It was a half-decade ago when PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine joined hands with the Fresh Produce Consortium, the produce trade association of the United Kingdom, to create a new industry institution: The London Produce Show and Conference.
Combining specialized workshops, regional tours, networking opportunities, chef demos, media programs, student programs, etc. — it has become a gathering place for thought- and practice-leaders from around the world. With the UK on the verge of Brexit, it has become a focal point as the global produce production sector thinks about ways to address the 5th largest economy in the world.
Of course, UK retailers have long been global standard-setters, and an explosion of growth in the foodservice sector has been transformative, attracting companies such as Sysco to invest in the UK and leading us to set up a dedicated Foodservice Forum co-located with The London Produce Show and Conference. The attendee base includes countless retailers, wholesalers, service producers, importers, exporters, logistics and all the components of a vibrant industry.
It has become a place where firms showcase new products, hold meetings for key retail staff and important companies, such as Robinson Fresh, have used the venue to launch new global branding initiatives.
Perhaps no part of the event showcases its reach and ambition as much as the annual Perishable Pundit Thought-Leader Breakfast. We gather interesting and incisive people to discuss ways to advance the industry. It is no coincidence that we do the panel just before the trade show opens, so attendees enter with minds open to new ways of thinking and approach the day with resolve to find things of use and interest.
It is a great pleasure to announce our Thought-Leader Panel for the 5th edition of The London Produce Show and Conference:
DR. RUPY AUJLA
The Doctor's Kitchen
Rupy is the London-based NHS general practitioner (GP) who started ‘The Doctor's Kitchen’; a project to inspire his patients about the beauty of food and the medicinal effects of eating well.
Rupy describes himself as a straight-talking doctor who gives healthy eating inspiration. With a focus on plant-based eating, he creates quick and easy nutrient-dense recipes and talks about the clinical research behind the ingredients he uses via his debut cookbook and blog The Doctor’s Kitchen, as well as his videos and images on YouTube and Instagram.
Standing at the forefront of lifestyle medicine movement in the UK, Rupy is also a clinical adviser on nutrition to the Royal College of GPs in London. Through this role, he aspires to bring the concept of 'Culinary Medicine' to the profession globally.
Rupy is the Show Ambassador of The London Produce Show and Conference 2018.
Vice President of Produce
Houston, Texas USA
Rich Dachman is a native of Denver, CO, and attended Colorado State University. He began his produce career at his family-owned business in Denver. Following the sale of the family business he and his father opened a new foodservice operation in Denver for Kraft Foods, Inc. before Rich joined Kraft's corporate office in Chicago as national director of Produce in 1987.
In 1992 he joined FreshPoint Inc. and was president of FreshPoint Operating Companies in Houston, Denver, Atlanta and its central procurement office in Salinas, CA. When Sysco acquired FreshPoint in 2000, Rich was appointed to the position of senior vice president, Western Region, and in 2007 was promoted to vice president of produce for Sysco Corporation. Rich was awarded the Foodservice Achievement award by The Packer in 2010, and served as chairman for the Produce Marketing Association in 2012.
Business Development Director
Produce and Floral
Publix Super Markets
Lakeland, Florida USA
Curt is the Business Development Director of Produce and Floral at Publix Super Markets, the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States. Publix operates across the Southeastern US and is headquartered in Florida.
Curt was promoted to his current position in 2017 after supporting the company’s produce business in a variety of retail and support roles. He joined Publix in 1984 as a part-time package clerk (bagger) and, after a short stint in bagging, Curt quickly moved into the produce department as a part-time produce clerk. He worked all the produce positions before being promoted to Produce Manager in 1995.
In his role, Curt enjoys giving his associates the information and tools they need to succeed. His responsibilities include: scheduling weekly meetings to share information, discussing the produce and floral departments’ mission and strategy, and perpetuating the Publix culture.
Curt is married to Tammy and has two children, Caity and Christa. In his free time, he enjoys the outdoors, biking, boating and hanging out with his family.
Egham, Surrey UK
Steve is the Purchasing Director of UK-based independent contract caterer Bartlett Mitchell, a position he has held for the last three years.
