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    Fresh Produce Trends:<br />What&#8217;s Next for Proposed Produce Promotion Board?

    On the heels of an overview about the creation of a national industry-funded national fruit and vegetable promotion board in last month’s PG Fresh Trends Alert, Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), reached out to share a comprehensive update about the latest developments of the trade in a late May memo, excerpts of which follow below.

    On the heels of an overview about the creation of a national industry-funded national fruit and vegetable promotion board in last month’s PG Fresh Trends Alert, Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), reached out to share a comprehensive update about the latest developments of the trade in a late May memo, excerpts of which follow below.

    “We’ve heard a lot of important feedback, and that is precisely why our executive committee wanted to conduct an industry discussion on the topic before deciding whether to support a formal recommendation to USDA for consideration.” In general, she says, “There are two types of feedback we’ve received: one expected and hoped for, and one rather unexpected.

    “First, we are very pleased with the different views and critiques expressed about specific provisions of the concept. There have been important questions raised about who should fund and who should vote on a promotion board; about what level of funding would be most effective, and how we’d measure success; about the expertise and controls needed to ensure wise use of funds; and many other views on specific aspects of how a board might work, and whether it’s a good idea.”

    Pivonka went on to assure readers that  “those are precisely the views the executive committee had hoped to hear by taking this discussion to the broad industry.”

    On the other hand, she continued: “We’ve also heard some criticism that perhaps PBH shouldn’t even be having this conversation. That was unexpected, although perhaps we were naïve not to anticipate some of that reaction.”

    After reconvening with PBH’s Executive Committee to reconfirm its strong belief that the creation of a generic promotion board is an important issue for industry debate and that the executive committee is within its bounds to facilitate trade-wide discussion accordingly, the consensus ruled that PBH is indeed “‘on mission’ in acting as the catalyst for consideration of any ‘big idea’ that might help us grow fruit and vegetable consumption.”

    Pivonka wants to make it clear, though, that PBH is not lobbying for the proposal. To the contrary, she says, PBH’s executive committee “has made it extremely clear that we want to get the dialog going, listen carefully to input from all those potentially affected, and only then would we consider asking USDA to plan a formal referendum in which the industry would vote.”

    As for explaining why a decision was made “one way or the other” by the task force -- as well as for alternatives potentially on the table -- Pivonka minced no words in stoking the debate. “Unless this dialog occurs, we won’t really know what you in the industry think of various options. Honestly, we have no interest in pushing any concept if it is not supported by the majority of those who would fund such a program. We do believe, however, that it is part of our responsibility at PBH to explore all potential concepts that might help meet our goals for increased consumption, and this is an entirely appropriate conversation to have.”

    As for the next steps currently under way, Pivonka says a transparent agenda is paramount. “You can be assured we’re writing down all comments we hear in meetings, saving e-mails and letters, and accumulating all the pros and cons we can. We’re also looking at the best ways to make these comments publicly available, so it furthers an open and candid discussion.”

    A task force of volunteers has also been formed “to look at issues that are being raised as we go, so we can listen for consensus and begin to explore options to address potential problems identified.”

    Further, having nearly completed the first round of information-sharing with various boards and industry groups, the committee will continue to welcome industry input via webinars and direct input. “Rather than one-way sharing, which was necessary” at the outset of the concept’s soft introduction, “We now want to stimulate greater comments from the industry. One way we hope to do that is to invite some advocates, pro and con, to share their views in future webinars and town hall meetings,” with an end goal of obtaining as much dialog and input as possible.

    PBH’s executive committee has further authorized working with an independent research firm to gauge opinions of growers/shippers/processors over the course of this process, as well as tapping various trade associations to provide confidential contact information for third-party vendors to assure that a wide sample of growers/shippers/processors are reached.

    In the end, Pivonka concludes: “PBH is committed to a healthy debate on the pros and cons of this concept. We want to dig deep into your recommendations for how a promotion board might best be structured, if in fact, there is sufficient support. We don’t know where the industry will net out on this effort, but we believe it is a vital conversation for our industry to have, and invite all of you to weigh in strongly and make your views known.”

    Parting thought: As always, endorsing or nit-picking an issue from the sidelines is fruitless. As I see it, this is a cause worth weighing in on, and I encourage you to reach out and discuss whatever’s on your mind in this regard -- or any produce-related topic, for that matter -- with Pivonka, who can be reached at 302-235-2329, ext. 315, or other PBH executive committee members, including:

    Board chair: Paul Klutes, C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
    Board vice chair: Andrea Astrachan, Ahold USA
    Secretary/treasurer: Roger Pepperl, Stemilt Growers, Inc.
    Immediate past chair: Mark Munger, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce
    Consumer marketing/communications chair: Kari Bretschger, Integrated Marketing Works
    Development committee chair: Matt Middleton, Ventura Foods
    Terry Humfeld, Produce Marketing Association
    Kim Kirchherr, Jewel-Osco
    Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association
    Gregg Storey, Bayer CropScience
    Marty Ordman, Dole Food Co.
    Paul Palmby, Seneca Foods Corp.
    Suzanne Wolter, Rainier Fruit Co.

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