Determined to effect real change and promote wellness in America, supermarkets, suppliers and promotional boards are doing more than ever before to educate consumers about the health benefits associated with eating more produce.
One meaningful way that the industry is bolstering its health messaging is by teaming with registered dietitians (RDs). Dedicated retail dietitian positions are on the rise, with 60 percent of retailers employing at least one dietitian, according to the 2015 Progressive Grocer Retail Dietitian survey. On the frontlines with consumers, RDs are influential proponents of fresh produce.
“Supermarket dietitians are the link to consumers in stores and are a key to customer engagement,” affirms Stephanie Bazan, market development director of Avocados From Mexico (AFM), in Irving, Texas.
AFM works with its own RD, Barbara Ruhs (who has contributed columns to PG), as well as supermarket dietitians across the country to communicate the nutritional benefits of avocados. “Supermarket RD promotions have a proven impact on incremental sales, while also offering a valuable service in the retail space — providing access to the nutrition experts,” asserts Bazan. “This helps retailers have a competitive advantage, enhance loyalty and increase basket size.”
Ruhs publishes the AFM supermarket newsletter for the retail dietitian network. The publication features nutritious recipes; creative ideas for incorporating more avocados in daily meals, snacks, baking and smoothies; education; and upcoming retail promotions.
“We’ve seen more than a 100 percent increase in sales during supermarket dietitian promotions that included weekly ads, a nutrition newsletter, in-store demos and media appearances,” observes Ruhs. “These dietitians have a variety of ways to connect with consumers, and it seems to be making a huge impact on their purchase behavior, knowledge of the nutrition attributes of avocados, and expanding their culinary versatility.”
Produce for Kids, whose mission is to educate families on the benefits of healthy eating while raising money for child-oriented organizations, has long seen the value of collaborating with in-store dietitians. The Orlando, Fla.-based nonprofit’s new We Heart RDs program aims to supply in-store dietitians with the tools they need to help consumers eat more healthfully.
As part of the program, Produce for Kids ships toolkits to grocery store RDs on a monthly basis. The kits contain recipes, a “What’s in Season” list of the best fresh produce to eat that month, healthy-eater stickers, and more.
“We are hoping that this growing segment of retail dietitians will give the produce industry another avenue to flourish,” says Produce for Kids VP Trish James.
Commodity boards have been invited to participate in the RD toolkit boxes. AFM is partnering on Produce for Kids’ May RD box, while the Watermelon Board, in Winter Springs, Fla., is collaborating on the June/July kit.
Several years ago, inundated with retail dietitian requests for nutritional information and data on apples, pears and cherries, Chelan Fresh hired a team of RDs with different specialties, from diabetes to fitness, to create RD toolkits on the three fruits.
“We wanted to make it relevant to working supermarket RDs and give them the tools they needed to do in-store consultations, demos and school tours,” explains Kathryn Grandy, marketing manager for Chelan Fresh, based in Chelan, Wash.
In October 2015, Chelan Fresh launched two healthy-lifestyle tools for consumers with the debut of its “Healthy You in One Minute” video series and a 48-page “Healthy You in One Minute Handbook.” To date, the company has produced six videos and plans to continue to produce new one-minute videos on a range of topics.
The handbook, according to Grandy, features everything from “how to make phenomenal-tasting baby food” to “how to incorporate fruit into grains to make it easy to digest for seniors.
“We have a very wonderful team of food and health professionals who help us develop ‘Healthy You in One Minute,’ and present the information in a way that’s different, fun and more than just a recipe,” she adds.
For example, the summer edition will feature an educational piece on freezing cherries. “We’re suggesting that consumers buy a bag for now and another bag to freeze for later,” Grandy says.
Easy When You Know How
Ocean Mist Farms, in Castroville, Calif., is equally committed to working with RDs to spread the message that fresh produce is not only good for one’s health, but also easier to prepare than many consumers realize.
“Artichokes and Brussels sprouts, our two biggest crops, are nutrient powerhouses and we work with registered dietitians to conduct regular literature reviews so we can stay abreast of new research detailing the health benefits of those two vegetables,” says Diana McClean, director of marketing. “We then take that information and package it in a format that is usable for our store partners — the registered dietitians who work for our retail partners, as well as consumers.”
Ocean Mist shares all of its health information via its website and social media.
With artichokes, McClean believes the most important nutritional messages are that they are higher in fiber than any other vegetables and that their nutrient value actually increases when cooked, unlike most vegetables, which lose nutrients when cooked.
“We know education is the key to trial for artichokes, and because we have such a powerful nutrition story to tell, we want to work with our retail partners to provide information to shoppers at the store level,” she adds.
Educating consumers about artichokes’ ease of preparation is also critical to increasing sales.
“Some people are intimidated by how to prep artichokes,” acknowledges McClean. “The Ocean Mist Farms Season & Steam bag takes all of the fear out of the process.” The package technology allows users to open the bag prior to cooking, pre-season the contents, reseal the bag with the zip lock and steam it in the microwave, all within seven minutes.
Fresh and Fun
When it comes to promoting the health benefits of fresh produce and helping customers eat more fruits and vegetables, it has to be simple and fun, agrees Produce for Kids’ James.
“From our observations, the shopper is hungry for information and education on fruits and vegetables,” she asserts. “What’s important is the tactics used to deliver the information.”
