For Reggie Griffin, this is an ideal time to be the chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association.

The company vice president of produce and floral merchandising and procurement for the Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. has long been a strong advocate for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. He begins his term as chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based organization at the United Fresh convention in New Orleans May 2-5.

“Probably at no other time has the produce industry been presented with such a tremendous opportunity to increase consumption and truly change the dietary habits of millions of consumers,” Griffin said. “With all of this momentum for increasing produce consumption, we now have the responsibility to help make this vision a reality.”

Many in the industry are excited about the retail perspective Griffin brings to the chairmanship, said Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of Riverpoint Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and outgoing chairwoman.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had the retail interest represent the association,” Smith said. “Reggie himself is an incredible leader and spokesman for fruits and vegetables and I’m excited about his spirit and enthusiasm.”

Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh said the industry is looking forward to Griffin’s leadership.

“It would be hard to find anyone in this industry who doesn’t know, like and respect Reggie Griffin,” Gilmer said. “Reggie is a competitive retailer at his core, but he demonstrates a genuine appreciation for every part of the business. He firmly believes in success for every segment of the industry.”

Griffin said he believes the industry — from grower to distributor to retail and foodservice – has a role to play in increasing consumption.

“I believe that every segment of the produce industry should work together to help consumers make the right choices,” he said. “Of course, I’m a retailer, so working to drive sales is my first instinct, but the same challenges face foodservice, and many restaurants are increasingly showcasing produce in their menus,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for these innovative foodservice leaders as they help their customers discover new cuisines that give fresh produce a much greater role in the dining experience.”

With opportunities come challenges. Griffin said the recently passed food safety laws are going to change the way the industry conducts business.

“I’m confident that we can meet the updated standards, but the challenge will likely be how we manage costs across the supply chain,” he said. “Every market segment, from grower-shippers to the retail and foodservice operations, has an equal responsibility to manage food safety in a cost-effective manner — no exceptions.”

Griffin points to United Fresh’s strong track record of education and training, as well as participation from all market segments.

“The association’s governance structure fosters a dynamic environment where hundreds of volunteer leaders from every part of the industry are involved in decisions and activities that work toward produce industry priorities,” he said.

Griffin said he hopes to follow Smith’s example and be an active and engaged chairman.

“It’s also an incredible honor to serve in a leadership role representing the produce industry,” he said. “We’ve got important priorities ahead of us this year, including the new food safety regulations and the next farm bill, just to mention a couple, but it’s these issues and others that will compel us to work together and be stronger for it.”