PMA calls for action needed to stem obesity trendsANAHEIM, Calif. — Calling the industry to counter child obesity trends and help their business by participating in the Eat Brighter! initiative, Bryan Silbermann and Cathy Burns teamed up to give the 2014 State of the Industry address at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Silbermann, chief executive officer of Newark,Del.-based PMA and Burns, president of PMA, shared the stage Oct. 17 to deliver a challenge.

If current trends continue — 4.2% of children were obese in 1990 and 6.7% in 2010 and even more today — children living now may experience a shorter life span than their parents, Burns said.

“We need to reverse that trend and make a difference,” she said.

With the average child seeing 5,500 ads for a junk food in a year but only 100 ads for healthy foods, Burns said the royalty-free Eat Brighter! Initiative — which allows royalty free use Sesame Street characters on fresh produce packages at retail — can make a difference by creating an emotional connection between children and fruits and vegetables.

By early 2015, Burns estimated that more than 100 produce items will be a part of the Eat Brighter! campaign.

“Eat Brighter! Can cut through the noise and put fruits and vegetables on the marketing map,” she said.

The PMA leaders called on the industry to be a part of the solution to provide food for a growing world population and rising middle class in developing countries. Burns said the world will need 70% more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world’s growing population.

Silbermann said that produce marketers must be willing to “unlearn” what they know so they can respond when technology “changes the game.”

“Failure to change, or recognize the need to change, leads to business extinction,” Silbermann said.

Silbermann said the industry must stay hungry for knowledge and always curious about changes in the industry, to have the “freedom to experience the unexpected.” He said produce marketers must be authentic and transparent with consumers.

The changes ahead may come in at farm level, the transportation of goods or how consumers shop for goods, Silbermann said.

Burns said some of Japan’s biggest tech titans are investing in indoor farming technology.

The growing power of pathogen detection for produce will challenge industry and regulators alike, Burns said. Silbermann said the Center for Produce Safety will play a role in creating research to understand the meaning of genomic testing of pathogens.

New Web and smartphone tools will give more power to consumers to access real time information, including retail prices, and Burns said the industry must be prepared.

“We need to meet those consumers where they are — on their smart phones,” Burns said. “We need to build direct relationship with consumers — that’s all we own.”

 Burns announced that Cornerstone Government Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, will represent the association’s members on industry issues in Washington, D.C.

Tom O’Brien previously served as PMA’s legislative representative in Washington, D.C. before he joined Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll’s as the company’s general counsel and senior vice president for governance and external engagement in May.