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Boosting Produce Consumption

By Lindsey Getz

Supermarket dietitians are leading the way.

Supermarket dietitians continue to play a valuable role encouraging in-store shoppers to purchase more healthful products and increase intake of fruits and vegetables. To that end, some in-store RDs are developing creative merchandising strategies, attention-grabbing signage, and food sampling programs to lure shoppers to the produce aisle.

In light of National Nutrition Month® and the spring season fast approaching, Today’s Dietitian speaks with some supermarket dietitians about their efforts to inspire shoppers to enter the produce section, sample what they’ve never tasted before, and reacquaint themselves with the health benefits of daily fruit and vegetable consumption.

The warm weather and bountiful displays of colorful local produce can renew an interest in eating fresh foods. Dawn Blocklinger, RD, LDN, in-store dietitian for Hy-Vee’s Bloomington, Illinois, location, says Hy-Vee uses daily updated signage to let shoppers know what produce is grown locally. She says that as the weather begins to turn, many of their customers are thinking about using their grills.

“This presents a lot of unique ways to prepare fruits and vegetables,” Blocklinger says. “The key is to give our shoppers those ideas. Most people wouldn’t think of grilling pineapple or green beans, but it’s delicious. The key is education—giving people ideas they might not have thought of otherwise.”

Beth Stark, RDN, LDN, manager of lifestyle initiatives for Weis Markets, Inc, headquartered in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, adds that education is particularly important when it comes to produce that shoppers haven’t bought or cooked before. “It’s not uncommon for shoppers to be intimidated by produce they’ve never tried before, so that’s where education can play a vital role,” Stark says.

Kathryn Long, RDN, LDN, a healthy living coordinator, also with Weis Markets, says that the supermarket is currently in the midst of a “superfoods” program in which their displays and signage call out foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The 4- X 6-inch signs not only identify the foods as “superfoods” but also explain why they’re so healthful and provide tips for incorporating them into shoppers’ diets.

“Shoppers are getting ideas right there at the point of purchase, and oftentimes it inspires them to make the leap for foods they otherwise might not have tried,” Long says. “They may not have tried cooking with Swiss chard or fresh beets before, but because we’re providing ideas on how to cook with them, they’re inspired to try something new.”

Sampling also can be effective for that same purpose. Blocklinger says sampling is much more effective when thought of as an event.

“It’s an educational opportunity,” Blocklinger adds. “Prepare the recipe right in front of the shopper instead of just handing out the finished product so that they can see how easy it is to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their diets. The recipes and allof the ingredients should be available right there. While preparing the recipe, I always mention the nutrients and proven health benefits of the product.”

The presentation of the sampling setup also is important; Blocklinger makes sure to always display what the produce looks like intact. For example, if she’s sampling a recipe that features mango, she will have a bowl of mangoes on the table along with all the other ingredients included in the recipe.

“We keep the recipes simple—maybe three or four ingredients—and it’s important to have them all right there,” Blocklinger says. “It’s frustrating for the shopper if they have to go searching for the items.”

Stark adds that sampling recipes that include produce in ways with which people are unfamiliar can be incredibly effective.

“We did a watermelon gazpacho, which had a lot of positive feedback,” Stark says. “And we recently worked with avocados and sampled an avocado brownie recipe. That was an outside-the-box way to incorporate avocado into the diet as opposed to making guacamole, which is what everyone thinks of first.”

Weis Markets also aims to cross-merchandise various products when the opportunity arises. A recent partnership with the Mushroom Council had them cross merchandising produce with the meat department using signage and healthful messaging, explaining how to incorporate a mushroom blend into ground meat for a more healthful burger.

While the right approach can catch any shopper’s attention, both supermarket chains have programs in place to purposefully work with children.

“It’s so important to capture the attention of little ones, as learning to love produce at an early age can set them up for lifelong healthful habits,” Blocklinger says of Hy-Vee’s kids’ classes.

Weis Markets hosts its Mystery Tours field trip program for kids, which engages second-, third-, and fourth-graders to learn more about the food they eat.

“We always sample fresh kiwi on our mystery tours, as we find that is a fruit some kids haven’t tried before,” Long says. “It’s an exciting way to expose kids to new produce. They often go home and talk to their families about it and it starts a new healthy habit for everyone. Getting the whole family to eat fresher and healthier is always the end goal.”

— Lindsey Getz is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pennsylvania.