2022’s ‘What’s Trending in Nutrition’ Survey Sets Stage To Drive Produce Sales

Originally printed in the February 2022 issue of Produce Business.

Read Jim Prevor’s Commentary Below

By Hannah Kalet, RD, MBA, Account Supervisor, Pollock Communications

Celebrating its 10th year, Pollock Communications and Today’s Dietitian released their annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey. The survey taps insights from 1,173 Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) — the food and nutrition experts — for a comprehensive look at the trends expected in 2022 and beyond… and it’s good news for the produce industry.

Results emphasized growth in plant-based eating, a continued focus on “superfoods” for whole body health benefits, and an increased interest in foods that fuel health and immunity, which has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the past decade the survey has been conducted, the top nutrition recommendation from RDNs has consistently been to “eat more servings of vegetables per day.” The growing trend of consumers who are interested in, and adopting, plant-based diets shows that this recommendation has caught on, driving shoppers directly to the produce aisles.

The desire for foods that have additional health benefits has been accelerated by the pandemic. With consumers looking to boost their immunity and help their physical and mental well-being, produce superfoods — foods that offer high levels of desirable nutrients, and are believed to offer several health benefits beyond their nutritional value — are in high demand.

It is important to decrease barriers that hold consumers back from purchasing produce and increase interest in buying more. Below, you can find ideas to leverage in-store, online and across marketing and social media channels to increase demand for produce among your shoppers:

Fruit & Veggie 411: Increase familiarity and interest as some consumers may be hesitant to try new things.

  • With lesser-known exotic fruits such as papaya, mango, starfruit, jackfruit and dragon fruit gaining popularity, provide education on these fruits and how to eat them.
  • Labels are important. Share what each item is, the variety, where it’s from, what it tastes like, and how to prepare it.
  • Share tips on how to tell if an item is ripe and how it should be stored; can it be frozen?
  • Include in-store RDNs endorsements on-shelf to communicate health messages and demonstrate how different items can fit into a healthy diet.

Produce pairings and cross-promotions: Share items that pair well together, or how items can be used in recipes. With 95% of consumers snacking more, highlight how produce makes a perfect snack and strategically place foods that pair well next to each other.

  • Leverage experts when it comes to produce; commodity boards have valuable resources to utilize in-store, such as sales and tool kits, health guides, recipes and more to assist with education and promotion.
  • Highlight how fruits and vegetables pair well with non-produce items:
  • Grapes and cheese are a classic combination; share new fruit flavor profiles, such as blueberries with goat cheese, strawberries with brie, apples with cheddar, and dates with blue cheese.
  • Show how veggies pair with dips such as hummus, guacamole, salsa, or baba ghanoush.
  • Pulses and whole grains can be combined with a variety of fresh chopped produce, herbs and seasonings to create different bowls or salads with limitless flavor combinations.

Seasonal Specialties: Use seasons, events, and holidays to drive purchases.

Create enthusiasm for items that are not widely available year-round:

  • Cranberries, for example, are common during the fall and winter season, but encourage shoppers to stock up on fresh cranberries to freeze so they can enjoy them year-round.
  • Cherries are best enjoyed in the spring and summer, so highlight their seasonality with specials, grower profiles and recipes.

Make produce staples feel relevant to each season:

  • For example, in warm months when grilling is popular, mushrooms can be used as part of veggie skewers on the grill or combined with ground meat to add moisture and a nutrient-boost to burgers; in cooler months, they can be sautéed or used in soups and sauces.
  • Apples aren’t just for autumn, they’re easily packable and don’t need refrigeration, making them easy to throw in a bag for winter sports or summer road trips.

Help consumers create new habits! It takes time to break old habits and start new ones.

  • Use buzzwords consumers care about: Survey results showed that RDNs say consumers look for “convenience,” “healthy” and “taste” when making food purchases, followed by “lower cost” and “natural.”
  • Use keywords in-store on signage, in shopper magazines and on social media. Ensure in-store RDNs are familiar with terms that drive sales for use in their talking points.
  • Consumers want foods and beverages that support immunity, are affordable and value-based, and promote comfort and emotional well-being. Have in-store RDNs speak to the whole-body benefits of produce and share these messages in marketing efforts.
  • Appeal to online shoppers: 90% of RDNs cite online food shopping as the biggest trend from the pandemic that will continue. Reimagine ways to reach consumers on virtual shopping platforms, including more online promotions, digital coupons, and immersive virtual branding experiences.
  • Increase foot traffic in-store: Draw attention to the produce section with displays, sales signage, recipe demos and handouts.

Produce has always been an integral part of a healthy diet. As health and wellness take center stage in consumer mindsets, it is the ideal time to recapture consumer interest by showcasing the benefits and versatility of produce.