A caterer by profession, Steve has been a procurement professional for the past 20 years. He started out in the contract catering sector, working his way up from Chef Manager to Operations Manager before his move into Procurement.
As an experienced caterer, one of Steve’s key assets is being able to relate to the people on whose behalf he is procuring. In any food-related business, he believes it’s important to keep chefs in mind when implementing procurement strategies.
Steve also feels his experience in food production and delivery enables him to make informed decisions that work best for the business – not just in terms of price, but also quality and service level.
In his role at Bartlett Mitchell, Steve is also engaged with environmental and sustainable issues.
National Fresh Foods Executive
SPAR Group Ltd
Peter held various brand-marketing positions with international food and personal care companies in the FMCG industry before joining The SPAR Group in 1986. The SPAR Group of Southern Africa operates out of six distribution centers servicing 800 stores.
Peter was Marketing Director for six years, after which he became GM Perishables and launched the SPAR Group’s first perishables distribution facility and then he was responsible for the creation and implementation of the group’s fresh private label ranges.
Theresa is a Technical Manager at retailer Sainsbury’s, where she has worked for almost 25 years. Brought up on a mixed farm in Shropshire, Theresa has always had a keen interest in science and technology, and its role in maintaining sustainable agricultural and horticultural production systems.
Through working at Sainsbury’s, Theresa has established a solid track record of proactively working with and supporting the UK horticulture industry, including driving quality and innovation through facilitating commercial growers’ adoption of outputs from R&D and innovation, which she deems critical for a sustainable, competitive and agile industry.
Amongst the most significant industry step changes Theresa has achieved are: the adoption by tomato growers of hydroponic growing systems, the transition of strawberry growers from field-based production to protected table-top production systems and to packing their produce in top-seal punnets, and encouraging topfruit growers to invest in intensive production systems and pre-grading facilities.
Importantly, Theresa has lead the way in shaping a more direct working approach between grower and customer, which she refers to as ‘evolution not revolution’.
Theresa is also well-known for passionately supporting the promotion of Professional Horticulture education, and for actively mentoring and encouraging into the industry the next generation of Professional Horticultural and Plant Scientists, and Biologists.
In 2009, she founded the Huxley Training Orchards at Hadlow and Pershore colleges with the vision that they serve as a valuable teaching resource. The orchards also facilitate interaction between students and commercial fruit growers to highlight potential career opportunities available to those with Professional Horticultural skills in the context of future food and fuel production.
Theresa says she feels blessed to be in a career that she enjoys, working with an industry she loves, and for a company that has allowed her to follow her interests and make a difference.
PAUL JAMES MORGAN
Fruits and Vegetables
Spinneys Dubai LLC
Paul James Morgan is the Category Manager for fruits and vegetables for Spinneys Dubai. He has been involved in the buying and sourcing of fresh foods for nine years and started his career in the fresh produce department at Musgrave Retail Partners GB, managing categories for the Budgens and Londis brands.
After four years purchasing fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, he joined Sainsbury’s to work in the food-to-go category (sandwiches, sushi and salads). In 2015, he moved to Spinneys Dubai, a leading retailer in the Middle East with over 65 stores across the UAE and Oman. As category manager of fresh produce, he sources directly with growers around the world.
Spinneys is the first retailer in the region to join GLOBAL G.A.P. and hold the license for Waitrose stores in the Middle East.
Jonathan is the Managing Director of Poupart Imports, which has supplied fresh produce to wholesale and non-retail customers in the UK since 1895.
Jonathan is the fourth generation of his family to work in the fruit industry, joining the trade in 1976. He started his career within the family business, Louis Reece, becoming a salesman in the wholesale markets. After five years in the role, he progressed to become an importer/distributor.
After the family business was sold, Jonathan joined Poupart in 1987 and set up Poupart Imports in 1998 to concentrate on supplying the non-supermarket sector. Today, he specialises in procuring a wide range of counter-seasonal fresh produce from South America and South Africa.
