( Photo by The Packer staff )

TUCSON, Ariz. — Even small steps in the right direction are steps in the right direction.

I started thinking along these lines while listening to the keynote presentations at the recent United FreshStart Conference, where industry members gathered for conversation around ways to increase produce consumption among children.

One speaker, Katie Wilson with the Urban School Food Alliance, suggested that schools share with local stores their plans for featured produce items on the lunch line so the stores could promote the same items and have recipes and preparation tips available at the point of sale.

This idea struck a chord with me; just as an adult might have a heightened awareness of a new ingredient after trying it at a restaurant, of course the same would be true for a kid trying a new produce item at school!

That suggestion led me to another idea — what if people in the industry asked if they could visit a local school once a month and educate a class about a produce item? A grower or wholesaler could share samples of whatever item was in season and especially tasty, and they could show kids videos about how the product is harvested and packaged, and they could answer the many questions that would likely pop up from the students.

It’s far from a perfect idea. You couldn’t visit every class, and would a once-a-month visit really make a meaningful impact? Would teachers be willing to sacrifice the classroom time for something that their students are probably not going to encounter on a standardized test? All the practical challenges jumped to my mind as soon as I started down the mental road of this idea.

And yet ... so many times we talk ourselves out of great things. We settle for what’s been done before. We figure people will be bothered by us floating a potentially crazy idea and so we don’t float it.

What we often forget is that sometimes the person on the other end of the idea just hasn’t thought of it yet, and they might be absolutely thrilled at the prospect. Wilson’s idea comes from an experience early in her career, when a local store actually approached the schools about their produce plans so the store could be ready to sell more of the featured produce item!

There are other opportunities, too. The holy grail of increasing consumption is getting snack-styled produce at checkout stands, an area long dominated by candy and pop.

Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Friendly Markets and the chairman of United’s Retail-Foodservice Board, said conversations about that key impulse-buy zone have changed in the past five years. Some of the consumer packaged goods companies that are staples in that space now have healthier brands and might be more amenable to getting other healthy items in proximity, Cady said.

Sometimes we forget that, in many cases, the worst someone can do when we present an idea is tell us no. When it comes to increasing produce consumption among kids, the upside far outweighs the risk.

Ashley Nickle is editor of Produce Retailer magazine and retail editor of The Packer. E-mail her at [email protected].

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