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The need for retailers to comfort shoppers

copingfruitThe upcoming April 13 issue of The Produce News will have its fair share of COVID-19 coverage. In his In the Trenches column, Ron Pelger raises one of the most important questions facing the produce industry: Is it safe to buy fresh produce?

While the answer, straight from the FDA, is a resounding yes, it is a good bet that consumers are still a bit weary.

As part of its ongoing effort to navigate around COVID-19 the Produce Marketing Association has introduced measures to help. One initiative is the Joy of Fresh campaign in which PMA monitors consumer sentiment to ensure issues are addressed.

“The PMA consumer sentiment research study will give our members a unique view of current and changing consumer attitudes, which impact shopping and eating behaviors,” said PMA Chief Marketing Officer Lauren Scott. “Shelf life and safety are the top two concerns for consumers. These issues are the focal point for the Joy of Fresh campaign’s initial outreach.”

Now, more than ever, it is up retailers to emphasize that the fruits and vegetables they sell are safe. To that extent, PMA recently created a document that retailers can use to show consumers the safety measure that are being put into place.

“Credible food safety officials agree: Neither food nor food packaging have ever been associated with a clinically confirmed case of COVID-19 or Coronavirus," it says. "COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, not a virus transmitted through food. (World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”

The document goes on to explain how COVID-19 is spread and the best way to prevent doing so.

Retailers can take it a step further. Buying fruit is a tactile process. People squeeze grapes, they smell strawberries. Create signage that respectfully asks shoppers to touch only what they are going to buy. Use signage to remind consumers to disinfect produce that is purchased in a container, then they should throw out the container and store items in their own Ziploc bags. Remind consumers to wash produce before eating it. Let shoppers know that you have protocols in place that are designed to slow the spread.

Most are doing a great job. Supermarkets throughout the country are implementing unprecedented safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic — from shields separating shoppers and checkout clerks to allowing only a certain amount of people in a store at a time to creating “one way” aisles that help with social distancing.

People want — need— to trust where they buy their food, especially their produce. Now is the time for retailers to go that extra mile an ensure their customers feel safe. At least as safe as possible.

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