(July 16, 4:53 p.m.) A new program is hoped to get more Michigan produce into unfamiliar hands.

Sponsored by the Associated Food & Petroleum Dealers and the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s Select Michigan program Buy Local, Eat Fresh focuses on 10 Detroit retailers in areas where local produce may be unfamiliar for a lot of consumers, said Jane Shallal, president of the Farmington Hills-based AFPD.

“Our main intention isn’t really to push the product but basically to introduce the products and the whole idea of buying local and eating healthy to people who may not be exposed to it,” Shallal said. “Most people in low-income areas are not used to seeing food demonstrations and tastings like we do in suburban stores.”

Save-A-Lot, Spartan Stores

The program started July 5 in five Sav-A-Lot and five Spartan stores. It runs the first two Saturdays of each month through November. Nutritionists from Detroit’s Wayne State University are on hand to give out samples of Michigan-grown products, with a new product featured each time. Michigan blueberry smoothies were sampled July 12, Shallal said.

The purpose of the program, which Shallal said has a more targeted focus than the agriculture department’s Select Michigan promotions, is not only to introduce people to Michigan-grown produce, but also to identify challenges that growers, shippers and retailers face when trying to implement locally grown programs. The twice-a-month visits from nutritionists to each store also promote healthy eating and provide nutrition education.

Lessons learned

The program’s sponsors already have learned some things after just two events, Shallal said.

“With blueberries, we learned that there are very limited quantities available,” she said. “I learned if I want blueberries this year I should have told that farmer I wanted them last year.”

Retailers also have learned about delivery, how to label and market items in terms of in-store signs and circulars to get customers in their neighborhood interested in local fruits and vegetables.

“In some of those stores, I don’t know if they’ve done that before,” Shallal said.

Based on this year’s performance, the program could be expanded to more store locations, but for now the resources and funding limit the program.

“It’s too early to tell,” Shallal said. “We’ve gotten positive response so far. If we continue to get the response we might see this in all urban settings.”