Produce and Longevity

Messaging to Motivate Consumers

Longevity and health messaging are unlikely to sell more produce by themselves. According to the Food Marketing Institute’s Power of Produce, produce often is an impulse buy, with top drivers of unplanned purchases being eye-catching displays, hot deals, sampling, recipe and serving ideas and nutrition callouts.

Appearance ranks far ahead of price and nutrition in the produce purchase decision tree. Shoppers also express a strong desire for expanded assortments in locally grown, seasonal, organic, sustainably grown and fair wage/living wage produce items. They do associate fresh produce with digestive health, heart health, healthy weight and having essential nutrients in the diet, and it’s these specific benefits rather than longevity that may be effective in callouts and in-store signage.

Industry veterans remain skeptical. “The nutrition story doesn’t fly,” says Dick Spezzano, produce industry consultant, Monrovia, CA. “People know they can live healthier and maybe longer if they eat fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s not what sells. We need to make it easier to eat fresh produce by taking the mystery out of selection and cooking, ramping up in-store marketing, and enhancing store websites.”

“I would never make a claim regarding eating nuts to live longer,” says Chad Hartman, director of marketing, Tropical Foods, Charlotte, NC. “We don’t do that type of messaging. Health is part of a bigger package.”

“We conduct a lot of research on the health effects of berries on diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer and heart disease but we can’t make a claim for longevity,” says Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., director, Plants for Human Health Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh. “I suggest marketing color for health — colors are the beacons for benefits.”

“So many factors contribute to longevity, including genetics, lifestyle, personal habits, exercise, risk behavior and diet,” says Steve Muro, president, Fusion Marketing, Chatsworth CA. “Can we encourage a healthy diet that is rich in produce? Yes. Can we offer promises of increased life spans? No. I suggest that produce managers arm themselves with information on quick and easy preparation and new usage ideas instead. Emotional messaging related to parenting may also have an impact. Feelings are powerful human drivers that can change behavior more than logic can.”

“Consumers are scrutinizing everything, and we need to get them not to second-guess that fruits and vegetables are healthy,” says Lisa Hansen, vice president, McDill Associates, Soquel, CA. “It’s a given that produce helps people live longer and healthier. How do we help consumers make produce part of every meal? It requires the retailer, marketer and grower to work together on innovations like single serve items in a car cup or veggies cut into fun shapes. Healthy is fun, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. If going with a health message, make it compelling and relevant. Consider co-branded content for retailers. Partner with others for co-branded content that includes infographics, tip sheets, website templates and digital campaigns. But maybe health isn’t the most important message; usage is.”

Social Media Speaks

Social media continues to provide a vehicle for engaging consumers and creating pull for produce. The Produce for Better Health Foundation’s (PBH’s) consumer-focused Fruits and Veggies — More Matters Facebook page recently reached its 1 million “Likes” milestone, emphasizing its leadership position as a trusted source for information, health research and tips on fruits and vegetables. PBH produced its first Facebook Live segment in fall 2017 and manages Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram pages.

Personal and in-store technology simplifies communications with customers. Shoppers in general and Millennials in particular will use smartphone apps to scan labels and research items before buying. Food Marketing Institute’s RD, chief health and wellness officer Sue Borra predicts a rise in cooking videos and other ways to marry in-store and digital experiences. “Retailers can create in-store apps with information and answers so that shoppers don’t have to search for department personnel,” says Dick Spezzano, produce industry consultant, Monrovia, CA. “They also can access training videos for staff.”

“Additionally, personalized nutrition solutions open up a very different area,” says Borra. “Consumers today are less interested in, say, heart health and more in my health profile and what meals are right for me.”

