(Dec. 27) If you ever read produce statistics and wonder, “What does this mean for me?” your’re in luck.

In September, the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., presented the Web-based seminar “State of the Plate” Research: Opportunities for your Business. The foundation took its statistics and interpreted them to make sense for you.

Produce Merchandising spoke with PBH director of retail marketing Bryant Wynes to expand on the suggestions that you care about most.

Close the gap between what consumers “know” vs. what they “do.”

More than half of consumers know they should eat at least five servings of produce each day, but fewer than 20 percent do. This is evidence that customers are receptive to the idea of eating more, Wynes says, so retailers should capitalize on the reasons that motivate customers to buy.

Health comes in at No. 1. Make a commitment to nutrition marketing using the produce department as the gateway, or “portal,” he says.

Increasingly, consumers are turning to the produce department to get health messages, however, he says retailers aren’t seizing this opportunity. Your Web site is a great place to begin.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle Inc. and Landover, Md.-based Giant Food are two retailers that take advantage of incorporating produce with nutrition marketing on the Web. H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, has an H-E-Buddy link on its site featuring games, puzzles and coloring pages to introduce dietary guidelines to children, including the 5 a Day message.

Advertise produce more often.

Sixty-two percent of consumers say better pricing would get them to purchase more produce, while 38 percent cite coupon incentives. Advertised produce receives double-digit household penetration even among infrequent shoppers. Wynes says marketing departments usually don’t know this, so you need to explain this potential for sales.

Wynes has seen advertised produce items outperform every other item in the ad when you look at how many customers bought the item, not tonnage or dollars.

Produce coupon promotions also surpass that of other grocery items. Fruit and vegetable coupon redemption rates are between 4 percent and 13 percent — 100 percent to 600 percent higher than national coupon averages.

Consider the potential of fresh-cut and value-added selections.

Barriers to produce consumption included availability, cited by 48 percent of consumers, and convenience, cited by 42 percent.

Varieties of fresh-cut and value-added produce continue to expand to meet consumer demand. Shoppers are finding more convenient products everywhere else in the store, and if you want to keep up or increase sales, you’re going to have to cater to their expectations in the produce department, too.

Focus on snackable fruits and vegetables.

Almost 70 percent of consumers say snacking is the time they would most likely add more produce items to their diet. Fresh-cut and value-added selections are good choices to advertise as quick snacks, as are dried fruit, Wynes says. Apples, grapes and peaches are other good selections.

Be sure to advertise such items as great afternoon snacks, or healthy late-night snacks.

Encourage consumers to choose and eat a greater variety.

People who eat the greatest variety of produce spend more, Wynes says.

Sales present the best opportunity to introduce variety since consumers are already going to buy the staples.

“I buy potatoes and onions when I’m out, I buy bananas every week,” he says. “Show me something I don’t buy on a regular basis.”

Wynes says he is a firm believer that the produce department has the greatest opportunity to grow incremental sales in the store.

If you get consumers to buy an item such as jicama, the extra purchase is not going to replace what they were already going to buy.

PBH’s Color Way message supports eating a variety, and households that are aware of the message spend $111 more each year, he says. Sixty-two percent of the public is still not aware of the message, so communication is key.

To make it more convenient to choose from all of the colors, Wynes suggests devoting a section of ad space to items from each of the color groups, along with color-specific health messages.

Sample to appeal to consumers’ taste buds.

Thirty-two percent of consumers say sampling would help them eat more produce. When sampling, focus on the best-tasting items the department has at the time, he says. Demos and sampling encourage consumers to try new items and appreciate quality and freshness.

You don’t have to be a higher-end store to sample or demo, Wynes says. For the most cost-effective sampling, don’t add prosciutto and Brie, just slice off a piece of apple. Fancy recipes aren’t going to make the sale; shoppers are looking for great taste and ripeness.

Provide consumers with the information they say will encourage additional purchases.

Thirty-two percent of shoppers say they want storage information before they buy an item. Simple tips, such as whether to put the item in the refrigerator or on the counter, determine whether the customer is going to be a repeat buyer.

Shoppers also are more likely to try new items if they know what to do with them. Thirty-nine percent of consumers say preparation suggestions and recipes would make them more likely to buy.