MONTEREY, Calif. — Purchase intent for products bearing the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters logo remains flat at 45% among mom shoppers, but more than ever — 77% — associate it with health.

The numbers from the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s annual survey of mothers with children age 10 and under typify the mixed signals buyers and suppliers get from sales and consumer data.

Produce for Better Health deciphers market signsAbout 130 industry representatives and health advocates came to the foundation’s annual meeting March 29-31 in Monterey seeking answers.

The foundation surveyed 1,300 moms and primary shoppers in January. While 87% said half or more of their plate should be fruits and vegetables, only 53% said they eat that much.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, told attendees March 30 the top barriers to produce purchases are perceived cost and the desire to accommodate different family preferences.

“The USDA found fresh isn’t more expensive than canned or frozen,” Pivonka said, referring to a February 2011 report. “It costs $2 to $2.50 a day to eat your recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. We’ve been playing that up big.”

The perception may linger, she said, because more than 80% of consumers report throwing away some fresh produce. Waste and expense are linked.

But the fate of canned may be even more problematic.

“What’s most amazing to me is that canned fruits and vegetables land at the bottom,” Pivonka said. “Only 38% (surveyed) say they’re healthy; 21% say they’re not. That’s worse than fruit in plastic cups, purees and freeze dried. The canned folks have been telling me some of that, but I was really shocked.”

A foundation task force has been developed to dispel misinformation about canned fruits and vegetables. Sodium or sugar content largely dissipates once a can is drained, Pivonka said.

The foundation’s new chairman, Paul Palmby, chief operating officer of Seneca Foods Corp., shares such concerns.

“I come from an organization that’s a canned and frozen processor, but I have a strong belief in the mission of PBH to promote fruit and vegetable consumption in all forms,” he told attendees.

Palmby succeeds outgoing chairman Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt Growers. The foundation’s new vice chairman is Marty Ordman, vice president of marketing and communications at Dole Food Co.

Produce for Better Health deciphers market signsDuring a panel discussion, Rich Dachman, vice president of produce at Sysco Corp., and Roberta Cook, cooperative extension marketing economist at the University of California-Davis, praised the California Avocado Commission as an example of an organization breaking through consumption barriers.

“Their consumption has gone up 10 times in the past decade,” Dachman said. “They have more fruit to sell but they’ve done a tremendous job of getting it in the mainstream. In today’s world, messaging is everything.

“When you’re bombarded by 100 little messages instead of two big ones, you’re not going to pay as much attention,” he said.

The commission’s example is not typical, Dachman said.

“The produce industry, we’re our own worst enemy,” he said. “I’ve got blueberries fighting against nectarines, and lettuce mix fighting against spinach. They’re all spending tons of money and they’re all doing it individually. The competition is the chip aisle, it’s not each other.”

Cook agreed.

“One of the problems in our industry is a decline in generic promotion,” she said. “As grower-shippers become larger, they have wanted to take dollars spent on generic marketing internal. They feel they can use it better within their company.

“But that’s not really what the results show us. The mandated programs are trying to expand the total pie,” Cook said. “Because they bring greater dollars together than an individual company can, they can invest in understanding consumers.”

In other annual meeting events at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, attendees probed the consumer mind through a panel of mothers and their children, and honored 47 role models and 22 champions for their support of More Matters.

Speakers included Scott Stratten, president of; and Michael Sansolo, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute.