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The Year Ahead: Driving consumption

2024 year ahead

Getting consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables is always a focus for the industry.

The food-as-medicine movement, increased storytelling, and product innovation are all working toward this goal.

“Food as medicine is here, but not enough people in produce are part of the discussion,” contends Lori Taylor, founder, and CEO of The Produce Moms BB #:366223 in Indianapolis, IN.

Programs that encompass initiatives from produce prescriptions to medically tailored meals involve insurers, the public health community, and many other stakeholders.

Mollie Van Lieu, vice president of nutrition and health at the International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962 in Newark, DE, is happy there’s been progress since the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022, but there needs to be more.

Positives include California’s forward momentum, New York City offering a pilot, and retailers adopting food-as-medicine programs.

An example is Stop & Shop’s Fresh Connect partnership, which provides prepaid debit cards to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables at stores. The program began in Massachusetts in 2022 and expanded to all 400-plus stores in 2023.

More recently, in September, Kroger Health collaborated with Performance Kitchen to offer medically tailored meals for the first time. Another initiative of note is SunTerra Produce Traders, Inc.’s Project Foodbox, which rose out of the pandemic-era Farmers to Families program to offer groceries through a partnership with CalOptima and its Medi-Cal recipients.

Results, so far, are promising: a study by Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University looked at nine produce prescription programs involving 1,800 children and 2,000 adults in 12 U.S. states over a six-year period. It found the programs reduced food insecurity by 50 percent, raised fruit and vegetable intake by a serving per day, and lowered blood pressure, body mass, and blood sugar, among other benefits.

There are other initiatives to watch when it comes to moving the needle on produce consumption as well.

Van Lieu points to poverty rates, which are up significantly since the pandemic, bringing more families and especially children to the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). But there’s a proposal in Congress to cut the benefits for women by 70 percent to $13 per month and for children by 56 percent to $11 per month.

“We want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Van Lieu says, noting a previous increase in benefits, which Congress is now seeking to reverse, was a success when it came to encouraging produce consumption among recipients.

Looking ahead a couple of years, Van Lieu is anticipating the debut of the FDA’s voluntary standards to reduce sugar added to packaged foods, following the addition of a line for added sugars on Nutrition Facts labels. Virtual public meetings and listening sessions will be held, which she says will provide an opportunity for the produce industry to position itself as a sweet-snack alternative.

This is an excerpt from the feature story from the January/February 2024 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.