5 A Day Solution

There are true visionaries in this industry who dream of a day when the whole trade, linked arm-in-arm, will march into an age where each citizen eats at least five servings of fruits and vegetable each day, thus roughly doubling industry volume over current levels.

But many a marcher may have his arm in a sling from it being twisted for contributions. This is unattractive and unnecessary if 5 a Day is as good for members of the produce industry as its supporters claim.

When people don’t do things that seem to make sense, such as contributing to a program to build the industry’s volume, my reaction is not to be too quick to condemn but to figure out why people behave as they do.

This magazine and I support 5 a Day. Not only do we contribute advertising to help the program raise money from the trade, but we are the only publication to have made a cash donation. We support 5 a Day because it is good for the industry and good for America. The goal, if achieved, will lead to a larger produce business and a healthier citizenry. But the peculiarities of the produce industry make this an argument insufficient to raise large amounts of voluntary contributions.

Here is the truth. The 5 a Day program is marketed to the trade as a charity to “help the industry,” and it is supported by the trade like a small charity. Just as big companies support the local hospital and small businesses support the little league team, big shippers are expected to make contributions to 5 a Day, and most of them do.

But they don’t give more, and others don’t give at all because nobody has made a convincing argument that contributing to 5 a Day beyond the normal expected charitable contribution is a wise business decision. Or, put another way, that it is a profitable investment of business capital.

Even if you are convinced that 5 a Day will increase consumption, nobody can be certain of realizing the benefits of that increase. After all, since there is no control on the production end of the business, more volume simply may mean more plantings and more players. That being the case, growers cannot justify a 5 a Day donation as more than a charitable contribution.

Many leading proponents of 5 a Day really yearn for a mandatory program a la the dairy, beef or pork industries. And indeed a mandatory assessment would resolve some problems. Certainly, the money raised could be substantial enough to actually achieve 5 a Day’s goal. But the basic problem – that there is no production discipline – would not be resolved, and therefore increased sales could go to any new player who did not foot the bill for building those sales or to old hands but on an unprofitable basis.

So where does the industry take 5 a Day? The answer may lie in the fact that the 5 a Day program is the best vehicle the industry is likely to have for promoting the health-related benefits of eating fresh produce. The truth is, however, that this is a public service message, and the government and private health agencies should push this with or without industry support. The prime beneficiaries of 5 a Day are not producing growers; they are the Americans who will live longer, healthier lives if they eat in a more healthful manner. It is this recognition that is the key that may release 5 a Day from the box of limited funding.

With politics the way it is, private sources will probably have to take on a good part of the burden of pushing this message. I don’t believe the industry will ever raise enough money to actually fund a national 5 a Day program that increases per capita consumption. Instead, the industry has to look upon its role as that of catalyst in raising money from outside sources.

There are two important steps to do this. The first thing is to show that a properly funded 5 a Day program actually increases consumption. The only way to do that is to do a pilot project, e.g., find one of the least expensive media markets in America, then develop a program to do everything there backers would like to do nationally. Radio, T.V., billboards, print ads, public relations, school tours, you name it. The success of this one pilot program would inspire not only the produce industry but also inspire private donors, such a private foundations, to fund 5 a Day to help the national health.

Efforts to increase the nation’s physical fitness don’t depend on health club company funding. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness doesn’t wait around for exercise machinery manufacturers to send in donations. 5 a Day needs leadership stature. People capable of going to foundations, corporations and government officials outside the industry and raising money to support this public health effort. That is the second step and the key to the 5 a Day future.

The industry should contribute sufficiently to fund the pilot project and the effort to get outside support, and we need someone working for us who can say the truth: this is about a healthy America, reducing the incidence of cancer and heart disease. This is about avoiding unnecessary health care expenditures, and it is worthy of support.

There is a famous moment in American history in which Benjamin Franklin rose up at the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and commented on a sun placed in the horizon which was painted on the back of George Washington’s chair as he presided over the convention. Franklin commented that he had looked at the painting often during the convention wondering if it was a rising or a setting sun. Only at that point, with the convention having ended successfully was he certain the painting showed a rising sun.

The battle for the future of 5 a Day is not yet won. As the stylized sun logo of 5 a Day hovers on our cover, it poses a challenge to this industry. For it is a sun that will rise or set based on our efforts. I cannot promise that those who contribute will profit financially from the contribution, but they will play an important role in building a healthier America. Reason enough to work hard to keep 5 a Day shining.