Prescription Produce


More than supplying the staples of a healthy diet, today’s produce industry is tapping into the power of fruits and vegetables to change the world.

Through well-funded research, consumer outreach, philanthropy, and recipe development that’s both nutritious and delicious, produce purveyors are improving the way people eat and live.

“The California Strawberry Commission, Hass Avocado Board, California Table Grape Commission, Mushroom Council, California Raisin Advisory Board, Welch’s, Ocean Spray and others have spent years doing more research about the health benefits of their products,” observes Kristen Stevens, COO for the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), a Hockessin, Del-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to achieve increased daily consumption of fruits and vegetables for better health.

“Some of this was done to combat or correct misinformation — the flat in avocados is a healthy flat — and some is to further the knowledge about their product,” continues Stevens.

By studying the vitamins, nutrients and positive health implications of everything from avocados to blueberries to so-called “supergreens,” produce suppliers and associations are able to communicate this crucial information to the consumer through innovative packaging and promotional campaigns. The result is more consumers buying produce with specific health goals in mind.

In addition to detailed nutritional messaging, PBH also sees more suppliers investing in brands and packaging that spark sales and consumption. “Many are updating their packaging to be more colorful and eye-catching,” says Stevens. “Stemilt, Sunkist and Domex Superfresh Growers are recent examples.”

But are these industry-wide efforts moving; the dial on health and well-being in the United States?

Every five years, PBH releases its updated “State of the Plate” report on Americans’ fruit and vegetable consumption. For the most recent study, PBH commissioned consumer research through The NPD Group, based in Port Washington, N.Y., for the year ending May 2014, to examine current consumption of fruit and vegetables in the United States.

“Bottom line is that we are seeing progress and positive, forward-looking trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among consumers under age 40, which includes PBH’s target audience of parents with young children,” Stevens says of the report.

Focus on Children

When it comes to improving the health of the nation’s youngest consumers, the produce industry has tackled the childhood obesity epidemic head-on with scores of product introductions that make eating fruits and vegetables fun and convenient for kids and their families.

Eat Brighter!, a collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association that encourages young kids to eat more fruits and veggies, has played a significant role in this movement.

Nature Fresh Farms, in Leamington, Ontario, recently launched a campaign to take the Eat Brighter! message to schools in Canada and the United States. With the help of in-school visits by Corporate Chef Henry Furtado, Nature Fresh has shown kids firsthand how to make fun and healthy snacks with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.

“As a whole, the industry has much to gain by combating childhood obesity,” says Nature Fresh Farms’ Chris Veillon. “We got involved with Eat Brighter! because childhood obesity is a big problem in North America, and we feel the partnership is tied into our corporate goals of consumer education about how to eat healthy.”

Nature Fresh products featuring the Eat Brighter! creative began shipping the week of April 20.

“We have seen a variety of industry-wide programs take shape over the years, with a common goal of increasing fresh consumption,” observes Veillon. “Each has had success in changing people’s perspectives on fresh, but what it comes down to is consumer education, and we have taken that to heart and are evolving our position in the marketplace to embrace this opportunity.”

While childhood obesity is a critical piece of the health puzzle, so too, is undernourishment. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 15.8 million children were living in food-insecure households in 2013.

Produce for Kids, in Orlando, Fla., is addressing this issue through its 13th annual Produce for Kids campaign, which kicked of April 24 and will run nationwide in the produce departments of select grocery stores through July.

The campaign, which is supported by more than 35 fresh produce suppliers, offers in-store and online meal solutions, recipes and tips for families looking to embrace healthier eating habits. Since 2002, the campaign has raised $5 million for children’s charities.

This year, Produce for Kids has a new primary philanthropic partner, Chicago-based Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hungerrelief organization.

“We talk about kids eating healthy all the time. Feeding America allows us to take this to the next level, getting nutritious foods to those not receiving them,” says Produce for Kids’ VP Trish James.

In-store displays and signage for this year’s campaign showcase characters from the film “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” as well as an invitation to visit, which features more than 200 recipes, meal-planning tools, grocery store campaign details, and healthy tips from parents.

