New research sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association reveals marketing opportunities involving seniors and possible challenges for conventional produce marketers and retailers.

The Hartman Group’s study, called “Healthy Eating Trends 2009,” produced results that are applicable to retail and foodservice consumers, Julia Stewart, public relations director of the Newark, Del.-based PMA, said in a news release about the 69-page study.

PMA tasked Steve Lutz, vice president of The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill, with providing an overview of key findings and implications from the study. That nine-page overview is available at no charge to PMA members, Stewart said.

The study is not available to nonmembers unless they subscribe to Consumer Research Online. The fee for that service is $598, she said.

In his review of the study, Lutz said the Hartman Group Research found the appeal of “healthy eating” is present for all age groups. However, data show the pull is most powerful for older consumers, he said.

“Consumers seem to understand that healthy eating promotes healthy aging. So as consumers age, healthy eating increases in importance,” Lutz said.

He said the study suggests older consumers may be the most receptive to the “healthy eating” message.

While the Hartman Study revealed consumers place a high degree of emphasis on nutrition labels when determining a food’s healthfulness, Lutz speculated the results might be different if the results had been segregated between processed food and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fortified processed foods may appear healthier than fruits and vegetables based solely on the nutrition label, he said.

“More holistic messages regarding the broader health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables are potentially more powerful to consumers,” Lutz said.

Fresh fruits and vegetables receive credit from consumers for being unprocessed and natural, Lutz said, and he said that increases the category’s health appeal.

However, the study found the most compelling signals to consumers that food is healthy involve color, seasonality, organic, raw and local products, Lutz said.

Consumers view farmers markets, health food stores and specialty stores as healthier than club, grocery stores and supercenters, the study suggests.

“Retailers and suppliers should be identifying opportunities to work together to better communicate the freshness and overall health messages for their products in conventional retail stores,” he said in his review.

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