RETAILERS, GROUPS ARE TILLING THE FIELD FOR 5 A DAY WEEK

WILMINGTON, Del. -- As the Produce for Better Health Foundation here prepares for its eighth annual National 5 a Day week to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables, various retailers and organizations across the country have gotten behind this year's healthy theme -- "Fruits and Vegetables: By Popular Demand."National 5 a Day Week officially kicks off Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 16, though

WILMINGTON, Del. -- As the Produce for Better Health Foundation here prepares for its eighth annual National 5 a Day week to promote consumption of fruits and vegetables, various retailers and organizations across the country have gotten behind this year's healthy theme -- "Fruits and Vegetables: By Popular Demand."

National 5 a Day Week officially kicks off Sept. 10 and runs through Sept. 16, though it "usually becomes 5 a Day Month," according to Robb Enright, spokesman for the foundation, since many retailers enjoy delivering both the message and the sales numbers the promotion stirs up in their produce departments.

Among new elements in the program this year, the foundation and the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., have launched a Web site, www.aboutproduce.com, providing consumers with a source for produce recipes, health facts, nutrition information, and even fruit and vegetable trivia. The foundation also joined the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md., in creating this year's theme, and both are providing on-line resources at their respective Web sites to help consumers enhance their diets with produce.

But, beyond weeks and months, some operators have used the program throughout the entire year, with great success.

"If you promote the 5 a Day concept all year round, it increases consumer awareness, increases consumer health and increases the sales in your produce department," said Mike Kemp, corporate director of produce/floral for Supervalu, Minneapolis. "It has too much value to simply be a once-a-year thing, from both the retail and consumer angle."

According to Kemp, Supervalu stores in all seven of its sales regions are participating in 5 a Day Week through various promotions, sales and contests, though most locations follow the program's ideals all year long.

One competition scheduled for this year challenges each store to create a scrap book of photographs, advertisements, sales numbers and customer reactions generated by its respective 5 a Day Week program. Each location will submit its scrapbook at the end of the week, when a winner will be chosen.

"As much as we promote the 5 a Day idea to consumers, it's just as important to get the stores more excited and more involved in the whole thing," said Kemp. "That way, it all trickles down to the consumer eventually."

Kemp said that this involvement usually entails bringing the 5 a Day program "directly out into the community," instead of waiting for shoppers to come into the stores. In previous years, Kemp said, some Supervalu stores have gone so far as to enter marching bands into local homecoming parades to promote the 5 a Day concept, with accompanying floats and banners touting the program.

"When the people see these concepts outside the supermarket, and in their own community, they get a better sense of what it's all about and that it's not just a ploy to simply sell more fruit," said Kemp. "It's really about people being healthy and maintaining a healthy diet."

According to Enright, the foundation is making a concerted effort to push this year's program heavily in schools, and has set up a contest similar to what Supervalu is running. From now through Nov. 30, students at participating schools can collect the price lookup stickers from purchased produce and place them on the official entry sheets, which can be downloaded off the foundation's Web site.

Classes that amass the most completed sheets win prizes, including a visit from the foundation's Produce Man mascot and 5 a Day merchandise, depending on the extent to which local retailers participate.

Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C., is fully participating in 5 a Day Week for the first time this year, and will be actively promoting the campaign throughout the entire month of September, focusing heavily on local schools.

"No one in our marketing area is doing 5 a Day on a large scale this year, so it's to our advantage, and the consumer's advantage, to go full throttle with the program," said Mike Marrotte, vice president of produce for Bi-Lo.

According to Marrotte, Bi-Lo stores will host tours of the produce department for school classes, and employees have been specially trained to educate the tour groups on the value of the 5 a Day concept.

Bi-Lo is featuring coupons for fruit and vegetables and running ads in its weekly circular touting 5 a Day. The ads will be "very nutrient dense," said Marrotte, profiling different fruits and vegetables and their healthful benefits. In addition, Bi-Lo is furnishing local billboards with the 5 a Day ads, and sponsoring a corporate health fair for company management and associates, so they too can benefit from the 5 a Day program.

"Being our first all-out involvement with 5 a Day, we want to make sure we put everything we can into the program for all four weeks, and then hope it kind of carries over," said Marrotte. "Consumers are always looking for healthy options, so I think there's a good chance of that happening."

In preparation for the annual event, the foundation distributed informational brochures about the campaign to human-resource directors at Fortune 1,000 companies, corporate wellness and fitness coordinators, health professionals, school food-service personnel, dietitians and even the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The literature contains ideas for how to make fruits and vegetables more available when eating out, at home, school, work and in the supermarket.

Coordinators for 5 a Day across the nation are also conducting health fairs, workshops, school cafeteria promotions, fun runs and walks, and working with retailers and local businesses to promote the week's agenda, all part of a $4 million marketing campaign, which also features point-of-sale materials, coupons and recipe ideas.

Fruits and vegetables will be cross merchandised in many participating retail locations with items such as Ziploc Freezer Bags and Treasure Cave Blue Cheese, and the cross promotions will be advertised to millions of consumers through recipe/coupon inserts in several nationally distributed magazines, according to promotion organizers.