Pollock Communications is a New York City-based, independent, full-service food, health, and wellness public relations agency launched in 1991. To learn more about the What’s Trending in Nutrition survey or how Pollock Communications can assist with produce toolkits and resources, visit www.lpollockpr.com.


Keys To Boosting Consumption Lie In Perceptions Of Taste, Flavor, Convenience And Prestige

By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief

Hannah Kalet gives us an almost perfect article, filled with great ideas about how to boost consumption. It is absolutely fantastic, but it still may not tip the scales…

It is hard to know what the problem is exactly, but as best we understand it, these kinds of efforts seem to influence consumption patterns mainly among certain highly educated and highly intelligent members of society.

Perhaps the industry, and the government, could change the dietary habits of all Americans with dramatically increased levels of expenditure. Maybe really great marketing campaigns built upon sophisticated research and funded at the level that, say, the fast food industry funds marketing and advertising, could raise consumption levels.

There’s just three major problems:

First, most generic advertising accepts a kind of lowest-common-denominator marketing approach. Such programs rarely urge consumers to prefer the most flavorful or distinctive proprietary varieties. So the spending may not actually be very effective.

Second, the industry has many innovative products, which are typically high margin but small volume products. There is no politically acceptable way to assess money to support these innovative products.

Third, does it really matter? McDonalds, alone, spent $1.62 billion in advertising in the U.S. in 2020. That is one company, not an industry. All the expenditures of all the produce companies, boards, associations, nonprofits, etc., are a rounding error on these numbers. So even if, theoretically, such expenditures could boost consumption, practically, there is no likely way to do it.

There are also hard truths that we don’t often like to discuss in America (although, of course, individual circumstances vary). In general, obesity is not a disease of the affluent; it is a disease of the poor and middle class. Why this is so needs more study. There are surely some practical considerations. Affluent people can have a chef, a personal trainer and can set their own schedules to allow time for exercise and the like. They may not need to worry if they waste some fresh foods.

Status and prestige issues also may enter into it. There is some evidence that in lower socio-economic groups, the ability to eat frequently at fast-food places lends a kind of prestige that cooking simply does not. When their mothers were maids, they had to cook. They don’t see the labor of cooking as high prestige.

There also may be truths difficult to face. The likelihood of poverty may, in part, reflect an ability to assess and understand information and a discipline to act on the information. In the context of a highly affluent society with plenty of food available, it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that the intellectual capacity of a given population corresponds with obesity and with poor eating habits. We live in a weird world where obesity is a disease of the poor, not the rich!

Another weird, and concerning, issue is that, though consumers report interest in plant-based diets, this doesn’t seem to actually translate into increases in produce consumption. The interest seems to rebound in a way where consumers are saying they are interested in eating more plant-based foods, but, in fact, don’t want to change their eating habits at all.

So, if it meets the taste, convenience and price criteria, they will consider Impossible brand burgers, meatballs and chicken nuggets. Perhaps this will be healthier for people – although that is not a claim Impossible actually makes. The closest the company comes is to say its products are “packed with nutrients,” then all the rest of its product claims are environmental. Though notably, the environmental claims are against meat, not produce.

Using Registered Dietician Nutritionists (RDNs) in-store seems like it could indeed be a formidable force in boosting produce consumption. The only thing is that, though some chains have RDNs on staff, nobody reliably has RDNs in every store during all open hours! Most stores have been cutting back on staff, and it is hard to find an employee to restock an empty shelf, much less a Registered Dietician Nutritionist to give you a personal shopping tour.

Besides… it is not 100% clear that ignorance is the real problem. Certainly some people, perhaps if they have a family member diagnosed with a specific medical condition, need special nutritional guidance. Most people, though, have been told since they were born that they should eat their vegetables.

Two big issues hold back consumption:

Taste & Flavor – Cruciferous vegetables often contain glucosinolates, which can provide both health benefits and a bitter taste. There is not much evidence that anything we can do will get mass consumption of items that people don’t perceive as tasting good.

Cooking skill and the burden of cooking – Although fruit can generally be eaten raw, many vegetables require cooking. Even if not technically required, cooking is often the only way to make the item palatable. But cooking, despite a pandemic pause, has been on a decline for 100 years plus! Consumers often have neither time, skill, nor desire to regularly cook meals. Even many supermarket sales are for prepared foods from the deli or easily defrosted foods. Cooking shows on the Food Network represent not a renaissance of cooking but a transition of cooking to entertainment, not daily practice. Restaurant value perception still revolves heavily around the protein.

The produce industry has great nutrition facts to boost the case for consumption. It seems, though, that food selection is boosted by perceptions reacting upon taste, flavor, convenience and prestige. The challenge is to get, say, cabbage ranking on these attributes!