The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst and Ray Gilmer of the United Fresh Produce Association chatted on July 13 with Frank Luntz, a political adviser, pollster and keynote speaker at the Washington Public Policy Conference, Sept. 14-16. You can read the rest of the chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

Gilmer: At our Washington Public Policy Conference in September, more than 500 members of the produce industry will come to Washington to make a difference on a range of important policy issues. Many will have several meetings with lawmakers or administration officials. Can you share your advice for those critical meetings?

Q&A | Frank Luntz, WPPC keynote speaker

Luntz

Luntz: Use very specific information. Don’t let the small talk take up the 10 minutes of the meeting. They have a purpose to be there, and they need to get to the point and don’t let the aura of a congressman’s office deter them from getting to the point. And the point should be no more than three statistics, no more than two numbers and a specific “ask” so that the congressman knows what matters most to [United’s] members.

Karst: The immigration issue is important to the produce industry. Do you think the new Arizona law will have a polarizing effect or will it create momentum to act on immigration?

Luntz: The American people do want a comprehensive solution, but it needs to start with control of the border, it needs to continue with some sort of guest worker program that welcomes people who want to come to America legally, and it needs to deal with those who have been here illegally in a way that is fair to everyone involved, including those who sacrificed to come here the right way.

Gilmer: Crisis situations can be devastating, hurting the reputation of products and companies for a long time. What advice can you give to companies in managing their reputations in such situations?

Luntz: First, on the food safety front, the key target for any communication is mom. Mom is the one buying the food and making the decisions about what will be purchased and where. Mom absolutely wants a product that is safe, that gives her peace of mind, and that she knows is doing no harm to her family. Second, you have to focus on the language and the messaging that will be heard and trusted by mom. And, third, you have to learn from mistakes.

Gilmer: One of our industry’s most important priorities is to promote produce consumption and healthy eating. How receptive do you think Americans are to that message?

Luntz: Telling a kid to eat healthy is counterproductive. This sounds so corny, but I really believe it. You give me a great fruit salad and I don’t need to eat anything else the rest of the day. In fact, I’m a very strong advocate for cucumbers and I’m opposed to turning cucumbers into pickles!

Karst: Locally grown produce and sustainability are becoming more popular with consumers. How hard should a company work to show that they are sustainable? Is it getting more and more important?

Luntz: You’ll have to do research. I know that Whole Foods says that much of their produce is locally grown. People enjoy that, but they’re going to Whole Foods for more than just locally grown produce. Organic is very powerful among 20-somethings, but among 30-somethings and 40-somethings, “all natural” is even more powerful.

Organic has an almost political connotation in addition to how food is produced. “All natural” is sufficient for most consumers. And as far as sustainability, the American people are also interested in “cleaner,” “safer” and “healthier.”