Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure expo March 7-9 in Orlando, Fla., included a Healing Benefits of Produce education session led by a panel: moderator Chip Carter (from left), publisher of Southeast Produce Weekly; James Hébert, epidemiology professor at University of South Carolina; Lee A. O'Donnell, corporate manager of prevention and wellness at Orlando Health; and Jennifer Patzkowsky, corporate dietitian at Publix Super Markets. ( Amy Sowder )

ORLANDO, Fla. — There’s never been a better time to highlight the inherent health benefits of fresh produce in marketing strategies because the idea that food is medicine is becoming a mainstream belief, and the science keeps backing it up.

“In some cases, you can reverse illness. We can reverse type 2 diabetes exclusively with diet,” said James Hébert, professor of epidemiology and director of the cancer prevention and control program at the University of South Carolina.

Hébert was one of three panelists at the Healing Benefits of Produce educational session at Southeast Produce Association’s Southern Exposure on March 8.

Even so, consumers won’t be convinced to eat more fruits and vegetables by the possibility of preventing a future illness that they don’t have yet, Hébert said.

“You can’t sell deferred health benefits. It’s just impossible,” he said. “Selling the absence of something bad happening in the future is bloody impossible.”

There is a short-term benefit, as a February Science Direct study showed, said Lee O’Donnell, corporate manager of prevention and wellness at Orlando Health, which runs a network of hospitals.

“If you’re eating healthy, you feel better about yourself, right off,” O’Donnell said. “But there was a study that showed people who went from eating zero fruits and vegetables a day to eating eight a day, their rise in mood was similar in change to someone who goes from being unemployed to employed.”

Promotional campaigns using emotion to educate consumers on the instant gratification of healthy food can inspire them to make healthier choices.

Typically, customers eat badly in response to stress, said Jennifer Patzkowsky, Publix Super Markets corporate dietitian.

“Sometimes we just need a hug, not a Snickers bar,” Patzkowsky said. “I know we sell fried chicken and cake, and those are delicious. But maybe sometimes you can have a salad for lunch instead. You have to look at the whole, overall pattern.”

Publix is trying to make it easier for consumers to make these choices with teal-colored markers to indicate organic food across the store, and signs for carb-smart, gluten-free and heart-healthy products. Some locations have an in-store dietitian. Publix’s popular offering of a free bakery cookie for any child has expanded to a fresh fruit offering as well.

Grocery stores are stocking more fresh-cut vegetables and fruit, including noodle and riced vegetables, to meet customers’ desires for both convenience and health.

Hospitals are a big institutional foodservice boon in which it would seem obvious to have fresh produce served in the cafeterias and delivered to patients, but it’s not always been that way, O’Donnell said.

Orlando Regional Medical Center went from spending $16,000 a week on fresh produce in fiscal year 2017 to $25,000 a week in FY 2018, she said.

Produce growers, marketers, foodservice operators and retailers can spread a simple message.

“Just eat unprocessed. Just stick to the basics. The closer it is to the source — the tree, the soil — the better it is for you,” O’Donnell said.

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Comments
Submitted by r henry on Mon, 03/11/2019 - 14:03

Fresh produce is good, largely healthy, FOOD. To make any other claims is specious at best.

Submitted by Charles Rattenberg on Wed, 03/13/2019 - 11:18

Making claims like this that cannot be supported by science will erode our credibility.

Submitted by Daniel Seitz on Wed, 03/13/2019 - 20:53

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, there's been an understanding that diet has a profound impact on health. As Hippocrates, "the father of medicine," said: "Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food." Healthy food is also a cornerstone of the traditional medical systems of China and India, and modern day nutritionists use food to treat a large variety of ailments. Of course, at a time when some foods are grown with harmful pesticides and herbicides, not all produce is equally healthy. Organic food grown in healthy, biologically rich soil is more nutritious and less likely to have potentially harmful residues. There is ample scientific research on the link between nutrition and health, and on the use of certain diets to treat certain conditions.

Submitted by R Henry on Fri, 03/15/2019 - 15:16

" Organic food grown in healthy, biologically rich soil is more nutritious"

Not true. No legitimate blinded study has ever proved this.

In reply to by Daniel Seitz (not verified)