Produce group finds consumers confused about Dietary Guidelines

Results from a recent Produce Marketing Association (PMA) consumer survey have found that only slightly more than a third of consumers are aware of the fruit and vegetable recommendations contained in the recently released 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and that the concept of what constitutes a “serving” of produce varies widely among respondents.

The national telephone survey of 1,000 consumers was conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (ODC) for PMA during the week of February 7. It was sponsored by PMA’s Information Resource Center. The results are statistically valid within a +/- 3% margin of error at a 95% confidence interval.

When asked if they had seen, heard, or read anything about the produce-specific recommendations in the new dietary guidelines, 38% of consumers said they had, while 60% said they had not. Demographically, out of the 38% awareness level, 40% of women and 37% of men said they were aware of the produce advice.

In addition, 81% of consumers said they have a “clear understanding” of what is meant by a serving of fruits and vegetables, but when asked to express in their own words what a “serving” is, their responses were wide-ranging. Servings were described as “less than one cup,” “one piece,” “a handful/fistful,” and a “scoopful.”

Eighty-one percent of consumers agreed that it is easier for them to understand a daily amount of fruits and vegetables when that amount is described as “cups” rather than “servings.” Eighty-two percent of women agreed with this idea, as did 79% of men.

When asked which consumption recommendations they understood better, the current FDA recommendation of “5 to 13 servings a day” or the same amount expressed as “2½ to 6½ cups a day,” 43% of consumers thought the “cup” wording is about the right amount that they could reasonably eat, while only 26% expressed the same view about the “serving” wording.

PMA Chairman of the Board and Vice President of Operations for Save Mart Supermarkets Steve Junqueiro observed that the new dietary guidelines present a tremendous opportunity for the fresh produce industry.

“Our challenge is to effectively market fruits and vegetables in a manner that emphasizes the taste, convenience, and nutrition of our products – resulting in consumers eating more produce. We have to be sure we’re communicating our messages to consumers in relevant and effective ways,” he noted.

PMA Vice President of Government Relations Kathy Means agrees with Junqueiro’s assessment that the guidelines may make it easier for the public to reach their daily consumption goals. “This research indicates that many consumers will respond better to more familiar household measurements. We can combine that with existing messages to help consumers better understand how much produce they should be eating each day, and reinforce how easy that can be,” she explained.

This produce-specific survey follows research PMA conducted shortly after the dietary guidelines were released, which found that while 22% of consumers are somewhat familiar with the new guidelines, only 9% of the public is very familiar with them. Those findings also highlighted a willingness among respondents to change their eating habits based on the advice presented in the guidelines.

Visit the PMA web site for more details about the Advantage program. PMA members may also contact Ernie Paicopolos at ODC, +1 (800) 966-1254, ext. 238 or the PMA Solution Center at +1 (302) 738-7100.

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