A Sampling of Links to Long-Term Health

Reduced risk of diabetes, blood glucose management, reduced inflammation, weight management
Healthy body weight, nutrient adequacy, reduced risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease; may benefit cognition and working memory
Reduced risk of mortality, heart health, neuroprotective benefits, cancer chemoprevention, antidiabetic properties
Cardiovascular health, improved insulin response, brain health, anticancer properties, gut health; longevity in animals
Urinary tract health, heart health, improved blood pressure, healthy immune system functioning, oral health, anti-inflammatory nutrients that may lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.)Cruciferous Vegetables
Reduced cancer risk, lower risk of heart disease
Reduced overall mortality and mortality from some types of cancer, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory disease. Lower risk of being overweight and metabolic syndrome.
PrunesPrunes/dried plums
Bone health
Purple Sweet PotatoesPurple sweet potatoes
Health and longevity
Reduced risk of mortality, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cognition
Heart health, cognitive health, reduced cancer risk, gut health, lower mortality rates

Science Says

News regarding fruits and vegetables continues to get better around the world. A review of studies on 12 different food groups found a positive association between eating vegetables, fruits, or nuts and lower death rates. In the UK, consumption of fruit and particularly vegetables has been associated with lower death rates from cancer and heart disease. Among older adults in two Chinese studies, fruit and vegetable intake correlated with a lower risk of dying. A Taiwanese study showed older adults who spent the most money on fruits and vegetables lived the longest. A French study found that risk of death was significantly lower among people who ate the most produce (and also ate fish regularly). Finnish men who ate the most berries, fruits and vegetables were least likely to die from heart disease or other causes.

Research conducted by Harvard University scientists overwhelmingly supports a relationship between fruits and vegetables, health and longevity. “Our studies are based on three large cohorts: the Nurses Health Study, Nurses Health Study 2, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study,” explains Vasanti Malik, PhD, research scientist, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “We look at healthy aging as it relates to intake of fruits and vegetables within the context of a healthy dietary pattern. Over and over, fruits and vegetables have an inverse relationship with diabetes and cardiovascular disease, meaning people who eat the most produce have the lowest risk of disease.” Dr. Malik cautions that one can’t draw conclusions about fruits and vegetables alone because they are eaten within the context of a dietary pattern.

National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner, who coined the term Blue Zones for communities characterized by longevity, asserts, “All of the diets of the Blue Zone centenarians have a “plant slant,” with cornerstones of beans and lentils, greens, local and seasonal vegetables, fruits and nuts.”

“The common denominator in Blue Zone diets is fruits and vegetables. The diets otherwise are incredibly diverse, for example, higher fat in the Mediterranean, lower fat in Asia, and vegetarian and vegan in Loma Linda, CA,” says David L. Katz, MD, director, Yale University Prevention Research Center, Griffin Hospital, Derby, CT. “Any good diet is high in fruits and vegetables; they’re the remedy to everything that ails us.”

It would be naive to think fruits and vegetables, or even diet alone, enhance longevity. A research group in London looked at the relationship between a combination of healthy behaviors and aging without disability, mental health problems or diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer or diabetes. The group found the more healthy behaviors, the greater the likelihood of successful aging.

Blue Zones Project

Blue Zones ProjectSeveral years ago, researchers teamed up with National Geographic to identify communities around the world with the highest life expectancy. Five communities — Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Seventh Day Adventists (concentrated in Loma Linda, CA); Okinawa, Japan — stand out for their habits associated with longevity, including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Leveraging these learnings, the Blue Zones Project® is helping transform 41 communities across the U.S. into areas where the healthy choice is easy and people live longer with a higher quality of life. The 41 communities are:

Florida: Naples, Bonita Springs, Estero, Immokalee

Iowa: Fairfield, Harlan, Woodbine, Algona, Spirit Lake, Waterloo, Spencer, Sioux City, Oskaloosa, Muscatine, Mason City, Marion, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls

California: Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach

Hawaii: Central Maui, Wahiawa, Manoa/Makiki/McCully/Moiliili, Kapolei/Ewa, West Hawaii, North Hawaii, East Hawaii, Koolaupoko

Minnesota: Albert Lea

Oklahoma: Pottawatomie County

Oregon: The Dalles, Grants Pass, Umpqua, Klamath Falls

Texas: Fort Worth

Wisconsin: Horicon, Juneau, Mayville, Beaver Dam