Regaining Consumers’ Hearts And Minds

You’re likely familiar with the phrase “share of stomach.” I’d like you to consider a new one: “piece of mind.”

Despite positive signs including budget-minded consumers who are now preparing more meals at home, and foodservice and government looking to promote wellness by encouraging healthier eating, overall consumption of fruits and vegetables have shown few signs of growth in recent years. I believe strongly that this is in part because we aren’t telling our stories — of the integrity and values that go into producing and distributing our products — as individual companies, and collectively as an industry.

In focusing on how we get our products to market, we’ve lost something vitally important: connections with our consumers. Further, we’ve also allowed others to own our communications space, planting false perceptions in consumers’ minds about fresh fruits and vegetables. In the process, consumers have been scared away from the very foods they should be eating more of.

The good news is that it is not too late to take our communications space back. To do so, we must do a better job of telling our stories, individually and collectively — and of better understanding today’s new consumer, who buys not just what we do, but why and how we do it.

To help our members do that, Produce Marketing Association (PMA) recently commissioned two research projects: one to learn more about today’s new consumers and their fresh produce behaviors and perceptions, and another to evaluate claims that fresh produce costs more than other food groups.

Consumers who are not increasing their fresh produce consumption most often cite cost as the primary barrier, according to new research conducted for us by The Hartman Group. And we’ve all seen or heard the claims in the media and from other influential sources, most recently from First Lady Michelle Obama. So PMA commissioned The Perishables Group to study national fresh produce prices. They found that, in fact, fresh produce is a bargain: the national average cost to get nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables is only $2.18 — and just 88 cents for the bargain shopper who purchases the least expensive items. This value is consistent year-round, coast to coast.

Together, these studies present a wealth of information to integrate into our stories, and to tell the real story. These findings give our industry’s producers fact-based tools to talk to consumers about the great value produce offers, and how you can help them affordably shop for and prepare meals that include your products. Meanwhile, retailers should communicate with shoppers that fresh produce is the new value menu, in addition to being healthful and delicious. Few items in the supermarket are available for the low cost of about $0.25 per serving — and certainly, none are more healthful.

(PMA members can access these studies through the online Research Center, which contains these and other research reports to help you interact with consumers to grow your business.)

We also now have a science-based tool to help bust another myth that is damaging consumer confidence in our industry and the safety of our foods. A new PMA-supported campaign from the Alliance for Food and Farming is responding to Dirty Dozen-type myths with facts and science. For more information, tools for communicating with consumers, and to contact the alliance to support their work today, I encourage you to visit

These latest studies are evidence of the high price our industry is paying for having lost the hearts and minds of consumers over the years while allowing others to perpetuate myths that keep consumers away from the nutritious foods they should be eating most.

The truths exposed by these research projects also remind us of the importance of authenticity and transparency in telling our stories. Consumers must know about our tireless efforts to deliver fresh produce with the utmost attention to safety, taste, and affordability — every bite, every time. By telling our stories and achieving “piece of mind” in consumers’ collective consciousness, they can have “peace of mind” to buy and enjoy more of our products — for their better health, and for ours.