Unfortunately that is not yet possible. Facilities and Services is talking to the caterers about healthy restaurants. As for the fruit, it is true: if it’s finished, that’s it. We want to avoid waste.’

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