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The Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) is backing away from the catalyst role it endeavored to fill beginning last spring on the potential creation of a national fruit and vegetable research and promotion board. The Wilmington, Del.-based organization’s executive committee said that after careful consideration and ample deliberation, decisions about how to proceed should be made by those on which it will have the greatest impact.
“We’ve heard a great deal of valuable feedback from individuals who support the concept, as well as from those who oppose it,” said Paul Klutes, director of brand sales at C.H. Robinson and chairman of PBH. “Our industry survey over the summer highlighted some of the concerns on both sides of the issue. PBH’s executive committee believes that only those most affected by such a promotion board can truly decide what is in their best interest moving forward.”
Between April and October 2009, PBH sought feedback from the fruit and vegetable industry about the possible development of a promotional board, but after taking the pulse of the industry via webinars, presentations, town hall forums and surveys, Klutes said PBH’s executive committee made the decision to step back.
Klutes’ colleague, Jim Lemke, United Fresh chairman and SVP at C.H. Robinson, thanked PBH on behalf of the Washington-based trade association “for advancing the discussion of a potential national promotion order for fruits and vegetables during the past six months. It’s important that all of us in the industry work together to always be looking at creative ways we can help increase consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thinking outside the box is an important contribution to that effort,” said Lemke, who said the listening role PBH played meant “this was simply not the right proposal at the right time. After six months of dialogue and industry debate, it was clear that there was not a substantial majority of the industry that wanted to drive this concept further. We also believe it is time now for all of us to recommit our energies in support of current PBH efforts, which have sometimes been clouded during this discussion of a national promotion order. Our industry cannot sit back and hope that produce consumption grows; we need to be pursuing all available opportunities to make that happen.”
While several industry leaders have expressed their interest in exploring next steps, Klutes said it “will be at their own initiative and without direct PBH involvement or sponsorship.” In the interim, PBH has pledged to share all that has been learned, both positive and negative, but interested individuals aren’t bound to follow the recommendations of the PBH Task Force, whose thoughts have framed the discussion since April.
“Our role, consistent with the foundation’s mission, has been to stimulate the conversation and to provoke industry consideration of the idea,” said Klutes, adding that the task has been accomplished. “Now, it is the time for industry stakeholders, the people who would be writing the checks, to pick up the ball and carry it forward, or not, as they see fit. If there is a decision to move forward, it will be under independent industry leadership, and, at this point, PBH will not play a direct part in that effort.”
As outlined last April, the proposal for the creation of a national fruit and vegetable promotion board was 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. A total of $30 million was proposed to be collected from first handlers, via a 0.046 percent assessment (less than 1/20 of 1 percent) of the free-on-board (FOB) market value of all first handlers and importers of both fresh and processed fruits and vegetables. The creation of such a promotion board would be dependent on the outcome of a referendum, or vote, of first handlers.
“Everyone agrees that the industry needs to do more to market itself,” noted Klutes, adding that PBH remains “the pre-eminent industrywide voice promoting the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables. We’re still very excited about that mission, and are finding new, effective ways to promote our ‘Fruits & Veggies-More Matters’ message to the consumer every day,” citing as example a plan in the works to get doctors and pharmaceutical and insurance companies aligned to help communicate the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables to patients.
“We have a great message and we need to get everyone who shares an interest in a healthier America to collaboratively promote the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables,” observed Klutes.
For details, background information, and industry survey results about the promotion board, visit www.fvcampaign.org.