Produce for Kids notes that busy families have been receptive to its Build Your Own series. Launched in 2015, the series features infographics that guide consumers through building produce-packed dishes, including smoothies, salads, burgers and pizzas.
“Offering fruit and vegetable recipes to shoppers that stay under five or six ingredients and take 30 minutes or less is something we do online and in-store, and it is very well received,” says James. “It’s absolutely important to put yourself in the place of the shopper. Remember to make the idea of cooking fresh, easy and fun, instead of boring and hard.”
What’s in Season is another simple yet successful series for Produce for Kids. At the beginning of each month, the nonprofit releases a graphic guiding people on the best produce to use that month. “We also align recipes and other communications around What’s in Season, so people have ideas on what to do with these fruits and vegetables, once they make their purchase,” explains James.
At Duda Farm Fresh Foods, healthy and fun go hand in hand. “We work with our retail partners’ registered dietitians to provide information about eating fresh produce to their shoppers in fun ways that will continue to resonate,” says Nichole Towell, director of marketing for Duda.
The Oviedo, Fla.-based fresh produce company also focuses on social media, online and real-world outreach. “We’re invested in engaging with our local communities nationwide, to showcase the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as educating families about where their food originates,” notes Towell.
To that end, Duda has partnered with the San Francisco Giants to create a garden inside the team’s stadium, AT&T Park, as a way to showcase sustainability and wellness, as well as teach consumers about where their food comes from.
“The garden is used year-round for community outreach, including special children’s events where kids learn about farming in California and healthy eating,” observes Towell. “This is the second season that Duda has partnered with the Giants to create a one-of-a-kind experience that shows baseball fans how celery, radishes and citrus are grown. In turn, our hope is they will be equipped with a larger toolkit of knowledge the next time they are shopping the produce aisle at their local grocery store.”
Duda also collaborates with health-and-wellness experts to offer tools that encourage people to eat more fresh produce. Working with Robin Plotkin, a culinary and nutrition expert, the company created a food and exercise log to help people track what they eat and when they work out.
“It’s called Healthy Affirmations, and it’s posted on the front of our website,” explains Towell, adding. “When visitors sign up, Robin provides her favorite health tips and heart-healthy recipes.”
Most recently, Duda partnered with Kathy Patalsky, a vegan blogger, to provide fresh vegan swaps and 15 days of vegan breakfast recipes, including Dandy citrus smoothies.
Additionally, the company was named a Fruits & Veggies — More Matters Industry Role Model by Produce for Better Health (PBH) Foundation for the sixth consecutive year this past April at PBH’s Annual Conference: The Consumer Connection, in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis Markets Inc., which has employed RDs since 2003, recently launched a Nutri-Facts shelf tag program designed to help customers easily identify foods that meet their individual health and lifestyle needs.
“Weis Markets is committed to helping our customers live well,” noted Beth Stark, manager of lifestyle initiatives for the grocer, at the time of the program’s debut. “We can accomplish this goal by providing tools and resources on healthy eating and simplifying the process of finding nutritious foods in our stores.”
Using U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, Weis dietitians developed 13 Nutri-Facts icons that include popular dietary and health identifiers, among them organic, gluten-free, whole grain and vegan.
The Weis dietitian team also recently debuted the Fresh for You and Superfoods programs to help the chain’s customers eat better. Fresh for You foods are hand-selected by the dietitian team, based on nutritional profiles. The items are fagged with signage providing information on ways to incorporate the food into recipes and meals. The Superfoods program, meanwhile, highlights nutrient-rich foods that naturally contain significant amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
From Foodservice to Home
While retail dietitians offer in-store inspiration, chefs are leading many of the nation’s culinary trends that originate in foodservice and migrate to consumers’ homes.
With this in mind, the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), in Mission Viejo, Calif., recently launched a foodservice marketing program to further the health-and-wellness mission of its Love One Today campaign and to raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of including fresh avocados in healthier menu items.
At the same time, HAB unveiled a new foodservice website, www.avocadocentral.com/foodservice, designed to be the go-to platform for information regarding the nutritional benefits of avocados, inspiring fresh avocado usage on menus and highlighting chefs who are already incorporating the fruit into better-for-you recipes.
According to Emiliano Escobedo, HAB executive director: “The Hass Avocado Board has been encouraging Americans to include fresh avocados in everyday healthy eating plans through our Love One Today campaign. We now want to extend this messaging to foodservice by inspiring use of fresh avocados in healthier menu offerings.”
In 2010, HAB established a Nutrition Research Program that remains an integral component and guiding force of the Love One Today program.
“Current work includes partnering with and leveraging registered dietitians, media, social influencers and various organizations to further engage target consumers and introduce and/or expand their knowledge about the benefits of including avocado in their diets,” explains Escobedo. “Plus our annual consumer tracking study helps us understand consumer attitudes and behaviors surrounding avocados.”
In 2015, “good for you” became the No. 1 purchase driver of HAB’s target audience. “We use the tracking study each year, along with our research, to shape the discussions we have with Americans to continually drive awareness of avocados’ health attributes and benefits,” he adds.
At present, HAB is working to incorporate Love One Today branding on packaging.
“Our research shows that consumers are more likely to incorporate avocados into their daily lives if they are aware of the fruit’s health benefits,” reveals Escobedo, “so the more we can educate Americans about nutritious, wholesome foods like fruits and vegetables, the more likely they are to purchase them as part of a healthy diet.”