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Will Fresh Industry Foot Bill If Frozen/Canned Uses More Matters Logo?

Does the fresh produce industry need its own promotional agency? This is one of the questions that is raised as the Produce for Better Health Foundation came out with an announcement that both Safeway and Schnuck Markets are going to use the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters logo on their private label canned and frozen products:

Fruits & Veggies-More Matters Logo
To Appear on Safeway and Schnuck′s
Private Label Frozen and Canned Products
US Retailers Work with PBH to Increase Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) is pleased to announce that Safeway Stores, Inc., Pleasanton, CA, and Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, MO, are the first grocery retailers in the nation to make a commitment to including the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters logo on a wide assortment of private label frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.

The first packages of qualifying frozen fruits and vegetables offered under the Safeway brand label are now beginning to show up in freezer cases of Safeway’s stores from coast to coast.

In St. Louis, Mike O’Brien, Vice President of Produce at Schnuck Markets, and the current chair of PBH, said that his company’s decision to redesign their private label packaging initiated the inclusion of Fruits & Veggies-More Matters. “I knew that our private label people were making a label change and suggested that we consider including Fruits & Veggies-More Matters wherever possible,” O’Brien said. “The next thing I knew, they were showing me samples of canned vegetables sporting the new logo. I thought it was great!”

PBH President, Elizabeth Pivonka, stressed that while the Foundation’s old “5 A Day” program always included canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables, as well as 100% juice, a more concerted effort is being made to include all forms as one of the core messages within the new Fruits & Veggies-More Matters public health initiative.

”Our research shows that consumers feel relieved to know that these other forms of fruits and vegetables ‘count’ as part of their daily consumption,” she said, adding that PBH was acknowledging consumer concerns over convenience. “If all Mom has the time for at dinner is to open a package of frozen broccoli and zap it in the microwave, then that’s great,” she said. “Her family is still getting a nutritious side dish.”

Bryant Wynes, PBH Senior Executive of Retail Marketing, said that a few other retailers have contacted the Foundation about including the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters logo on packaging, but none have yet to make the commitment to include private label to the extent that Safeway and Schnuck’s have.

“It’s growing,” he said. “Many retailers are now including the logo on private label fresh produce. Meijer has added the logo to their private label dried fruit packaging.” Wynes noted that interested retailers should first contact him before adding the logo to produce packages. “Unlike fresh produce or 100% juice, not every frozen or canned fruit and vegetable will qualify to use the new logo,” he said. “Our associates at PBH can evaluate each product’s ingredient panel to make sure that item meets our ‘products promotable’ criteria as outlined in the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters license agreement.”

This is actually great news from a public health standpoint. There is no evidence that, for example, frozen produce is less healthy than fresh, so PBH as a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the public health, should champion the consumption of produce in all its forms.

It is a win for retailers as well. Schnuck Markets and Safeway are leading-edge in this — they recognize that they can capitalize on the endorsement of the “More Matters” message by public health authorities to sell more canned and frozen items.

And the truth is it is a real win for consumers — in fact from a consumer perspective it is more important that canned and frozen produce carry the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters logo because, unlike with fresh items, with canned or frozen, the logo actually gives out valuable information.

If the frozen vegetable medley is drenched in butter sauce and salt, it won’t qualify to carry the logo, so with frozen and canned goods, by looking for the logo consumers can actually trust they are getting healthier versions of canned and frozen foods.

So it is a win for consumers, for retailers, for the public health… but is it a win for the fresh produce industry?

Well, certainly putting the logo on more items will increase the number of exposures that consumers gain of the logo, but it is also true that seeing the logo on canned and frozen foods may create an image of equivalence that is simply not in the interest of the fresh produce industry.

The statement by PBH is telling; it quotes Elizabeth Pivonka, PBH President:

“Our research shows that consumers feel relieved to know that these other forms of fruits and vegetables ‘count’ as part of their daily consumption,” she said, adding that PBH was acknowledging consumer concerns over convenience. “If all Mom has the time for at dinner is to open a package of frozen broccoli and zap it in the microwave, then that’s great,” she said. “Her family is still getting a nutritious side dish.”

Elizabeth is 100% correct. Consumers will be relieved to learn that canned and frozen are “great” to serve their families.

The question is whether the fresh produce industry wants to teach them this?

We suppose that one could use this as a lever to build a much larger, better funded, PBH. Right now the funders of PBH skew heavily to the fresh industry, so Del Monte Fresh is on the board of trustees, but Del Monte Foods, selling canned vegetables, is not.

If we can get Birds Eye and Heinz and the private label packers who pack for retailers and the many other producers of canned and frozen produce to ante up and join PBH with substantial contributions, maybe the enlarged budget could make the program more effective and a rising tide would lift all boats.

Perhaps… but this seems like a stretch, especially with the actual production of these items increasingly moving offshore.

The bottom line is that a consumer deciding to eat frozen broccoli is not an acceptable outcome for a fresh broccoli marketer. Frozen broccoli is the competition.

In fact, one of the major constraints on private brand marketing of new recipe and usage ideas is that, regardless of a company’s fresh market share, consumers may just use frozen product to make the suggested dishes.

Nobody is doing anything wrong here. It is PBH’s responsibility as a public charity to do all it can to help public health.

Yet the whole notion of promoting frozen and canned produce raises the issue of whether the fresh produce industry doesn’t require its own marketing arm.

There was a time when processing was primarily a byproduct of fresh production — turn the lower quality apples into apple sauce — but the world has changed. To use broccoli as an example:

The majority of fresh broccoli consumed in the United States comes from domestic production, with less than 10 percent of consumption coming from imports in 2004. However, over the last two decades, the percentage of consumption of processing [canned and frozen] broccoli produced domestically has decreased. In 2004, 80 percent of processed broccoli consumed in the United States came from imports compared to just 10 percent in 1980 (Figure 6). The majority of frozen broccoli imports come from Mexico, with a smaller amount entering from Guatemala. In 2004, the value of imported (fresh and processed) broccoli amounted to $206.5 million, making the United States a net importer of broccoli overall. The United States has come to rely largely on frozen broccoli imports because production of frozen broccoli florets is labor intensive and U.S. labor costs are higher than in other countries. In particular, Mexico’s low cost of labor has allowed Mexico to provide the majority of both fresh and processed imports to the United States, accounting for 74 percent of total broccoli imports in 2004. Guatemala was the second largest source, accounting for 14 percent of total imports, the majority of which consists of frozen broccoli.

In effect the fresh U.S. broccoli industry is in a battle with the imported frozen industry. Okay, PBH has to emphasize nutrition and promote all. Enhancing public health is still a worthy cause and, perhaps, everyone will want to support it to at least some extent.

Yet surely it is true that the US producers and marketers of fresh broccoli are going to want to have someone on their side giving reasons why it is preferable to consume fresh.

If PBH can’t do that — and it probably can’t — we probably need another advocate just for the fresh industry.

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