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Retailers bring ideas to get more fruits and vegetables on consumers’ tables

ny produce 2022 panel
From left: Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, Marianne Santo, Mary Mitchell, Caitlin Tierney, and Lisa Helfman.

NEW YORK—The produce industry continues to struggle to increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. No one strategy will be the sole path forward.

A panel of retailers joined Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation BB #:157162 at the New York Produce Show to discuss what they think are keys to success.

For San Antonio-based H-E-B BB #:106490, health and wellness has been a new key strategy, said Lisa Helfman, senior director of public affairs and co-founder of Brighter Bites BB #:371141.

“We’ve started a new brand within the company called H-E-B Wellness, and in that we’re trying a lot of different things in our stores to really generate excitement around fresh food, new signage, and new packages that really draw people into the produce department,” Helfman said.

Health and wellness are a part of the core strategies for the produce industry coming out of the recent White House conference on Nutrition, Kapsak said. One initiative being funded by the administration is produce prescriptions.

Marianne Santo, Senior Category Manager, Produce and Floral, Wakefern Food Corp. BB #:101244 and President of the Eastern Produce Council, thinks produce prescriptions could be a positive for consumers because it gives them a directive.

“I think everything about that program is so noble,” Santo said. “We talk a lot about food waste, and I think one of the ways we can eliminate food waste is giving access to fresh fruit and vegetables to customers that maybe can’t afford it so much, and we thereby reduce our food waste in-store.”

Getting more produce into consumers’ baskets has been a challenge for retailers lately, especially in light of rising inflation, said Caitlin Tierney, senior director, produce, for local and innovation at Sprouts Farmers Market BB #:168563, Phoenix.

“If you’ve listened to our earnings, we usually have four produce items in a basket, and now we have three,” she said. “How do we get it back to four, and it’s really doing more of the two-for’s and buy one get one 50% off trying to build that basket to increase that consumption.”

Tierney said Sprouts is also working to differentiate itself through grower relationships and varietal exclusivity.  

Mary Mitchell, produce category merchant for New York-based online grocer FreshDirect BB #:164151 said the company hasn’t seen significant decreases in produce items, but it is working with suppliers to offer price relief when it can.

“We’re really utilizing our local supply chains to get more of those direct pieces, so we can help with cost whenever possible,” she said. “When we are able to offer a bit of price relief to the customer, we go a little bit deeper and take a little bit more of a margin hit there.”

But the produce industry has to be sure not to compromise flavor and the eating experience – especially when consumers are being careful about how they spend.

“People are deeply offended when they take something home and it doesn’t taste right or it goes bad quicker, because their dollars they’re spending on food are so much more important,” Santo said.


Pamela Riemenschneider is Retail Editor for Blue Book Services