LOS ANGELES -- Produce suppliers and retailers doubled their efforts this year to promote increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables during the second annual 5-a-Day Produce Tasting Blitz, Sept. 15 to 18, sponsored by the Fresh Produce and Floral Council here.
Almost 1,200 fresh produce demonstrations were conducted in 500 supermarkets throughout southern California during the last days of the second annual National 5 a Day for Better Health Week, Sept. 11 to 17, when industry and health organizations around the country gave an extra push to their promotional programs to encourage consumers to increase consumption of produce to at least five servings a day.
Last year's inaugural Tasting Blitz included 600 demonstrations in about 250 stores. The number of supermarket companies participating in this year's event increased from seven to nine.
"More people saw the value in the event last year and decided to get involved this year," said event organizer Barbara Buck, executive vice president of the council, an industry group involved in the promotion of fresh produce and cut flowers to the southern California market.
The program is popular with consumers because it combines education with free samples of produce, according to Roger Schroeder, vice president of produce for Irwindale, Calif.-based Hughes Family Markets, a participant in the demonstrations.
"There's nothing like getting people to taste a product and then have a one-on-one conversation with them about 5 a Day and the nutritional value of produce," he said. "It's a real plus for produce."
He said that while it's too early to measure the success of the program, most of his stores have reported that the demonstrations drew "a lot of attention from customers."
The demos featured a variety of products, including sauteed mushrooms, microwaved potatoes and broccoli, sliced pears, precut pineapple, stir-fried vegetables, precut salads with low-fat or fat-free dressings, and even grapes and mushrooms with a tomato dressing.
In addition to receiving free samples, consumers were also given 5-a-Day brochures written in English and Spanish, promotional materials, recipes and nutritional information.
Although the purpose of the event was not to increase produce sales or promote specific products, Buck said she spoke with produce managers from several participating chains who said "product was moving a lot faster than it normally did.
"The real goal of the event was to raise people's awareness that they should be eating five servings of produce a day to promote better health and fight cancer and heart disease," Buck said. She said that consumers were "very receptive" to the message.
Eight companies, in addition to Hughes, participated in the Tasting Blitz, including Albertson's, Food 4 Less, Gelson's/ Mayfair Markets, Vons Cos., Lucky Stores, Price/Costco, Ralphs Grocery and Smith's Food & Drug Centers.
The cost of the weekend activities was almost $71,000, which was funded by 26 companies, including commodity boards, growers, shippers and processors.
Buck said the six companies that conducted the demonstrations discounted their demo fees, and participating retailers either reduced or waived their promotional fees.