LifeWorks Restaurant Group
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania US
Brian Riordan serves as Managing Director of LifeWorks Restaurant Group, the premium B&I offering of Aramark Ltd. Brian joined Aramark in January 2012 as Regional Managing Director. Previously, he held senior positions in the hotel, catering and support services industries, including Operations Director at Restaurant Associates and previously Operations Director at Marriott International Hotels. Brian also has experience in sales and marketing where he led teams in the 5 Star hotel and conferencing markets. He is a member of the Institute of Hospitality and qualified with a BSc in Hospitality Administration (USA).
Senior Category Manager
Fruits, Vegetables and Flowers
Maria is the Senior Category Manager for fruit, vegetables and flowers at supermarket chain ICA Sweden. Since joining ICA, she has held several different positions within the retailer’s fruit, vegetables and flowers business.
Before her current position, Maria was the Head of Business Development at ICA, where she looked after issues such as sustainability, among others.
Maria graduated in economics and management from Lund University in Sweden in 2004. Before joining ICA in 2008 she worked in the paper and packaging industry for SCA Packaging, which has since become DS Smith. She spoke at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference in 2017.
Come join us at The Perishable Pundit Thought-Leader Breakfast at The London Produce Show and Conference.
You can register right here.
Book a hotel here.
Don’t forget to consider attending Wednesday’s workshop, Accessing The UK Market Seminar and our co-located conference, The Foodservice Forum
You can inquire about Industry Tours here
A fantastic spouse/partner program is offered here
And while you are there, you will see cooking demos, media tours, student programs and much more.
But come to The London Produce Show and Conference and help us to help you be a more successful executive, be part of a more successful organization and help build a more successful industry.
If you have questions please let us know here.
And we have a few opportunities left to sponsor or exhibit. If you are interested let us know here.
Looking forward to seeing you at The London Produce show and conference!
Very often the produce industry can be its own worst enemy. Because the crop is perishable and few growers are national or global producers, there is a constant desire to differentiate various growing regions. Mostly this just results in marketing of questionable value where some region, typically with inadequate funds, tries to differentiate itself when a smarter course would be a more unified marketing approach.
Every so often, though, these efforts move into food safety and dubious science.
So, as the industry has struggled with the Romaine Crisis, farmers in other areas have struggled to differentiate themselves to consumers. As a marketing program, this makes perfect sense. One of the horrible failures of the CDC and FDA is they use language that simply does not mean anything to consumers.
What is a Yuma? Where is that? What is the growing season there? How can anyone know the lettuce in a salad is not from there?
So, it is an important effort to make sure consumers know that the product available at a store or in a restaurant is not a focus of concern. But it is easy for well-meaning farmers, anxious to differentiate their crop, to go beyond marketing into dubious science.
So, for example, here is one article: South Jersey Farmers and Distributors Promising Safe Romaine Lettuce Despite Nationwide Concern. The title is great, and left at that — saying that there is no indication of a problem with Romaine grown in South Jersey — the message is properly targeted.
But within the article, the general message morphs into a bizarre claim that there can never be a problem:
But the co-owner of Hensel Farms in Milmay, Eric Hensel, is saying that you don’t have to worry about E. coli if you're getting your lettuce from New Jersey, partially because of how it’s grown.
“A lot of the western lettuce is grown is deserts, and water is basically canaled in through canals, and in those canals, there’s the possibility of animals living there and that’s all you really need is something to contaminate the water and it’s a possibility it could contaminate the lettuce," said Hensel.
Hensel says that pretty much the entire East Coast is irrigated with well-water, which is tested multiple times a year.
"So, that really eliminates the possibly of E. coli or any such dangerous bacteria getting into the lettuce," said Hensel.
The problem with this statement is that it is not true. Yes, of course, water traveling through open cannels to be used as irrigation water is one, of many, critical control points. But it is very far from the only way for a field to be contaminated.
Birds fly over fields everywhere, and they defecate as they do. Animals intrude on fields everywhere —and they defecate. Filth flies reach fields all over the world. Workers and other humans can carry pathogens into a field. Even if well water is safer, animals can fall in wells and, in fact do so every day.
We have zero evidence that the problem in Yuma was a consequence of canal irrigation. We certainly have no reason to say that not being exposed to that particular critical control point is an important food safety advantage.
In addition, these risks exist in nature, but massive efforts are made to mitigate these risks. Almost all theRomaine growing out west is done under the auspices of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and its Arizona cousin, the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
These standards are best in class and include requirements for water testing, etc. In most of the rest of the country, growers operate under a much lower standard, using Good Agricultural Practices audits or no audits at all.
Now we understand fully the desperation of farmers whose income has been hurt by this or other food safety outbreaks – even when they were completely uninvolved. But we need to make sure that industry claims are science-based. Otherwise we won’t have credibility when the next outbreak hits.
To make sure that the science is clear, we shared this piece with Trevor Suslow at UC Davis and asked him to provide a science-based assessment of these claims, while understanding the urgent desire of non-Yuma growers to differentiate themselves.
Here is what Dr. Suslow shared with us:
Whether part of national distribution channels or largely regional and local-grown marketing, I fully support all growers’ pride and passion for their region, farm, and dedication to providing wholesome and nutritious products for the health and enjoyment of consumer. I also fully understand and am aware of the documented negative economic impacts that outbreaks have to non-implicated farms across a commodity, and potentially all related categories from all regions.
What we must all focus on, however, is the impact to those outbreak victims directly affected by the implicated product contamination. All stakeholders should be working cooperatively and as openly as possible to understand root-causes and needed solutions.
This is why as consumer messaging is developed to support regional and locally grown, it is important to keep in mind the available science-based and other factual information related to the current outbreaks attributed to Romaine lettuce for a key production region of the U.S.
Based on long-standing and current research among several universities and land-grant institutions, as well as over a decade of intensive industry-based testing:
Surface water sources used for irrigation and other crop management practices commonly have detectable levels of fecal indicator E. coli present. That is a fact.
These same water sources have a highly variable level of pathogens of concern for potential foodborne illness. The prevalence is almost always very low and the estimated numbers of viable (able to grow) cells, when reported, is also very low. That is a fact.
Crops produced using these water sources are overwhelmingly wholesome and not associated with recognized cases of illness. That is a fact.
Detectable contamination of these crops does occur among individual lots and some is not detected and enters commercial markets and triggers recalls or, more seriously, causes illness and outbreaks. That is a fact.
Public information which identifies the contamination source, water or otherwise, and factors contributing to the current outbreaks is not available. That is a fact.
Water sources from well-constructed and maintained wells are predominantly free of detectable levels of fecal indicator E. coli. That is a fact.
Well water is typically, but not exclusively, free of detectable levels of pathogens. That is a fact.
Absence of indicator E. coli and pathogens in well water does not provide any assurance that the crop may not be contaminated with foodborne pathogens from a myriad of other environmental, crop input, and human activities potentially present in all regions and production districts. That is a fact
The last bullet point is the over-arching foundation for all Good Agricultural Practices standards and audits, as well as the curriculum of the Produce Safety Alliance grower training programs. One message that is strongly emphasized during PSA trainings is that no food safety program and no audit or inspection can guarantee food safety.
A broad awareness and understanding of on-farm risk factors and the associated essential prevention programs across the full supply-chain are needed to support and enhance consumer protection and confidence in the produce supply we all enjoy. Focusing on one aspect, water quality, of this systems-approach to food safety can be both misleading to consumers and, more dangerously, promote an artificial sense of security for growers.
I have a high degree of confidence that the New Jersey farmer, and others seeking to differentiate local supply from this national outbreak, know and embrace this fact; efforts to develop simplistic and clear messaging to consumers to minimize farm income losses from an event beyond one’s immediate responsibility and control often masks well-established knowledge and may be unintentionally misleading to buyers and consumers. That is a fact.
—Trevor Suslow Ph.D.
Extension Research Specialist
UC Postharvest Technology Center
Preharvest to Postharvest Produce Quality and Safety
University of California
Department of Plant Sciences
Local has been all the rage the past few years, and it has a powerful story to tell. Buying local may support green space in one’s community. On certain products, the product can be harvested later and be more flavorful. Under some circumstances, different varieties can be used that may be preferred if the farmer knows they don’t have to ship long distances, and with truck prices going through the roof, there may be economies available.