Social media has become increasingly important to the Produce for Kids campaign: Trough Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter parties, the organization has reached millions of consumers.

“Produce for Kids is well known in the industry, but we’re really working hard to grow our brand with consumers, so when they see us, they know we’re a trusted source,” notes James. “That ultimately drives sales of our sponsors’ products, it puts fresh fruits and vegetables in people’s baskets, and it raises money for charity.”

Avocado Nutrition

Talk about a fresh produce success story: According to the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), per capita consumption has more than quadrupled over the past two decades, rising more than 200 percent in the past 10 years alone.

Avocados have become a veritable poster child for healthy living, but that didn’t happen overnight.

“The avocado industry collectively spends tens of millions of dollars annually on marketing, clinical studies, and retail and foodservice partnerships,” notes Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of Irvine, Calif.-based HAB. “These efforts, combined with gains in distribution methods that allow more ripe fruit to hit the shelves, have translated into broader usage, boosting sales year-round.”

In 2010, HAB established a Nutrition Research Program to increase awareness and improve understanding of the benefits of avocados to human health and nutrition. The program explores heart health, weight management and diabetes, and healthy living.

In late 2013, HAB launched Love One Today, a science-based food and wellness education program developed to encourage Americans to include fresh avocados in everyday healthy eating plans to help boost fruit and vegetable intake.

“Through the Love One Today program, studies related to heart health, healthy living and weight management have been published to encourage consumption of fresh avocados,” says Escobedo. “Most recently, a study out of Penn State University, funded by HAB and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found an avocado a day may lower bad cholesterol.

“The nutritional benefits of avocados are certainly a key reason why consumption has risen so rapidly, but studies also show it’s the variety of uses for avocados that are the strongest driver,” Escobedo continues. “Because of this, HAB will continue to educate consumers about new, interesting ways to use avocados, beyond the traditional guacamole, through its Love One Today program.”

To kick of avocado season in the Golden State, the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission recently released four California Avocado Breakfast Toast recipes. The recipes, created by California chefs Maxine Sui and Jessica Koslow, include California Avocado Toast with Pickled Red Onions, Egg and Esplette Pepper, and California Avocado Toast with Prosciutto, Fennel and Medjool Date.

The commission hopes the recipes will increase avocado and breakfast consumption, citing studies that show eating a healthy breakfast can help prove cognitive function and mood.

Blueberries With Benefits

Berries in general, and blueberries specifically, continue to garner press about the health benefits related to their consumption. An excellent source of vitamin C and manganese, and a good source of dietary fiber, blueberries are also just 80 calories per 1-cup serving.

“Exploring, understanding and promoting the health benefits of blueberries has been a priority since the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council was formed in 2000,” says Mark Villata, the organization’s executive director. “The council’s longstanding investment in scientific research into health areas where blueberries may play a role acts as the foundation for virtually all of its motion efforts.”

Since 2005, the Folsom, Calif.-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council has invested more than $4 million 24 academic research institutions to study the health benefits of blueberries.

“Because consumer demand for blueberries correlates strongly with awareness of health benefits, the council carries out continuous communication efforts promoting the role blueberries can play in a healthy way of life,” says Villata, noting the council’s work with celebrity spokeswoman Alison Sweeney, host of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” on monthly Little Changes Challenges that last year encouraged hundreds of thousands of women across the United States to try blueberries in new and simple ways.

This year, the council launched the Swap New Year’s Resolutions for Little Changes program, which not only spotlights blueberries, but also involves social media activities with Sweeney. The program reached tens of millions of consumers in January and February.

“Awareness of the health and lifestyle benefits of blueberries is at an all-time high, and is projected to help triple U.S. per capita consumption from 1995 to 2015,” notes Villata, who points to research indicating that 84 percent of consumers are aware of specific health benefits associated with blueberries, a 115 percent increase from 2004.

