Produce for Better Health (PBH) has several milestones to celebrate. Last year was our 25th corporate anniversary and this month we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters health initiative.
A great deal has been accomplished since the 2007 launch of the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters campaign. The campaign replaced the 5-A-Day program. Since the launch of Fruits & Veggies—More Matters, we’ve seen annual increases in media and social media impressions, website traffic and industry support. The 2016 year ended with nearly 50 billion media impressions, 16-fold higher annual impressions than just five years ago. Ten years ago we weren’t even talking about social media, and today we have nearly 1 million Facebook likes, 59,000 Twitter followers and a strong presence on Pinterest and Instagram (12,000 likes and 14,000 followers, respectively). Visits to the FruitsAndVeggiesMoreMatters.org consumer website averaged 364,000 each month last year, eight-fold higher than in 2007.
One key strategy that we have used for the past 25 years is to leverage industry and public health resources to help carry messaging to consumers. For the industry, this includes Fruits & Veggies—More Matters messaging on packaging and/or in marketing. For health professionals, this includes helping them answer questions about tough topics like pesticide residues. The 83 Fruits & Veggies—More Matters role models and 29 champions who did this most effectively last year will be honored at Produce for Better Health’s 2017 Consumer Connection Annual Conference, held April 5-7, 2017, in Scottsdale, AZ. We celebrate these role models and champions because, without them, much of our messaging wouldn’t reach consumers.
Ten years later we see positive attitudinal shifts among our key target audience:
• 48 percent of moms self-report that they are likely to purchase a product when it has the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters logo on it, up from 39 percent in the early years
• 42 percent of moms say it motivates them to help themselves and/or their family to eat more fruits and vegetables, up from 20 percent in the early years
• 78 percent of moms say they intend to include more fruits and vegetables in their family’s meals and snacks, up from 69 percent in 2007.
Results: Every five years Produce for Better Health measures actual fruit and vegetable consumption. The good news is that we are seeing progress and positive forward-looking trends in fruit and vegetable consumption among consumers under age 40, which includes PBH’s target audience of parents with young children. The bad news is that consumer groups traditionally most interested in health and who eat the most fruit and vegetables, including those ages 50 and above, are trending downward in their consumption over time.
Many factors contribute to this lack of overall increased consumption, including a drive for convenience, fewer side dishes, confusion about sugar in 100 percent juice, disproportionate advertising, and national food and agricultural policy. For example, despite great strides, USDA spending in the form of subsidies, research, extension, food purchases and nutrition assistance is dominated by foods that are not under-consumed. Meat receives about six times USDA funding relative to its proportion of a healthy diet, while USDA spending on fruits and vegetables is only one-third of its proportion in a healthy diet. The same is true for government research. Only 1 percent of the National Institute of Health’s research projects on cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke focused on fruits and vegetables, despite the fact that their low consumption contributed between 6 to 22 percent of the risk of those three major diseases.
The Future: What started out as a cancer prevention message in 1991 with 5-A-Day is now a “total diet” message with Fruits & Veggies—More Matters. No other food group can say that “more matters.” There are thousands of beneficial phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables, many of them not well understood. Vitamins and minerals help prevent deficiencies (like scurvy), but it’s these phytochemicals working synergistically with other nutrients that offer protection against chronic disease. Much like they protect fruit from the sun, they protect our bodies when we eat them
Phytochemicals are to nutrition what vitamins and minerals were just 100 years ago. For example, a class of phytochemicals called flavonoids may help slow the absorption of sugars — that’s good news for some 100 percent juice products. Emerging research also suggests more immediate psychological benefits to eating fruits and vegetables, as opposed to just long-term health benefits, which could create greater urgency in the consumer’s mind to eat more of them.
After 27 years in the industry — with more than 25 years at Produce for Better Health, with 20 of those years at the helm — I recently retired. I could not have asked for a better career than the one I enjoyed at PBH. It offered many opportunities, not the least of which was the honor of working with those who grow and help bring to market our nation’s most nutritious foods. I thank the industry for giving me the opportunity to do so.