There are marketing programs such as Jersey Fresh that resonate with many consumers. So there are lots of ways to differentiate local produce.
But to say that any of this "…eliminates the possibly of E. coli or any such dangerous bacteria getting into the lettuce" is not true and saying such a thing is not wise. It is making a promise to consumers that the industry can’t keep.
In Europe, there is a proposal afoot to restrict “unfair trade practices” by large retailers in order to protect suppliers. The Financial Times wrote about the issue here:
Brussels is proposing a crackdown on powerful food buyers that force predatory terms on small suppliers, in a move to protect producers that has alarmed some large European retailers.
Phil Hogan, EU agriculture commissioner, will on Thursday unveil a package of reforms to ban “unfair” contract terms and empower national authorities to police the conduct of big buyers such as supermarkets and food production companies.
The proposal would set minimum standards so member states can take action “to protect the more vulnerable [suppliers] in the food chain,” said Mr. Hogan in an interview with The Financial Times. “If there are not unfair trading practices happening, then they [buyers] have nothing to fear,” he added.
Many small-scale food producers, such as dairy farmers or fruit growers, work on tight margins and have little bargaining power when they deal with the large companies that buy their products. This leaves them vulnerable to being squeezed on contract terms they have little choice but to accept.
These small suppliers are also hesitant to complain for fear of being labeled a trouble maker or excluded from future deals.
The model seems to be the law in the United Kingdom:
Mr. Hogan singled out the UK’s groceries code adjudicator set up four years ago as “a wonderful example” of what can be done.
The body monitors the 10 largest UK food retailers and their relationships with their direct domestic and international suppliers. They work with companies to address concerns but can also consider confidential complaints, make binding recommendations and levy fines of up to 1 percent of annual turnover.
After an investigation of Tesco’s payment terms in 2015, it made recommendations that all UK retailers had to implement. It recently launched a second investigation into practices at the Co-operative Group.
The proposal seems somewhat modest:
The commission proposal would ban unilateral or retroactive changes to contracts and outlaw taking longer than 30 days to pay suppliers of perishable products.
Another group of arrangements would only be acceptable if both buyers and sellers agreed.
Though it is not obvious it really makes much difference, most of the food and ag groups will support such rules. For example, making unilateral retroactive changes to contracts is already prohibited. Any vendor could sue, and win, if a buyer unilaterally makes unjustified deductions on an invoice. But that doesn’t stop retailers from doing it.
Just recently in the US — a much less concentrated market than in Europe or, certainly, in the UK — Target decided to demand 2 percent rebates from many vendors, even when the price had been set long ago by contract.
It is one thing to send all vendors a note that they should calculate any future offering prices to include a rebate. Vendors may not like this, as it complicates their business to have to offer customized pricing, and some vendors aren’t sophisticated enough to sustain such a system, so the retailer might buy product at a cheaper price.
But to do it on already negotiated contracts is just unethical business.
Yet Target got away with it, and others have as well, because the vendors — and often these are not small vendors; they can be the biggest names in the industry — feel they can’t assert their rights. If they do so, they run the risk of being shut out of future business opportunities.
Nothing in these new European regulations will change this dynamic.
Other retailers are asking things of vendors that are impossible or violate the law. Walmart, for example, gave a presentation in February in which it outlined its demand that vendors help it be at least 15% less expensive than competitors at least 80% of the time.
Of course, if Walmart can operate efficiently, is willing to accept lower margins, etc., there is no problem with Walmart pricing as it pleases. But the role of vendors in helping Walmart achieve this goal is literally prohibited by the Robinson-Patman Act, which requires buyers in the same class of trade to be charged the same prices.
In the famous Federal Trade Commission vs. Morton Salt case, the FTC decided the Act required that discounts reflect actual savings to the vendor, not just arbitrarily offering discounts to the biggest buyers.
So vendors are legally prescribed from helping a big retailer such as Walmart to be cheaper than smaller retailers. So what, precisely, does Walmart think vendors should do? Break the law?
