“Consumers are looking for the story behind locally-grown—the farmer. And 79 percent want food that’s environmentally friendly; 75 percent want reduced pesticide residue. That’s partly from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) influence, so we need to tell our own story. Sustainability can be a marketing tool.”

Consumers also want fair treatment of labor in food production.

“Information about how to use our products is also important to consumers. They need facts, basic information on product use.”

She said adding recipes to packages could be a good opportunity to improve consumer comfort with products, especially products they are not familiar with.

“Packaging is important. Nutritional information, sell and use by date and recipes are easy to add and connect to consumers. If they don’t know how to use products, they avoid them.

“Convenience is king,” she added, “but 63 percent of consumers say they do not eat the recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables. Consumption is flat.”

Better information on use, nutritional value and health benefits could help move that marker up.

“Consumers also think fruits and vegetables are expensive. That’s just not so. And they are easy to integrate into menus.”

She said care and handling information should also be included on packaging since “some consumers are concerned about spoilage.”

Consumers should balance price versus quality, health versus flavor. “The industry can use packaging as a portal for these messages.”

 “Food safety,” she added, is a crucial issue. “It’s a scary topic and hurts the industry. It is one of our most critical issues.” The EWG has added fuel to the fire with its “dirty dozen list of safety issues for consumers.” That’s also an issue the produce industry should address and present facts instead of scare tactics.

“One person sick is too many,” Christie said. “But 37 dead (from foodborne illness) is outrageous.” The industry must address the problem and find solutions.

Genetically modified organism (GMO) foods also generate discord. “It’s a huge debate in California,” Christie said. “But as food demand increases dramatically over the next 30 years, we will need all kinds of foods.”

Competition between GMO, organic and conventionally grown foods is not useful and divides the industry.

A recent study by Stanford University shows that battles between conventional and organic foods are virtually pointless. Organic products have no significant nutrition or health benefits compared to conventional. One of the study’s authors, Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System,  said people should aim for healthier diets overall. She emphasized the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, “however they are grown,” noting that most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount.