National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

I have always liked the idea of national generic promotion plan for the fruit and vegetable industry.

 The idea behind it is simple.

A. Collect a mandatory assessment from all fruit and vegetable/fresh produce marketers.

B. Use the millions collected in the U.S. Department of Agriculture-directed program to promote the heck out of fruits and vegetables.

C. Reap the rewards of increased consumer awareness and demand for fruits and vegetables.

The industry hasn’t agreed with that step by step plan.

You may recall that from April to October 2009 the Produce for Better Health foundation had sought feedback from the fruit and vegetable industry about the potential of a national promotion board, organized with U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight and funded with mandatory assessments.

After a variety of outreach efforts to the industry netted mixed reactions, PBH officials ended the outreach campaign.

As it was then proposed, the plan would have generated about $30 million per year from mandatory assessments on first handlers and importers of fresh and most processed fruits and vegetables through a 0.046% assessment of the f.o.b. market value of all first handlers and importers.

Why did it fail? Apart from nitpicking the plan itself, produce marketers were more concerned about building sales for their own brands and commodities than promoting the sector as a whole. Can potato people agree with mushroom folk? Can generic ads succeed comparing apples and oranges?

Fast forward to 2012, and we see another version of the national generic promotion plan has been suggested by a group of former cabinet secretaries.

In a 110-page report called “Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future,” the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative suggested another approach to funding a generic promotion plan.

 The Produce for Better Health Foundation issued a press release about the group’s work, which included the oft-heard call for public-private cooperation in creating healthy families, schools, workplaces, etc.

 The group suggested creating incentives for fruit and vegetable consumption in the food stamp program. The paper also said that lawmakers should make sure that any changes to the farm bill do not diminish U.S. fruit and vegetable production.

 Another specific element of group’s strategy is the creation of a generic fruit and vegetable promotion program that would be paid for out of an expanded specialty crop block grant program. In other words, a certain percent of the Specialty Crop Block Grants granted to states would be automatically used to establish a national pool of funding to promote specialty crop market promotion and nutrition education.

 I like that idea, even it has no chance to be a part of this farm bill. Reserving a part of the funds for the Specialty Crop Block Grants - say 10% of the total pie - for generic promotion would create a viable promotion program would have sufficient money to make a credible impact in the market.

The funds from the block grant program should be matched with assessments on the industry to create a feeling of shared investment by the trade.

 The time will eventually be right for this idea. If not 2012, then let the 2017 farm bill be the vehicle for a federally funded national generic promotion plan for fruits and vegetables.



 Speaking of promotion orders, do you remember the USDA approved promotion plan for Christmas trees that was nixed amidst much disinformation about the “Christmas tree tax” late last year? I recently talked with an Oregon Christmas tree farmer who is anxious for the Obama Administration proceed with the promotion order.

Unfortunately for that grower, I would say that outcome is not likely. . President Obama’s presidential advisers aren’t likely to allow him to get dinged again as a Grinch on the same issue. The Christmas tree promotion plan will be in limbo until after the election and perhaps beyond.