Naturipe Farms, in Salinas, Calif., strives to keep blueberry nutrition top of mind with consumers. “We utilize our website as well as social media platforms to capture our audience’s attention and teach/remind them of the health benefits of berries,” says Kyla Oberman, director of marketing. “Retailers also know the importance of this message and work closely with us to develop health benefits messaging in their POS, as well as their own websites.”

The company’s newest product, Ready-to-Eat Blueberry Snack Packs, available in 100 percent blueberries, a mango/blueberry blend, and a grape/blueberry blend, is designed to make healthy snacking convenient. Naturipe is also involved in the Eat Brighter! campaign.


Dark leafy greens with superfood status, such as kale and spinach, are resonating with consumers like never before. In the past, uncertainty about how to prepare these and other greens kept some consumers at bay, but recipe promotion, nutrition messaging and temptingly convenient salad kits have gotten these greens the attention they deserve.

Earthbound Farm promotes a wholly healthy lifestyle and its products with a colorful and information-packed website that offers recipes, nutrition facts and more. Last month, in honor of Earth Day, the site featured a “How Green is Your Cart?” quiz that invited consumers to test their knowledge of green grocery shopping. Participants received a money-saving coupon.

The San Juan Bautista, Calif-based produce company also recently launched three culinary-inspired certified-organic salad kits: Kale Caesar, Sun-Washed Mediterranean Salad and Garden Party Salad.

Each Earthbound Farm Salad Kit offers two-and-a-half to three servings of a combination of flavorful ingredients. Kale Caesar, for example, features baby kale, red and green cabbage, and shredded carrots packaged together with roasted sunflower seeds, aged parmesan cheese, multigrain croutons and a spicy light Caesar dressing.

The company has also added a new blend to its Half & Half product line, Baby Spinach & Arugula in a 5-ounce clamshell. Each serving of the blend offers 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin A, 30 percent of vitamin C, 10 percent of iron and 10 percent of calcium — all for just 20 calories a serving.

The Year of Health and Wellness

As one of the world’s largest producers of fruits and vegetables, Dole is not only focused on conducting nutrition and health research, but also on sharing its findings with consumers.

“I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we are as committed to sharing knowledge through the latest produce-based health and nutrition research as we are in growing and marketing the produce we sell,” asserts Jenn LaVardera, nutrition and health communications manager at Thousand Oaks, Calif-based Dole Food Co. Inc.

In what represents the largest promotional program in Dole’s history, the company has launched Get Up and Grow!, a year-long initiative to make the world a better place by encouraging a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Representing a joint effort between the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI); Dole Fresh Fruit, of Westlake Village, Calif; and Dole Fresh Vegetables, of Monterey, Calif, the multiplatform program seeks to influence consumer behavior in the home, at the store, and everywhere in between.

The initiative has Dole participating in a full slate of promotional opportunities to connect fresh fruits and vegetables with a healthy lifestyle, including National Eat More Fruits & Vegetables Day, a celebration of healthy, produce-based eating that Dole will host on May 21.

“One key consumer trend right now is connecting health with happiness,” notes LaVardera. “Consumers are used to hearing that eating right is the path to better health, but we’re taking this message one step further to prove that eating right is the key to a happier, healthier world.”

This connection between health and happiness is the idea behind Dole’s Get Up and Grow! initiative for 2015, which includes a summer-long tour bringing healthy-living insights and hands-on experiences to 480 stops in 45 cities across the United States and Canada. As a follow up to the tour, Dole will host FRESHFest (Finding Reasons to Eat Simply Healthy), the official Get Up and Grow! Summit, in September 2015.

“Bottom line is that we are seeing progress and positive, forward-looking trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among consumers under age 40.”
—Kristen Stevens, Produce for Better Health Foundation

“Awareness of the health and lifestyle benefits of blueberries is at an all-time high, and is projected to help triple U.S. per capita consumption from 1995 to 2015.”
—Mark Villata, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council

“I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we are as committed to sharing knowledge through the latest produce-based health and nutrition research as we are in growing and marketing the produce we sell.”
—Jenn LaVardera, Dole Food Co. Inc.

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