Tom Karst, National Editor
Tom Karst, National Editor

I have always liked the idea of a national generic promotion plan for the fruit and vegetable industry.

The idea behind it is simple:

1. Collect a mandatory assessment from all fruit and vegetable/fresh produce marketers.

2. Use the millions collected in the U.S. Department of Agriculture-directed program to promote the heck out of fruits and vegetables.

3. Reap the rewards of increased consumer awareness and demand for fruits and vegetables.

The industry hasn’t agreed with that step-by-step plan.

You may recall that from April-October 2009 the Produce for Better Health Foundation sought feedback from the fruit and vegetable industry about the potential of a national promotion board, organized with U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight and funded with mandatory assessments.

After a variety of outreach efforts to the industry netted mixed reactions, PBH officials ended the campaign.

As it was then proposed, the plan would have generated about $30 million a year from assessments on first handlers and importers of fresh and most processed fruits and vegetables through a 0.046% assessment of the f.o.b. market value of all first handlers and importers.

Why did it fail? Apart from nitpicking the plan itself, produce marketers were more concerned about building sales for their own brands and commodities than promoting the sector as a whole.

Can potato people agree with mushroom folk? Can generic ads succeed comparing apples and oranges?

Fast-forward to 2012 and we see another version of the national generic promotion plan has been suggested by a group of former cabinet secretaries.

In a 110-page report called “Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future,” the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative suggested another approach to funding a generic promotion plan.

PBH issued a news release about the group’s work, which included the oft-heard call for public-private cooperation in creating healthy families, schools, workplaces, etc.

The group suggests creating incentives for fruit and vegetable consumption in the food stamp program.

The paper also said lawmakers should make sure that any changes to the farm bill do not diminish U.S. fruit and vegetable production.

Another specific element of group’s strategy is the creation of a generic fruit and vegetable promotion program that would be paid for out of an expanded specialty crop block grant program.

In other words, a certain percentage of the Specialty Crop Block Grants granted to states would automatically be used to establish a national pool of funding to promote specialty crop market promotion and nutrition education.

I like that idea, even if it has no chance to be a part of this farm bill.

Reserving a part of the funds for the Specialty Crop Block Grants — say 10% of the total — for generic promotion would create a viable promotion program that would have sufficient money to make a credible effect in the market.

The funds from the block grant program should be matched with assessments on the industry to create a feeling of shared investment by the trade.

The time will eventually be right for this idea. If not 2012, then let the next farm bill in 2017 be the vehicle for a federally funded national generic promotion plan for fruits and vegetables.


Speaking of promotion orders, do you remember the USDA-approved promotion plan for Christmas trees that was nixed amid much disinformation about the “Christmas tree tax” late last year?

I recently talked with an Oregon Christmas tree farmer who is anxious for the Obama administration to proceed with the promotion order.

Unfortunately for that grower, I would say that outcome is not likely. Obama’s presidential advisers aren’t likely to allow him to get dinged again as a Grinch on the same issue. The Christmas tree promotion plan will be in limbo until after the election, and perhaps beyond.

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.