Amazon is making crazy demands on vendors as well. Its business is driven by technology that focuses on keeping Amazon a bargain for consumers. So, if its algorithms see that Costco is selling a master package of 20 boxes of raisins at $5 or 25 cents each, Amazon will price its raisins at 24 cents each, then ship the raisins for free to households that buy its Prime service. Then Amazon will try to beat up the vendor because Amazon is losing money! This is on top of the fact that Amazon is not buying the wholesale size package that Costco is, and Amazon is shipping a different item to consumers!
Laws such as those proposed in Europe may help on the margin, but, fundamentally, what really has to happen is that vendors must offer unique products that consumers want, branded in an identifiable way. If consumers love a Driscoll’s blackberry and will accept no substitute, then Driscoll’s can say no to retail shenanigans.
Produce vendors who sell undistinguished product — with common genetics, without consumer brand preference — will soon find that no law can protect them.
Virtually nobody in the produce industry understood why Campbell Soup Company paid $1.55 billion for a carrot company back in 2012. After all, Campbell’s had been in the produce and fresh food space before, owning a mushroom company and Marie’s refrigerated salad dressings.
Now Campbell CEO Denise Morrison, who orchestrated the acquisition and the move into fresh foods, has abruptly left the company amidst issues with both sales and profitability.
If so many people weren’t losing so much money, one would be tempted to laugh. The Wall Street Journal headlined the story, Campbell CEO Departs After Bet On Fresh Food Falls Short, but the “money line” for the produce industry is this:
Ms. Morrison has said it was hard to push a traditional, century-old company to take risks like the Bolthouse Farms purchase. But that deal didn’t pay off as she hoped. Fresh foods have proved hard to source and manage when weather affects produce harvests.
Can you imagine? They found out that weather affects produce harvests and that produce can be hard to source and manage after they spent $1.55 billion!
Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, President and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, is a terrific person and inspiring leader. We’ve been fortunate to have her speak as a panelist at last year’s Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum, which is annually co-located with The New York Produce Show and Conference and is dedicated to helping the foodservice industry move toward the USDA goal of half a plate dedicated to fruits and vegetables.
Wendy has now indicated that the Foundation may promote a goal of doubling produce consumption. It’s big, it’s bold, it will inspire cooperation… but we hope she will be even more courageous and, instead of just making a broad statement for doubled consumption throughout the country, begin a well-studied long-term program with the goal of doubling produce consumption in, say, Columbus, Ohio. Why Columbus? Well, it doesn’t actually have to be Columbus, but Columbus just happens to have a reputation as Test Market City, USA.
And what is needed, desperately, is an industry leader who is willing to take the slow, deliberate steps necessary to find out how to succeed.
For many decades, produce industry leadership has recognized that their constituency would like to see produce consumption increased. So, there has been initiative after initiative launched, and we have not the foggiest idea if they ever did anything for consumption.
PMA launched its Eat Brighter program, and we wrote about it here and here. We are now three years in, and some individual companies say they sold more by using the Sesame Street Characters. Others have dropped or deemphasized the program. Others never tried it.
Did Eat Brighter help boost produce consumption? Who knows? How could we possibly know? If consumption did go up, maybe it would have gone up anyway. If it went down, perhaps it would have gone down more without the promotions. The flaw was not the program, nor trying to increase consumption. The flaw was undertaking the program in such a way that success could not possibly be verified.
Back in 2009, PMA, the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association launched an initiative to double produce usage in foodservice by 2020. We wrote about it here and here. You’ve heard that “success has many fathers and failure is always an orphan”... Well, the 10-year anniversary is nearly here, and, as best as we can determine, despite high level engagement from the CEOs of all three associations at the launch, the initiative did exactly nothing. Certainly nothing we can verify.
In fact, we really had only the loosest guess of how much produce was consumed via the foodservice channel back in 2009, and our data today is really not any better.
What is needed is an initiative that can address the following issues:
The initiative must be small enough that the industry can fund it adequately to achieve its goal. In other words, the population of Columbus, Ohio, is about 860,000 people. If an effective multi-year campaign to boost consumption will cost $10 a year per capita, the produce industry will have to raise almost $9 million a year to fund the initiative. A challenge to be sure — but conceivable. The US population is about 325 million, so the same $10 per capita means we, as an industry, must raise over $3 billion each year — which is never going to happen.
