(April issue) We know that produce is good for us. The industry has been telling us to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables for years.
But do we know why we should eat produce?
Believe it or not, many consumers don’t.

They don’t know that kiwi contains lutein, which helps maintain healthy vision, or that one slice of honeydew contains only 50 calories. Over the years, researchers have found many tidbits like these proving that produce helps maintain our wellness.

It’s your job to pass that information on the consumer, especially in today’s society. The American Obesity Association, Washington, D.C., says obesity affects at least 39 million Americans. It also says that 55% of adult Americans are overweight or obese, a number that has increased since 1960.

You have the resources to educate shoppers and help turn things around. Here are some ways you can do your part to make sure future generations will grow up healthy.

HAVE AN EXPERT IN THE STORE

You might not be an expert on nutrition, but dietitians are, so consider having one on staff to help you promote health.

Jessica Siegel, registered dietitian on staff for Gelson’s Markets, Encino, Calif., an 18-store chain, says the supermarket is a great forum in which to educate people about nutrition.

“Consumers are surrounded by food and they are thinking about nutrition when they shop,” Siegel says. “I teach them how to read labels, select good produce and point out specific products for those with various diseases.”

Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Food Stores Inc., a chain of more than 220 stores, started its Healthy Bites nutrition education program in the fall of 2000. The company hired two in-house dietitians in conjunction with the program. Donna Dolan, one of the Hy-Vee registered dietitians, says she spends 60% of her time educating consumers.

DIETITIANS DO MORE THAN JUST ANSWER QUESTIONS

Dolan gives supermarket tours to consumers two or three days a week. Attendees vary from weight loss groups to 4-H clubs to Kiwanis clubs. She spends about 20 to 30 minutes in the produce department discussing why items are healthy and how to use them. Her education workshops focus on wellness issues, such as maintaining a healthy heart and coping with diabetes.

She also gives seasonal tours about specific produce. In summer, for example, she taught consumers about melons, including how to select them.

HIGHLIGHT HEALTH EVERYWHERE THEY TURN

If you can’t have a dietitian on staff, educate consumers using signs, circulars or newsletters.

Promote health everywhere consumers look with in-store signs, weekly ad circulars, fliers, newsletters and brochures.

Debbie Leland, natural foods specialist for Kowalski’s Markets, White Bear Lake, Minn., which operates four stores, says the stores use signs as their main source of nutrition education. The company devised point-of-purchase signs to be used throughout the stores that describe nutrition benefits like how much vitamin C or fiber it contains.
She said the chain usually gets the scientific research statistics from produce and health Web sites.
Jennifer Egeland, registered dietitian and health and natural department coordinator for the 15 Hen House Market stores owned by Balls Food Stores Inc., Kansas City, Kan., says the stores use 5 a Day signs to promote healthful eating as well as chalkboard signs that promote the health benefits of produce. The chalkboard signs usually contain information that is short and simple. Consider a sign saying, “Carrot Criteria: High vitamin A, high vitamin C, source of calcium and fiber.”
Hen House weekly circulars overflow with health information, too. The ads use pyramid symbols to denote healthful preparation tips and bring attention to the nutrition information. A March 2001 ad for spinach points out that it is high in vitamin A and iron and that fresh blackberries and raspberries are good over vanilla ice cream for a tasty treat.