NEWARK, Del. — The Produce Marketing Association here has partnered with children's publisher Scholastic Inc., committing half a million dollars to encourage schoolchildren to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and to learn about safe food handling.
With the initiative, to be administered by Scholastic, PMA expects to reach more than 300,000 kids and 450,000 parents in the first year alone.
The program, officials said, supports Produce for Better Health's Campaign for Children's Health.
“This will enhance the Fruits and Veggies — More Matters and the FightBac campaigns,” Bryan Silbermann, PMA president, told SN.
The arrangement with Scholastic, an organization trusted by both parents and teachers for its expertise in informing children, is designed to pull together information from all agencies involved and present it in an age-relevant way.
“The role of the retailer in the program is still evolving,” Silbermann said. “We've been discussing four or five new ways it could be tied in at retail. It could be part of a fruit of the month promotion or some kind of contest. Imagine if we could just get produce as ubiquitous as Harry Potter — think what that would do to consumption.”
Every PMA member will get a copy of the educational materials kit and also point-of-sale materials. They can also avail themselves of materials online, Silbermann pointed out.
“We've already had calls from retailers and wholesalers and distributors, asking how they can get involved.”
Mike O'Brien, chairman of Produce for Better Health and produce director at 101-unit Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, said he's particularly pleased that PMA is so concretely supporting Produce for Better Health's Campaign for Children's Health.
“As the current chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, I was very excited when Bryan Silbermann informed me of PMA's commitment to the Campaign for Children's Health.”
O'Brien commented on the dire need to reach children of school age to change their eating habits, especially since various research sources have shown one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese, and that the number continues to increase.
“PMA is doing the right thing,” O'Brien said. “We need to develop the proper dietary habits in our children when they are young.”
Scholastic as the administrator can be particularly effective, agreed Peter Goulet, sitting PMA chairman.
“We all remember Scholastic magazine. Because parents of children in this age group [third and fourth grade] grew up with Scholastic materials that were both enjoyable and educational, we believe the materials will be very well received,” O'Brien said.
Goulet, a veteran of the retail world with 32 years at Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros., most recently as the chain's director of produce merchandising, now runs his own marketing company, Pinnacle Sales & Marketing, based in Gorham, N.H.
He called PMA's partnership with Scholastic a perfect alliance.
“It's the first time PMA has collaborated with someone who wasn't involved in marketing fresh produce. It's great that this ties in with third- and fourth-grade students,” Goulet said.
The fact that the initiative is classroom-based is a plus, he said, because it forms a natural bridge to those retailers who already have an “adopt a school” program or who offer store tours to elementary school classes.
“This will enhance their community outreach, and for any retailer who doesn't have such a program, this will provide a great template to start one,” Goulet said.
“The materials, the contacts are there. It gets them in the game.”
The collaborative InSchool program will span four years. By the end of 2010, more than 70,000 teachers will have incorporated consumption messages into classroom lessons for more than two million of their students and more than three million family members of students.
Scholastic is the right choice, with their expertise in reaching children, said PBH President Elizabeth Pivonka. It knows when and what grade levels to target, she pointed out.
The program will be launched in late October, for instance — timing recommended by Scholastic. The first flurry of school opening activities is over by then.
“And children of this age group are particularly open to information and experiences,” Pivonka said.
Components of the program include an eight-panel poster, a teaching guide and a two-page information sheet for children to take home to use with their families.
Year one will initiate the multiyear outreach program, with print and online components, followed by years two, three and four, which will annually reestablish the program among additional teachers, kids and parents, PMA officials said.