Opinion: National Produce Promotion Board Is A Good Idea

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At the beginning of April, the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) announced it was beginning initial discussions on the formation of a National Fruit and Vegetable Research and Promotion Board. The proposed objective of the board would be to “increase U.S. consumption of all forms of fruits and vegetables for better health through implementation of a comprehensive health marketing, communications, and education effort.”

Sounds simple, right? But how will it work, what does it mean for you, and why do we think it’s a great idea?

Collective Voice

The initial work to create such a board has already started, thanks to a task force comprised of leaders from across the produce industry, including growers, marketers, and association executives. These individuals have looked into why the proposed board is so important, how it would be funded, and what it could bring to the industry.

For example, this type of board differs from a typical promotion or commodity board in that its main focus would be on a “social marketing campaign,” which involves the use of commercial marketing principles to influence human behavior in order to improve health or benefit society. These campaigns aim to change a specific behavior of a target audience who has reason to, and may potentially benefit, from the change.

This campaign is proposed to be funded by a total of $30 million collected from first handlers of produce. This amount would be collected via a 0.046% assessment (less than 1/20 of 1%) on the free-on-board market value of all first handlers and importers of both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. PBH would play an active role in how the funds are used, including public service advertising, paid advertising, media relations, social media (such as Facebook), research, multicultural targeting, and even the hiring of celebrity spokespersons.

You may be wondering why you have to deal with yet another assessment on the products you sell. However, we think the creation of a National Fruit and Vegetable Research and Promotion Board is a move in the right direction for a number of reasons:

• The experience and leadership of PBH will be an important part of making this board a success. PBH’s “Fruit & Veggies: More Matters” has been successful in getting directly involved with consumers to help them make informed and responsible buying decisions.

• The centralized voice that this board can provide is invaluable. Individual commodity boards may still have their own messages, but a national board can work on behalf of the entire industry to promote healthy eating.

• The social marketing aspect of this program is intriguing. You may not be on Facebook or Twitter (heck, you may be wondering what a “twitter” actually is), but the next wave of produce growers, buyers, and consumers are beginning to use them as their primary methods of communication. This is a rapidly growing, largely untapped, and potentially lucrative market that can be easily reached.

• Finally, anything that’s designed to help your bottom line is a good thing. This board will only be successful if it accomplishes two things: getting a strong message out and increasing produce sales.

Next Steps

PBH is actively seeking feedback from the fruit and vegetable industry on this proposal, and will continue to do so through October 2009. Webinars explaining the proposed promotion board and the referendum process have already taken place, and more are scheduled for June 10, July 8, Aug. 13, and Sept. 2. For more information on how to attend these webinars, check out www.fvcampaign.org. The site also includes an extensive “Questions & Answers” section outlining funding, concepts, future directions, etc.

If a decision is made to submit a proposal to USDA, industry opinions can be expressed directly to USDA in response to the proposal for a promotion board that is published in the Federal Register. If after reviewing comments, USDA concludes that the promotion board has merit, a final proposal would be issued by USDA and a referendum would be announced.

Brian Sparks is editor of American Fruit Grower, a Meister Media Worldwide publication.

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