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United Fresh Urges Retailers To Actively Participate in WIC's new Fruit and Vegetable Program

United Fresh Urges Retailers To Actively Participate in WIC's new Fruit and Vegetable Program

WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, gives Federal grants to U.S. states so that they can provide low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant women—as well as at-risk infants and toddlers—with supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education. But, recipients have never been allowed to use their WIC vouchers for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Thanks to a legislative victory for the produce industry last year, that will change in 2009. The WIC program has added $600 million in funding for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables, paid for through reductions in funding for milk, juice, eggs and cheese. This could present a big opportunity for supermarket produce departments, Lorelei DiSogra, vice president, nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association said during this morning’s Retail and Foodservice Board Super Session.

“There are more than 9.1 million [WIC] participants, and all expectations are that the numbers will go up to 9.8 million by the end of this year due to the economy,” she said.

The program will provide participants with vouchers in the following amounts: $8 per month for moms, $6 per month for each child, and $10 per month for breastfeeding mothers. So, these new moms with children will have at least $14 extra to spend in retail produce departments.

New York and Delaware were the first states to implement the changes this year, on January 2, and DiSogra said that retailers are reporting that redemption has risen steadily since then. All states will be required to implement the changes by October 2009.

She suggested that retailers contact their state WIC agencies, and capitalize on their state’s program launch with in-store marketing activities. United Fresh has also prepared a report with data from recent WIC produce pilot studies, as well as suggestions for getting the program off the ground in their stores.

“This is going to be a missed opportunity if you don’t engage,” she said.