By John Pandol
“How do we increase produce consumption?” This mantra has been chanted at industry events and in produce publications for as long as I can remember. It should be a no-brainer.
Produce is healthy. Everyone wants to be healthy. Between fresh and non-fresh presentations, produce is available, affordable and there is a fruit or veggie that appeals to even the pickiest eaters. Yet, consumption is flat.
During a pandemic, it was clearly understood that obesity was a comorbidity that increased one’s chance of death during a time when the COVID body count was on the nightly news. The average American gained weight during this time. Really?
Now that the disruption is over and the dust is settling, we’re back to eating like it’s 2019, only worse. Much self-reported survey data indicates even less consumption of fresh produce. We’re actually going backward.
Increasing produce consumption is not top of mind on the shipping point sales desk. Whether my bump in blueberry sales comes from an increase in consumption, cannibalizing the market share of another vendor or another product, or increased shrink, I am indifferent … as long as I get paid.
There are 40,000 SKUs in a typical grocery store. Does a retailer care if any produce items are in that basket? Could you imagine a cashier telling a customer, “I notice there is no produce in your basket. Here’s a coupon. Now take that oxygen bottle and ride your motorized cart back in the store and don’t come out until you have 5-5-5 (at least 5 pounds, at least five different items and at least five different colors).”
Might be a great skit for a meeting of retail dietitians, but I don’t see the role of cashier/extreme health counselor appearing at my local supermarket anytime soon — unless it’s by an app.
NEW YORK PRODUCE SHOW
Increasing produce consumption was top of mind at the New York Produce Show. It always has been, but this year, there was more robustness to the discussion.
At the Global Trade Symposium, the panel moderators always made it part of the discussion.
Splitting time on the show floor between my booth and the Industry Insights Stage, the topic of increased consumption continued. The Retailer Panel, Deep Dive into Consumer Thinking, moderated by rock star Wendy Reinhardt Kaspar, contained a substantial discussion on the behavioral aspects of developing habits. Could we learn behavior modification techniques from, I don’t know, the criminal justice system or addiction treatment programs, that could be adapted to increase produce consumption? It’s worth considering.
Produce companies and commodity boards are spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on promotion, and produce consumption is flat or negative.
And so are many financial returns.
Produce companies and commodity boards are spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually on promotion — and produce consumption is flat or negative.
While increasing produce consumption is not top of mind for many in our industry, increasing produce demand is. Consumption is all about quantity, while demand is a mix of price and quantity.
If I can only sell half of my crop, every additional unit sold will be more income. The challenge is increasing the quantity sold or increasing consumption. However, if I sell my whole crop, but the return is red ink, I have no interest in increasing the quantity sold, only increasing the price.
Increasing consumption does me no good, as I don’t have any more units to sell.
Increased demand manifested as higher willingness to pay, in this case at a B2B level, is what I’m looking for from increased demand.
Is the impediment to produce consumption primarily economic? Consumers often tell us produce is too expensive. But is it really and why do consumers think that?
If one were to wave a magic wand, and the price tags all disappeared, would those formerly excluded consumers all of a sudden load their plates with the colors of the garden, consumption going off the scale?
The farm bill is 80% nutrition assistance and 20% everything else. Add those U.S. Department of Agriculture billions to state, county, local and private charitable food and nutrition assistance programs, and there are a lot of resources available.
Yet, the needy seem to opt for other food options. Why is that and how can fresh produce become a more regular part of their lives?
Gratitude was another omnipresent theme at the New York Produce Show, and rightfully so. We should be grateful for any opportunity for hugs and handshakes, for seeing old friends and meeting new people, for reflecting on timeless issues, and seeing what is new in our business.
I’m always glad to see the usual suspects, the trade show roadies on the floor and the perennial panelists on the stage, but I’m most grateful to interact with new people, novel ideas and thoughtful viewpoints.
All those predictions of virtual everything were wrong. Virtual has its place, but face-to-face is better than screen-to-screen, and I am most grateful for the opportunity to be face-to-face with the crowd at the New York Produce Show.
John Pandol is director at Pandol Brothers Inc. in Delano, CA.