It may have given kids a short-term dinner-table reprieve, but the recent bagged-spinach recall is unlikely to have much impact on the media's coverage of a healthier diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
"Most reporters do want to present healthy stories," says Linda Weinberg, registered dietician and SVP of public affairs at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. She adds that the real challenge in any type of nutrition story, including coverage promoting fresh produce, is that there's often conflicting information out there.
"The science of nutrition is still evolving and most of these reporters are not health pros," she notes, "so they need us to help them sort a lot of this out."
Lori Baer, senior communications executive with Produce for Better Health, agrees that even with the short-term health concerns over bagged spinach, the challenge isn't so much generating media interest as it is keeping reporters up to speed.
Her group is currently revamping its messaging after its previous campaign, "Five A Day," was made obsolete because of new federal dietary guidelines proposing as many as 13 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
One thing helping produce get better media coverage these days is its growing role in haute cuisine, says Debra Mitchell, PR director for the Produce Marketing Association. "We're seeing more chefs showcasing grilled produce and doing different thing with fresh produce because more people are asking for it," she says. "Consumers and food writers are also paying more attention to exotic pro- duce, like mangoes, because they experience them in restaurants and want to try them at home."
Ellen Farmer, marketing director for the California Certified Organic Farmers trade group, adds, "Organic has definitely gotten more mainstream for health reasons, but organic for the food-page writers is as much about better quality food that tastes better."
When it comes to stories like the spinach recall, Stacey Bender, president of the Bender Hammerling Group, says reporters have done a good job of keeping a fairly narrow health scare in its proper perspective.
"The media are savvy enough about this," she says. "They understand these situations can arise and they won't take a negative attitude toward all fruits and vegetables. Just like mad cow disease didn't hamper coverage of beef or Avian Flu didn't impact stories on chicken, food writers won't let this alter their coverage. The word 'fresh' is still a good thing to reporters."
PITCHING... FRESH PRODUCE
Don't overreact. The bagged spinach scare will be over in a few months. It should not have a lasting impact on food, produce, or nutrition coverage
The organic angle is still a great hook for both food-page and nutrition coverage, especially if you humanize your pitch with several farmers who can talk about their farms and methods
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be a great family-page story, especially if you leverage the childhood obesity statistics and include tips on fun meals for kids