PBH: PRODUCE PROMOTIONS CAN EASE PRICE CONCERNS

WILMINGTON, Del. -- With research suggesting that the price of produce deters shoppers from buying more of it, retailers should offer coupons and conduct other promotions to boost consumption and sales, according to experts from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.For example, publicizing health and nutrition could help offset price concerns among consumers, PBH officials pointed out in a Web

WILMINGTON, Del. -- With research suggesting that the price of produce deters shoppers from buying more of it, retailers should offer coupons and conduct other promotions to boost consumption and sales, according to experts from the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

For example, publicizing health and nutrition could help offset price concerns among consumers, PBH officials pointed out in a Web seminar last month. Kathy Hoy, nutrition research manager for PBH, and Bryant Wynes, the group's director of retail marketing, discussed the connection between the federal government's new guidelines for fruit and vegetable consumption and the profits retailers may see by promoting produce.

Half of Americans said price was an obstacle that kept them from eating the recommended amount of produce, according to a study featured in the presentation. Sixty-two percent of Americans polled felt that better pricing would encourage them to buy more produce. "Retailers should promote and advertise more produce more often," Wynes said. "Produce will become more profitable through coupons and promotions."

Furthermore, studies show families that are more aware of produce's health benefits can spend up to 32% more each year on fruits and vegetables.

Recent changes to the food pyramid increased the daily recommended intake from five to nine servings of fruit and vegetables to nine to 13 servings. The introduction of the Color Way also raised the nutritional bar. Under the Color Way approach, people achieve greater health benefits by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables of various colors.

"Fruit and vegetables now occupy approximately half of the pyramid," Hoy said. "Before these changes, the previous minimum of five to nine servings a day wasn't even being met. Americans will need to more than double their intake in order to meet these recommendations."

She also cited the National Vital Statistics Reports' listing of heart disease, cancer and stroke as the three leading causes of death for Americans. While a diet that's rich in fruits and vegetables may help prevent the diseases, there are several barriers to developing good eating habits, Hoy noted.

Considering that only 62% of Americans are aware of the Color Way, it would seem that more information on integrating produce into a regular diet and effective retail marketing could go far in teaching Americans how to maintain a healthy diet, they said.

"Awareness increases the sale of produce by $111 a year," Wynes said. "Last year, households that were very aware of the Color Way spent $453 a year on produce, while those that weren't spent only $342."

This, he said, can translate into an additional profit of $79,575 per store each week if the shoppers consume at least the minimum recommended amount of produce.

Variety is key in the Color Way, but how would a retailer go about maximizing the assortment of vegetables customers buy? Hoy pointed to Wal-Mart Stores as a case study.

"Wal-Mart was successful in using in-store promotions such as recipes and demonstrations to get people to sample the produce before they buy," Hoy said.

In addition to targeting adults, the Bentonville, Ark., firm also used child-friendly promotions such as seasonal endorsements involving Peanuts characters and familiar faces from "Shrek" and the "Fantastic Four."

Also, research shows that there is a positive correlation between variety of produce and the amount consumed. Wynes stressed the importance of taste in the consumer's decision to purchase food.

"Sampling and demonstrations in the store really do take away the mystery behind produce," he said. "They tell the customer directly that these grapes are sweet, that these peaches are delicious."

Wynes said that consumer worries about spoilage also ties in with their fears of trying novel foods or of finding new ways to prepare them. Sampling and demonstrations allow shoppers a risk-free opportunity to become familiar with produce they might not otherwise buy.

He also suggested the use of storage information and recipe suggestions to help familiarize the consumer with the food. "People are interested in nutrition nowadays," he said. "Produce is the key to nutritional marketing."

Because many working adults eat on the go, Wynes encouraged retailers to keep busy lifestyles in mind. Since people are likely to eat produce during their snack times, retailers should emphasize convenience in the marketing of fruit, Wynes said.