MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Shoppers know the drill — a healthy diet means eating at least five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. But what, exactly, is a serving?
Grow, The Produce Shop, an independent here in southern Los Angeles, may have the answers that health-conscious shoppers seek. Owner Barry Fisher has developed a point-of-sale system that checks every fruit and vegetable's weight against serving size data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy — the agency responsible for the Food Guide Pyramid — and prints out the information on every receipt.
“I've been in the produce business for 15 years, and I didn't know what serving sizes were,” said Fisher, who operates a produce-exporting business in addition to Grow, which he opened late last year. “Some [nutritionists] describe servings as whatever you can fit in the palm of your hand, but really it varies from item to item. I thought that if we could actually articulate that information on our receipts — something customers are going to take with them anyway — then they could get a better sense of what it means to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.”
Fisher said the idea for the system came to him while he was searching the Internet for nutritional information on asparagus. He noticed that the serving size listed by the California Asparagus Board was similar to a pack size that his company exported.
“They listed the serving size as 93 grams, and I ship a bundled pack to Australia that's 180 grams,” said Fisher. “It clicked to me that I was selling about two servings of asparagus per transaction.”
And so, Fisher worked with his POS provider to develop a program that would translate USDA recommendations into an easy-to-understand format for his shoppers.
The USDA serving sizes are based on weight, but they also factor in other considerations, such as how many nutrients per calorie an item provides compared with other products in the same food group. As a result, there's more variation between different fruits and vegetables than one might expect.
“Dates, for example, have a really high number of servings by weight because of their sugar content,” Fisher noted. Similarly, in a sample receipt provided to SN, a single bunch of spinach was 5.3 servings, compared with 4.7 servings for 1½ pounds of broccoli.
Fisher said he hopes that the receipts will eventually help his shoppers better understand the concept of a serving, and learn how different components of a good diet fit together.
“I think that people, inherently, are busy,” he said. “They don't have the time to do research. We've done all of the research for them. [The receipts] give them a blueprint for the right way to eat.”
So far, Fisher said the receipts have been getting great feedback from customers, and since Grow also offers bulk grains, dairy and some meats, Fisher said he's been planning to add other food groups to the system. He is also seeking a patent on the program, and is considering licensing it to other retailers.
“I think it will go a long way toward educating people,” he said.