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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s release of a “plate” graphic of dietary needs for consumers in place of the familiar food pyramid has won kudos from produce and grocery industry organizations, particularly for the prominent place it gives to servings of fruits and vegetables. Instead of the 20-year-old pyramid, the USDA has opted for a circular plate divided into wedges, with fruits and vegetables taking up more than half the pictured plate.
“The new MyPlate and accompanying messaging is a tipping point in how Americans literally visualize what they should eat,” noted Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the Washington-based United Fresh Produce Association. “The breakthrough message to ‘make half your plate fruits and vegetables’ is simple, compelling and effective. It is a message that consumers can practice every day at every meal. The produce industry is firmly committed to working closely with USDA and others to support and promote MyPlate and the half a plate message as part of a lifetime of healthy eating.”
Last year, United provided input to USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services on ways to implement the core messages in the new dietary guidelines, which were released in January 2011. Among the trade organization’s recommendations were to provide clear, strong, compelling and actionable messages to consumers to boost their fruit and vegetable consumption and make other necessary dietary changes; use the “Half Your Plate Should Be Fruits and Vegetables” message to show how much produce children and adults should eat at every meal; and commit to policy and environmental changes that will create healthier food environments and system-wide approaches.
Stenzel, pictured above left speaking at the MyPlate launch, while U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin look on, added that it was now up to the produce industry to promote the new graphic and messaging.
Other produce groups were equally enthusiastic about what United Fresh characterized as a “landmark” step on the part of the government. “PMA is extremely pleased to see the USDA move in this direction that not only benefits our industry, but more importantly helps consumers make better choices for a healthy lifestyle,” noted Bryan Silbermann, president and CEO of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), which hails MyPlate as “more modern and easier to understand.”
The organization added that eating more fruits and vegetables was also cost-effective, citing the results of a study it commissioned by The Perishables Group, The Cost of the Recommended Daily Servings of Fresh Produce, which found that as well as being nutritious, fresh produce was also a good buy year-round.
“I am extremely pleased to see that the new icon makes it easy for consumers to see the proportion of fruits and vegetables they should be eating during meals, as well as providing strong support for Fruits & Veggies-More Matters,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of Hockessin, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), the nonprofit group that has teamed with Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on the “Fruits & Veggies-More Matters” national public health initiative since its March 2007 debut.
PBH collaborated with USDA on the “half your plate” recommendation by offering information during the Dietary Guidelines comment period in 2010, inviting it to sit on an interactive panel during the 2011 PBH Annual Meeting, including senior USDA staff in PBH's Half-the-Plate task force, and acting as one of USDA's public partners backing the rollout of the new plate icon. “The recommendation to make half your plate fruits and vegetables is of great significance for the fruit and vegetable industry, the Fruits & Veggies-More Matters brand, and a positive step in the battle to fight obesity and related health issues in America,” added Pivonka.
Grocers were bowled over by the new plate imagery as well. “The new USDA food graphic offers Americans a clear visual of a healthy plate,” said Sarasin of Arlington, Va.-based FMI, “representing the full spectrum of nutritious foods we all need in our diets. As FMI member companies seek to feed families and enrich lives, this new icon will serve supermarket shoppers as a vivid reminder of what to put in their shopping carts so that it will later become part of a well-balanced plate.”
"When helping people make better food choices, we think a simple approach is more likely to succeed," noted Jane Andrews, nutrition and product laveling manager at Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets. "We've also worked to make messages practical, and it's interesting to see the similarities between our efforts and the federal government."