NEW ORLEANS — Even though the federal government is pushing for more fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches and encouraging Americans to fill at least half of their plates with produce at each meal, there is still a public perception that some fresh produce is less nutritious and less fresh than it is, according to members of the United Fresh Produce Association’s fresh-cut processor board.

“For some reason there is the perception that fresh-cut isn’t as healthy as processed or frozen,” said Jan Berk, vice president of San Miguel Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

As the new chairwoman of the United Fresh fresh-cut board, Berk is more than a little concerned about that perception. She was one of three panelists who discussed the challenges of improving the image of fresh-cut produce during a seminar at the association’s 2011 show May 3.

To help fresh-cut processors meet those challenges United Fresh created a toolkit, which is expected to be available to members via the Internet in mid-May. The kit includes generic marketing labels with eye-catching logos and messages such as “farm fresh, table ready,” “wholesome healthy fresh,” and “no mess, no waste.”

Processors dispel fresh-cut myths
Processors dispel fresh-cut myths

Coral Beach

Minos Athanassiadis of the Fresh Link Group, discusses the importance of providing customers dynamic information, such as videos, during the “Image of Fresh-Cut” seminar. Other panelists were, (seated, from left) Jan Berk, vice president of San Miguel Produce Inc. and president of the United Fresh Fresh-Cut Processors Board; Phil Gruszka, vice president of Grimmway Enterprises; and Tony Freytag, director of marketing for Crunch Pak.

Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing for Grimmway Enterprises, Bakersfield, Calif., echoed Berk’s comments and urged fresh-cut processors to focus on “getting in” with consumers. He said that repetition of the three main themes on the generic labels would help them achieve that goal.

Another tool for fresh-cut processors to use to engage the public is social media, according to Tony Freytag, director of marketing for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash.

“We have three people on staff who do social media for us,” Freytag said. “People ask me how to get started in it and I tell them, ‘Just do it.’ Talk to younger people, ask your kids. That’s what I did and that’s how I found out about it.”

Freytag said it is important to know how tricky situations are going to be handled before launching social media campaigns. He advised the fresh-cut processors to figure out how they would respond to negative comments or customer complaints before launching Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.

For fresh-cut processors who work with the foodservice industry, Minos Athanassiadis of the Fresh Link Group recommended video as the medium of choice to get the message out. He said that people today respond to images better than words and that video imagery is particularly powerful.