PHILADELPHIA — The growing interest in plant-based diets is an opportunity the produce industry needs to seize, PMA CEO Cathy Burns said April 11 during her address at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Connections Retail event.

The buzz around plant-based generally revolves around product alternatives like non-meat burgers, but Burns asserts the industry needs to spread the word about how perfectly fruits and vegetables fit into the lifestyle that more and more consumers are pursuing.

Getting involved in the plant-based conversation is a way to play offense but also defense as other departments work to increase their health perception.

“We are the original plant-based diet, and we are letting other people lead that conversation,” Burns said. “And at the end of the day, all boats rise, we love people talking about plant anything, but we need to fight for that share of stomach for sure and make sure that plant-based foods can augment and complement what we’re doing — but it can’t replace.

“My biggest fear is that all of a sudden people are going to think by eating a plant-based sausage, a plant-based burger, a plant-based cheesesteak, that’s three of my five a day,” Burns said. “That’s scary. Marketers could easily (say), ‘Get 5 a day, you can do it in the meat department.’”

Burns urged suppliers and retailers to emphasize the message that the best thing a person can do for his or her health is to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“We need to leverage the stage (where) other people are leading a conversation around plant-based and take it over and be bold,” Burns said. “We’re a humble industry, and I love that about us ... but we’ve got to lean in, and we’ve got to be more bold and more loud about what we need to own in the consumer’s mind for sure.”


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