The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is well known in the fresh produce industry, but the group is now using a $250,000 grant to inform Canadian consumers about its food safety mandates.

The specialty crop block grant will fund a consumer research and public relations program in Canada over the next few months. The California Department of Food and Agriculture awarded the federal grant money.

Canada requires LGMA certification on leafy greens imported from California; almost all leafy greens from California are grown by LGMA members.

LGMA focuses on Canadian consumers“We want to gauge the impact of a program like the LGMA on consumer confidence,” said Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the Sacramento-based organization. “We don’t intend to move the needle much on awareness. It’s a fairly small program. But it will generate information to consumers about what farmers are doing.”

Information is expected to flow both ways. LGMA has already surveyed Canadian consumers, and plans to do so again at the program’s end.

“We found that people are still very aware of the 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach,” Horsfall said. “We asked if they were aware of any of the food safety measures implemented afterward. We didn’t expect that to be high; we weren’t built around consumer outreach.”

Just 10% of those surveyed said they were aware of the LGMA’s food safety processes, and 56% said they’re concerned about the safety of leafy greens.

“It’s a number that gives us pause, consistent with numbers you see in the U.S.” Horsfall said. “At the end we’ll see if we’ve moved anyone.”

Horsfall blames those numbers not only on lingering memories of the 2006 outbreak, but on events since.

“It’s not just residual awareness because of the massive publicity that outbreak had,” he said. “The industry has certainly not been immune to problems since then. There have been occasional recalls that keep it in consumers’ minds. It means we have to work that much harder.”

Canada-based Argyle Communications will handle the public relations program. It targets food and health writers, and a spokesman will be available to TV and radio outlets. A media tour of California growing operations is planned for early June.