(Oct. 24, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) The Produce Marketing Association has added new elements to its Advantage Program, linking with other companies to provide staff training, nutrition label information and energy-reducing initiatives.

PMA Advantage: Custom Training, taught by representatives of the Business Learning Institute, Towson, Md., offers 100 professional development courses in 17 areas, said Julia Stewart, public relations director.

Courses cover everything from public speaking to conflict resolution and performance management.

Other facets of the PMA Advantage program are full of useful money-saving programs, Stewart said.

A market research program provides important market data derived from research conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, Stewart said. Another service provides nutrition labels in 17 different layouts, in English, French and Spanish. Energy Ent. Inc., Carlsbad, Calif., provides the labels, she said.

“The nutrition labeling is an area that I would encourage the industry to have good professional help,” Stewart said. “It, in fact, can be quite tricky.”

A utility management program, offered through Affiliated Power Purchasers Intl. LLC, can help cut energy costs by 10% to 25%.

A scan data segment provides businesses with invaluable scanner data from 16,000 U.S. supermarkets, Stewart said. This data, which can typically be quite expensive, comes to PMA members at a 15 percent discount, Stewart said.

Another new product from the association is Essentials, an online training program for in-store associates and department managers.

“It was designed with the help of retailers for retailers,” Stewart said.

Customers often look to sales associates for recommendations, making this training program indispensable, she said.

“Retailers are constantly challenged to keep their associates trained and knowledgeable,” Stewart said. “That touch point will pay off at the cash register.”

Topics range from customer service to food training.

PMA recently revamped “I Know Produce,” an extensive online source for produce information that includes an expanded library along with new products and pictures. The site has more than 175 commodities as well as different varieties within those commodities, Stewart said.