Students from University of North Dakota won the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Formula 5 Marketing competition at PBH’s annual meeting April 6 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (from left) Macy Francisco, Nicole Polejewski, Mariah Shroyer, PBH CEO Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, Briana Erickson, Molly Frank and professor Sandi Luck. ( Greg Johnson )

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Produce for Better Health Foundation has the destination: Double fruit and vegetable consumption.

The plan to get there should emerge in the next year.

PBH CEO Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak said at the group’s annual meeting April 3-6 in Scottsdale, the produce industry has a science-based message to tell consumers, but “doubling consumption should be fun.”

Kapsak joined PBH just before last year’s meeting, and she said in a March interview that 2017 was a year of transition and reflection, while 2018 will be a year of transformation. And then 2019 will show what PBH and the produce industry can be.

“If we’re really serious about this, it will be bigger than PBH,” she said. “We need greater collaboration from the whole industry and government.”

For instance, she said, “it may mean inviting and engaging new and diverse stakeholders, even outside the produce industry.”

While the biggest challenge to doubling consumption of produce remains consumer awareness and motivation, Kapsak said there could be some production challenges.

“It affects growers all the way back to the seed level,” Kapsak said. 

But she said growers are already much more efficient than consumers when it comes to preventing food waste. She hopes the influencer community can be more effective with consumers on food waste.

“To double consumption, we may not need to double production,” she said.

PBH recently signed a new marketing agency partner, Padilla and its FoodMinds division, and it had discussions with board members at the meeting on the plan to raise consumption. 

Kapsak said in addition to consumer awareness, she expects the industry to pressure the federal government to bring its funding more in line with its spending when it comes to its own dietary recommendations, noting there’s a huge gap.


Food Fears

Another part of the conference dealt with food fears, and many attendees noted that the Environment Working Group’s annual Dirty Dozen was about to come out.

While the science and nutrition community nearly unanimously discredit the list for unnecessarily scaring consumers with pesticide fears, it resonates with people’s instinctive risk aversion.

Shari Steinbach, registered dietitian and owner of Steinbach & Associates, said dietitians and the nutrition industry need to establish trust with consumers before talking about the safety and nutrition in fruits and vegetables.

“We have to listen to consumers in order to gain their trust,” she said. 

She said when consumers tell her they’re avoiding fruit because of pesticide fears, “I tell them ‘I understand you’re concerned about your family’s health. I am too.’”

And then she can tell them how much lower pesticide residues are than levels that may be dangerous, and how beneficial fruits and vegetables are to our diets.

Several speakers noted that lower-income consumers are particularly affected by “dirty produce” claims, and produce marketers need to overcome those fears with factual and emotional responses.

When asked the best way to encourage higher fruit and vegetable consumption among lower income consumers, Lisa Feldman, director of recipe management for Sodexo, said, “it’s through their kids. In K-12, kids eat it and they will bring it to their parents.”

Next year's PBH annual meeting is scheduled for April 22-25 in Scottsdale.