Ensuring that growing children get plenty of fresh, healthy food can have a bonus effect for retailers down the road.
A pleasant experience eating fruits and vegetables while in school helps kids become better consumers and good grocery shoppers. That’s the double dividend being paid through the work of the United Fresh Produce Association’s FreshStart Foundation, which raised nearly $108,000 at its annual gathering last week to purchase salad bars for schools around the country.
This decade-long initiative is based on foundation data indicating that, when served fruits and vegetables, 80 percent of kids turn up their noses, but when allowed to select their own items from a freshly stocked salad bar, 80 percent will eat fresh produce and happily go back for more.
It’s an important part of boosting the school food experience. Folks like Dan Giusti, founder of Brigaid, a company that helps place chefs in schools to create healthy and inspiring food, aim to remove the stigma of school food. In fact, Giusti left behind a career as an internationally acclaimed chef to face the challenge of creating wholesome, appealing food for kids within the strict nutritional and tight financial requirements of federal guidelines.
Getting kids to eat better while reducing food waste is Giusti’s mission. “Food that’s not eaten can’t be nutritious,” he told attendees at the FreshStart Foundation’s conference last week in La Quinta, Calif. “There needs to be more collaboration [with produce suppliers] to deliver better-quality food to schools.”
Conference presenters demonstrated further ways to nurture young people to become educated food consumers. Robert Cuellar, director of child nutrition for the Laredo Independent School District, in Texas, which serves 24,000 meals a day, explained how students at all levels participate on menu advisory committees. Christina McGovern, with the St. Joseph County Youth Service Bureau, in South Bend, Ind., outlined the agency’s partnership with Martin’s Super Markets to give at-risk youths guidance on grocery shopping and meal planning.
Other efforts abound among suppliers: Backyard Farms, owned by Mastronardi Produce, helped a youth center build its own greenhouse near the company’s own 24-acre facility in Maine. California Giant Berry Farms supports the Teen Kitchen Project, in San Cruz County, Calif., which teaches youngsters how to work in a commercial kitchen, some of whom have assisted professional chefs at the grower’s corporate events. Muir Copper Canyon Farms, in Utah supports healthy-living programs at Boys & Girls Clubs, and has even persuaded its competitors to do the same.
Phil Muir, president and CEO of Copper Canyon Farms, said that after 10 years, the FreshStart Foundation has “reached a tipping point” with salad bars, noting that nearly half of all schools now have them. Students have come to expect them, and the efforts are starting to change behaviors, as demonstrated by the youngsters whom Cuellar brought with him from Laredo to cheer the foundation’s efforts.
Muir praised his fellow suppliers for supporting the foundation and looking beyond the lack of immediate financial return to the long-term investment in the future of suppliers and retailers alike.
Therein lies the key to making your brand a beloved part of the community: Embrace the folks who are the reason that you exist, support the things they hold dear, help them thrive. Do right by people, and the rewards will come.