April, 2007

Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis

Filling Up Our Glasses

PMA’s latest consumer survey calls out at least two significant glass-half-full opportunities for our industry to grow consumers’ fruit and vegetable consumption in the future.

Glass-half-empty types might pessimistically analyze some of the new consumer responses collected by Opinion Dynamics Corporation for PMA. Consumers report they know they should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. However, they clearly need more education.

Forty-six percent of responders to PMA’s telephone survey of 1,000 adults thought the federal government still recommends eating four to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day; 10 percent said seven to nine servings, only 1 percent said 10 to 12 servings. Worse, 26 percent report they don’t know how many servings the government now recommends. (The guidelines recommend nine to 13 ½-cup servings a day for adults, five to seven ½-cup servings a day for children aged six to 11.)

Knowledge is one thing. Behavior, as any marketer knows all too well, is something else. We asked consumers how many servings they were actually eating; 70 percent said one to three servings, and only 21 percent are getting the minimum four to six servings.

While we have had good success educating consumers about what they should do, we have not succeeded at motivating them to change their behavior. So the time is ripe for a different approach: Fruits & Veggies — More Matters. Whereas 5-A-Day helped consumers know they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, the new brand’s motivational messaging and how-to tools are designed to encourage consumers to, in fact, do it.

If you aren’t already a licensee of the new brand, I urge you to get licensed today. It presents a powerful motivational platform. The more voices that join together to take the new message to consumers, the more impactful the program can be for all companies supporting it. PMA is putting its money where its mouth is, as I’ll outline in a moment.

Our latest survey also showed another interesting dichotomy, this one in consumers’ attitudes about their own health versus children’s health, offering something for the pessimist and the optimist.

About two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, yet only 17 percent of our respondents reported trying to curb their weight. They may be unconcerned about their own widening waistlines but they are very concerned about their children’s. Sixty-five percent rated childhood obesity as extremely serious, 29 percent as somewhat serious and only 1 percent as not serious at all.

Those consumers gave our products high marks for their ability to help solve childhood obesity. Seventy-three percent said increasing fresh fruit and vegetable consumption can have “a lot” of impact to help reduce childhood obesity. My takeaway from this: while many adults find it difficult to change their own ingrained eating behaviors, most want to raise their kids to believe in and behave on a higher, more healthful standard.

Fruits & Veggies — More Matters offers a platform to tap into public concern about childhood obesity. It targets moms because she is the household nutrition gatekeeper, feels tremendous responsibility for her kids’ health and is looking for all the help she can get.

The new brand now appears in influential venues, including retail stores, produce packaging, the mainstream media, via the Internet including mom-focused fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org, and many other communications. The new brand’s rollout will gather steam in coming months, as more efforts by industry, retail, government and non-governmental partners come online and media outreach activities bear fruit.

PMA plans to do our part to create visibility and awareness of fruits’ and vegetables’ newly elevated role in the diet, and for the new brand, by focusing our efforts on a key gateway to children and moms: schools. By the time you read this, you’ll likely have heard about PMA’s $500,000 commitment to the Produce for Better Health’s Campaign for Children’s Health to develop a new partnership. Working with Scholastic Inc., the trusted children’s publishing, education and media company, we will reach millions of schoolchildren and their parents over the next four years.

The program will promote the sheer fun and joyfulness of eating fresh fruits and vegetables to third and fourth graders — key ages when food preferences are still being established. It will also include some basic, safe food-handling messages taken straight from the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s consumer outreach, so kids and their moms understand the importance of messages like Clean and Separate when it comes to food.

This classroom outreach program will get to 10,000 teachers, 300,000 students and 450,000 parents the first year and nearly double that in each successive year. I am optimistic about the opportunities for our industry if we can move consumers from knowing they need to eat more fruits and vegetables to actually doing it, with motivational news tools like Fruits & Veggies — More Matters for moms and our Scholastic partnership to reach kids.

Ten years from now, I look forward to reading about PMA research showing the gap between what consumers know and do about consuming more produce has narrowed. That not only matters more, it matters most. Let’s all raise our glasses and drink a toast to that.

Effectiveness Needs Testing

It is, of course, fantastic news that PMA is investing half a million dollars to help the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) get a new partnership with Scholastic, Inc. off the ground. To assist mothers in feeding their families better, to assist children, as Bryan says, in “…understanding the sheer fun and joyfulness of eating fresh fruits and vegetables…” Well, who could be opposed?

Nobody — and that just may be a problem. The goal — increasing produce consumption — is so universally shared and the general means — focusing on young children still forming their eating habits — so universally lauded that it is hard for anyone to raise his or her hand and ask if this concept has actually been tested.

The exchange Bryan and I do in these pages every month is mostly about research; it is about ways to find the truth, and one of the big lessons is that, sometimes, what seems to make perfect sense, in fact, doesn’t achieve the goals that we seek to achieve.

Bryan tips his hat to this truth when he so correctly points out, “Knowledge is one thing. Behavior, as any marketer knows all too well, is, of course, something else.”

And just as knowledge does not automatically equal behavioral change, so does design not always equal effectiveness. So when Bryan speaks of the new Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign and explains, “Whereas 5-A-Day helped consumers know they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, the new brand’s motivational messaging and how-to tools are designed to encourage consumers to, in fact, do it.”

We have to praise the organizers and designers of the new program. After all, to get consumers to eat more produce — to “do it” — is precisely the challenge. Yet the fact a program has been designed with this goal in mind tells us nothing about its effectiveness.

Maybe communicating “joyfulness” results in higher consumption. Maybe not. Maybe it does for a little while and then the message, and its effectiveness, fade.

Maybe the message doesn’t resonate at all with consumers who find consuming more fresh produce not “fun and joyful” but a burden when compared to throwing a box of Oreos in the car. Or maybe the problem is not messaging but something substantive, such as being unfamiliar with the taste of many produce items.

Fortunately, the program Bryan mentions will reach 300,000 students the first year and double each successive year. That means there are plenty of students who will not be exposed to the Scholastic materials, which sets up a perfect control group for a test.

PBH should hire an objective researcher to evaluate produce consumption in students exposed to the Scholastic program and students who are not. This study must go beyond surveys to include food diaries, register tape receipts, weigh-ins and other indicators of health. By doing this in a double blind way, in which the students and the researchers do not know we are studying produce consumption, we could actually have a test to see if the program is being effective.

It is very important that students for the control group be selected from areas where the program is not expected to roll out, so the students will remain an uninfluenced sample. It is also important, if the study shows some effectiveness, that the study continue after students have left the target-age group of third and fourth graders. After all, we want to know if we are changing eating patterns for life or just while the program is ongoing.

Like Bryan, this author tries to be an optimist as well, so, hopefully, we will find the program is working splendidly, and five years from now we will be able to report that children exposed to the Scholastic materials both eat better and are healthier, and especially that they are less likely to be obese than the control group, which was given just standard advice by school and health-care providers.

This writer will remain optimistic even if the results don’t show that. Optimism would be justified because through research we would be learning what approaches didn’t work, and then we could look at changing the message or trying a different approach.

On page 13 of this issue, you can see some material selected from Produce Business’ sister Web site PerishablePundit.com. On this page, we highlight some of what we’ve written about a program, now rolling out nationally in Ireland, called Food Dudes.

The Food Dudes program is geared toward changing behavior, and 18-month-long follow-up research indicates it succeeds in getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables. Experience and research have revealed specific techniques that help increase consumption. For example, it happens that many children start out saying they “don’t like” certain items — even after they have tried them. Continuous sampling over time, however, changes that perception, and many children acquire a taste for items they previously avoided. This opening up of more variety, more options for consumption, seems to lead to more consumption.

The point is there are many experiments that can be tried to increase consumption. A salute to PMA and PBH for trying this effort with Scholastic and a plea to make sure adequate research is done so we can know if we have a success or need to try another way.