OPINION: EDITOR'S NOTE
The price of ground beef is up 36%, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. The average price of chicken is up 19%. But the prices of most plant-based items — including fresh fruits and vegetables — have risen slower than the general rate of inflation for groceries, which stands at 12.2% according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
This presents grocers and suppliers with a unique opportunity to drive sales, increase access to food, and improve the health and wellness of the nation by having produce “take more of the plate,” said Bruce Taylor, CEO of Taylor Farms, at the International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA) 2022 Foodservice Conference.
“Our great-grandkids are going to look at us and they're going to say, ‘You guys actually ate meat? You killed a cow and you ate it?’” said Taylor, who is chair of the IFPA board. “What an opportunity we have right now, both from the cost and the climate perspective, to take more of the plate with great tasting produce.”
Taylor spoke to a record-setting audience of nearly 2,000 attendees at the Foodservice Conference held in Monterey, Calif., on July 28-29. He likened the current opportunity in front of retailers and suppliers to the innovation that led to the creation of the first packaged salad product, which his company manufactured in California in 1995.
“We said, ‘Who's really going to buy a salad in a bag?’ Well, it turns out everybody bought salad in a bag, because they didn't like washing lettuce and making salad. And so, by making products convenient and ready to eat, it broadened the marketplace. It attracted people. It allowed us to get our fresh products into more people's stomachs,” Taylor said.
IFPA CEO Cathy Burns also appealed to the audience to leverage the opportunity in plants as a way to help a nation heal from preventable diseases. She mentioned IFPA’s work with the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, which will convene this September.
“We spend $1.4 trillion today on diet-related diseases. We can do a lot with $1.4 trillion in our industry, can't we?” she said. “This is our industry's time. We really do have an opportunity to make a huge impact.”
Both IFPA and the Food Industry Association (FMI) and their members have made actionable recommendations to the White House ahead of the autumn conference, including expanding meal donations; ensuring access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and food-as-medicine initiatives; embedding Produce Prescriptions as a covered benefit within the health system; embedding a fruit and vegetable benefit within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); promoting nutrition clarity in food labeling of fruits and vegetables at FDA; and other initiatives.
In July, Kroger and other companies took part in a one-day event ahead of the conference in an effort to move the nation closer to the goals of ending hunger, improving nutrition and reducing diet-related chronic disease in the United States by 2030.
"Today, more Americans are sick than are healthy," said Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health. "Simply put, this is unacceptable, and we thank the task force for taking action. At Kroger, we aspire to make a real difference in the lives of our customers and associates by making it easier to access, choose and enjoy healthy foods, while connecting them to expert and trusted health care providers."
Now that eating your veggies is actually a way for consumers to beat inflation, grocers and suppliers have a chance to turn that into an opportunity. Encouraging shoppers to put more plants on their plate may not only drive sales but also solve a public health crisis.