Fruits of Thought
Challenge To The Trade
Just because people know that something is good for them doesn't mean that they will do it. This goes for an awful lot of things in life, including eating more produce.
The industry is currently promoting a massive 5 A Day campaign which, along with other industry efforts, is principally a consumer education effort designed to explain the health benefits of consuming more fresh produce and less of other items.
These efforts are noble and can only be praised. The danger, however, is that the produce industry will be distracted from dealing with the real road blocks to increasing produce consumption.
Current data from the Focus On Produce consumer research program, sponsored by PRODUCE BUSINESS and The Fresh Approach, point out the dilemma. As the graph below indicates, 99% of purchasing consumers agree that fruits are an important source of vitamins, 95% agree that vegetables are an important source of fiber, 76% agree that eating more leafy vegetables can help prevent cancer and 96% agree that most people don't eat enough fruits & vegetables.
It doesn't get much better than this as far as consumer recognition of the health benefits of produce goes.
But this is what consumers already believe. Now, of course, reinforcement is always wise, and there are always nefarious plots out there to demean produce because of pesticides or waxes or irradiation or whatever, so preaching the health benefits of produce is prudent.
Unfortunately, we have no good evidence that this kind of health-oriented marketing actually leads to higher consumption. And the danger is that the industry will be drawn into a state of complacency by these programs. Relieved that someone else is helping boost produce consumption, industry firms might ignore the work required to better fit our products to the needs of our customers.
If we really want to increase consumption, the challenge is not to our national organizations. It is to the individual firms in the trade. Last month, I used this space to address some of the enormous challenges this industry faces at the retail level. Micromarketing, adequate training and effective merchandising are all far from reality.
I think it is reasonable to say that if we could arrange for every produce department in America to consistently offer a well-stocked display of bananas with a full range of ripeness, with some suitable for immediate consumption and some good to hold for a week, we would likely do more to increase produce sales in supermarkets than we could by any national promotional campaign.
The real challenge for produce marketers may be the need to adapt our products to meet consumer demands.' In analyzing the research we are conducting, one senses that the key factor holding back the consumption of produce is not consumer ignorance about its healthfulness, but rather a variety of specific complaints about the utility of the products themselves. Among the factors the industry needs to deal with are the following:
These are big problems, and they are not easy to solve. But if this industry is really serious about increasing consumption, these are the types of difficulties we need to resolve.