We need it to be discrete enough that we can identify a control group. If by some chance we discover a group of initiatives that will, in fact, double produce consumption, we need to do so in such a way that this is verifiable, because we are going to need resources beyond the produce industry to roll this out across the country. To merit these resources, we will need to have control groups in comparable cities so we can prove that it is the PBH's efforts that actually cause the boost in consumption.
We need to do lots of baseline research. Before we start promoting anything, we need to establish clearly what consumption levels are in the test city and control group location. Since the foodservice initiative collapsed in part over an inability to measure consumption, and since foodservice now accounts for the majority of food spending, if you want to boost consumption you cannot ignore these data gaps.
We need to do continuous research. After all, we don’t know how to double produce consumption, so we will continuously be trying things. Is radio working? Or are billboards a better idea? What about sending reps to the school systems, hospitals, prisons? Maybe that is effective? Offering adult education classes? Cooking classes? Giving out cookbooks? We have to keep assessing and changing and we need data to do so.
We need to ask ourselves whether we are aiming for consumption or for sales. In the Jr. Pundit’s school cafeteria, they began an initiative to require every student on the cafeteria line to take a serving of the daily vegetable, whether they wanted it or not. As a result, the school started purchasing more vegetables. Of course, when school administrators saw an enormous increase in food waste, they cancelled the program. Will we be satisfied with getting more produce purchased, or will we actually only accept increased consumption? And if we don’t push on consumption, how likely is it that foundations or the government would care to roll out this initiative.
Clarify the role of fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juice in this initiative. The Produce for Better Health Foundation represents all these categories, but these are different industries. Is the fresh produce industry in the US expected to fund promotion to encourage canned fruit from China or frozen broccoli from Mexico? Will we have accomplished anything if we get children to double apple juice consumption? What if we get every pizzeria in America to switch from canned mushrooms to fresh – is this an accomplishment by our metrics?
We must ensure multi-year funding. Many, many times, initiatives have been launched with great enthusiasm and then peter out as the excitement dies down and the money runs out.
Is the goal to double produce consumption or to get people to replace other foods with produce? In other words, if we get everyone to eat an extra 500 calories a day because they all eat fruit before they go to bed, but the rest of their diet is unchanged, is this a win?
What is the goal financially? Doubling consumption is not a goal without a financial expectation. Does this mean giving out free produce in offices and schools? Or do we mean doubling produce consumption with people purchasing the produce on normal commercial terms?
Changing consumption of produce is a great challenge. We sit writing this in Santiago, Chile, where every morning breakfast comes with strawberry juice. We’ll be heading on to England, where breakfast is served with mushrooms and a grilled tomato. Eating is difficult to change because it is deeply rooted in culture.
Although we have many examples of individual items booming in consumption — say kale — this is mostly a replacement for an already well accepted food. So instead of a side dish of spinach, we get kale.
We have people dramatically changing diets, but usually this is due to changes in circumstance. So impoverished people who had little meat, if they become prosperous, eat more western style, protein-rich diets.
But we have no examples of large numbers of people doubling fresh produce consumption due to education, marketing or anything else.
Which doesn’t mean it can’t be done. But to run into a national program to accomplish something we have no idea how to accomplish, without baseline research, control groups, multi-year funding, etc. … this all guarantees the kind of failure all previous initiatives have known.
Let’s hope industry leaders help guide Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak and PBH to do the difficult work ahead to actually boost consumption and heed the lessons of countless industry efforts that have wasted money and time and accomplished nothing.
In the produce industry, we would like to believe that consumers want to eat in a more unprocessed and healthy way. But there is a lot of evidence to the contrary.
You can’t extrapolate from individual anecdotes and claim it is a study, but here is what happened when Disney brought the Dole Whip Donut (not an official name) to Disneyland:
Disney does a pretty good job offering fresh produce options. But we can’t say we’ve ever seen a line like that waiting to get any fresh fruit or vegetable.