(Sept .27) Californians aren’t eating their five a day. In fact, despite lots of good nutritional and health news in the ’90s about fresh fruits and vegetables, the overall consumption rate in the decade didn’t budge. For some groups of Californians it went down.

While industry officials in the Golden State are discouraged by the news, they also are optimistic that new programs and partnerships will turn the tide on produce consumption in California.

A study released Sept. 23 by the California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, found that between 1989 and 1999, overall fruit and vegetable consumption in California did not change, with the average Californian eating about 3.8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, about what the average American eats.

The study also found that some Californians are eating fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Blacks, for instance, ate four servings of produce per day in 1989, but only 3.2 servings in 1999. And among lower-educated Californians, consumption dropped from 3.9 servings to 3.1 servings. Whites, Hispanics, college graduates and people earning more than $50,000 ate slightly more fresh fruits and vegetables in 1999 than a decade before.

The CDHS numbers “came as a surprise,” said Matt McInerney, executive vice president of the Western Growers Association, Newport Beach, Calif. But he said the study could serve as a spur to the industry to increase consumption in California.

“It shows that the industry is right on target with the establishment of programs and partnerships to get the message out about fruits and vegetables,” McInerney said.

McInerney cited California Grown, a multicommodity generic marketing campaign expected to generate additional sales for California produce growers. California Gov. Gray Davis kicked off the three-year program in August.

Another initiative McInerney and others are excited about is a new partnership between California’s 5 a Day program and the California Restaurant Association. The CDHS study found that almost nine out of 10 Californians cited the difficulty of getting fruits and vegetables at fast-food restaurants as the main reason they didn’t eat more produce.

“Given the groundswell now in California to create a public health movement, I’d be surprised if five years down the road, we see these same numbers,” said Desiree Backman, manager of California’s 5 a Day program. “But given the environment we live in now, where so much marketing encourages people to make unhealthful choices and to lead a sedentary lifestyle, the numbers aren’t a surprise.”

Backman also expressed optimism about a 5 a Day initiative to encourage employers to offer more fruit and vegetable options for their workers — in company vending machines, for instance. About 62% of those surveyed for the study said that produce was hard to find at work.

Kathleen Nave, chairwoman of the Buy California marketing agreement and president of the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, said the CDHS study highlights the need to educate consumers about the many research findings over the past decade on the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. Nave, like McInerney and Backman, was more optimistic for the future.

“Our belief is that consumption of produce in California is going to increase,” she said.