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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Turn Standard American Diet into a 5-A-Day Smile

Produce Perspectives

The other day I was reading an article that said the acronym for the standard American diet was SAD. And it may not be that far off.

The typical American diet contains too many carbohydrates, bad fats and processed foods, and definitely lacks enough fruits and vegetables. Even many of your regular organic produce shoppers could improve their diets. That's one reason the National Cancer Institute introduced the 5 A Day For Health program, which promotes eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to prevent cancer and promote long-term health.

Many Americans are well aware of the benefits of 5 A Day, but few actually make it a reality. Can this change? I think so. And our produce departments can lead the way. One way is to help your customers make 5 A Day part of their shopping routines.

Eileen Faughey, a registered dietitian in Boulder, Colo., and Amanda Archibald of Arch Consulting in New Market, Md., designed a program called Maximizing Your Market Basket. It starts by describing what a shopping list might look like if customers were eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

Here's how it works. Suppose there are four people in a family and the customer is shopping for five days' worth of food. Five fruits and vegetables per day, per person for five days is 100 servings. If, on average, everyone eats two fruit servings and three vegetable servings each day for five days, that's 40 servings of fruit and 60 servings of vegetables. Using serving sizes from the USDA food pyramid, the produce shopping list might look like this:



4 bananas

1 head lettuce

4 oranges

1 head broccoli

4 apples

8 carrots

2 grapefruit

4 tomatoes

4 tangerines

4 bell peppers

1 melon

1 lb. green beans

1 cup dried fruit

2 onions

2 quarts juice

4 zucchini

Once presented this way, it's much easier for customers to understand 5 A Day and reach their diet goals. This is where you come in.

  • Start by making sure you've done your job and that the produce you're selling is something that would make someone want to eat more.

  • Sample the heck out of it. Samples sell produce, so establish a regular sampling program. Try promoting it as "sampling your way to better health."

  • Educate your staff about what's in season. This essential step ensures customers get the best value for their money and the best tasting food.

  • Create attention-getting, easy-to-read materials that explain the benefits of your fresh produce. For example, one mango provides 40 percent of the RDA for vitamin A and 15 percent of the RDA for vitamin C. Beet greens contain high levels of folic acid, which helps prevent certain birth defects.

  • Work with a local dietitian or health counselor. Laura Ferron, a dietitian from New York I met on a Natural Products Expo East farm tour, believes holistic health counselors and natural foods retailers should have a symbiotic relationship. She educates shoppers and clients alike by giving health food store tours. Both new and current customers would benefit from such partnerships. You may be surprised by how many new customer get sent your way by health practitioners.

  • Offer fresh food seminars for local businesses and their employees. I once did this for a local transportation company's health day. Having your cholesterol screened is important, but what we did was a lot more fun. As I like to say, if you can get it in their mouths, you will open up their ears.

  • Build a sample 5 A Day shopping basket. It could change seasonally and involve other parts of the store by including whole grains and dairy.

Whatever steps you take, I guarantee creating healthy partnerships will make the future brighter for us all.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355, or

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 3/p. 88

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