PMA’s Big ‘5 A Day’ Move

The PMA has announced the intention to form an independent charitable foundation in order to promote the “5 A Day” program. This announcement came as a shock to many industry leaders who have been meeting repeatedly, along with PMA, under the auspices of the National Institute of Health to discuss ways to sustain the existing program in California while also expanding the program to cover the whole country.

“5 A Day” is an unusual program. The principle is simple: to encourage people to eat or drink at least five servings a day of fresh, frozen, canned or juiced fruits and vegetables. The program began in California under a grant from the National Cancer Institute to teach people the benefits of increasing produce consumption. This grant is due to run out of funds in July.

The educational aspect of the program is essential. It is what gives the program credibility in the eyes of the media, and it is what makes the proposed foundation charitable and thus eligible for grants from governmental agencies and private foundations.

During the discussions on “5 A Day”, two basic viewpoints had arisen. On one side, there were those who felt that the “5 A Day” message should suffuse all industry organizations and programs – that every commodity board and trade association should integrate the “5 A Day” message into its own programs.

This viewpoint held that this approach would eliminate the need for an expensive new bureaucracy to administer the program and also provide maximum exposure for the program through all the existing programs and organizations. PMA took a different position. Its leaders, though agreeing that the message should be used in the materials of many organizations, felt that some kind of national organizing body was necessary.

When it became clear that the situation had reached an impasse and was not going to be resolved through further discussion, PMA made its move. It announced the new foundation, having already secured the support, both financial and moral, of many leading produce organizations.

In so doing, PMA in effect simply declared victory for its viewpoint. In truth, it was an adroit move. Other organizations were simply outmaneuvered on this one. And now the produce industry has a new national organization.

Of course, establishing an organization is an awful lot easier than achieving much with it. And the industry needs to watch carefully. “5 A Day” is such an exciting concept it is easy to get caught up in the idea of the program. But the new foundation needs to deal with many questions:

  1. Money. Initially, the foundation is looking to raise some seed money in the amount of $300,000. But where does it go from there? Most consumer-oriented produce education and/or promotion programs fail because they never obtain the critical mass of funding needed to change per capita consumption levels. Is the “5 A Day” program going to get the financial support it needs to really make things happen?
  2. Government and health organizations. How far will the National Institute of Health and the American Cancer Society go in pushing produce? And if they do something substantial, won’t they come under increasing pressure to do similar campaigns for lean beef or for high fiber bread? And what will the program mean when every food is being pushed for its healthful attributes.
  3. Control. Already supermarkets around the country have developed their own versions of the program: “Stay with Five”, “High Five”, “Strive for Five”, and so forth. Many, many supermarkets are not going to want to push the exact same program as their competitor down the street. Can or should this foundation do something about this situation?
  4. War among the sectors. “5 A Day” does not solely promote fresh produce. What will happen when frozen food firms want to contribute and, of course, want their products promoted? Will they be turned down? Will fresh produce firms leave?
  5. Staffing. Who will staff the new foundation? Will industry funds wind up just supporting another overhead structure? Alternatively, will it be all PMA staff doing the work for the supposedly independent foundation?
  6. Is “5 A Day” a message or a program? If “5 A Day” is a message, then the new foundation can work on getting it integrated into the agendas of many organizations. If it is a program, it winds up competing with many of these same organizations. Most notably, will this foundation interfere with the role of The Fresh Approach as the industry’s generic consumer promotion organization?
  7. Research. Does “5 A Day” work? Will this message actually boost per capita produce consumption, and how much expenditure is required to actually boost consumption in a measurable way?
  8. Is this a retailonly program? So far the board of directors is made up entirely of retailers. Why is this? Yes, retailers are in direct contact with consumers, but so are foodservice operators and, through advertising, major suppliers and commodity groups. If the retailers are going to run it, will they pay for it? Why are retailers so notably absent from the list of financial contributors to the foundation? As a foundation dedicated to the nutritional education of consumers, why are there no experts on nutrition or education on the board?

I have to say I admire what the PMA did. They grabbed the ball and are working hard to put this one into action. But in taking action, they also take responsibility. Making this one work is a very big challenge indeed.