This October, the United Fresh Start Foundation named the FreshStart 2019 Advisory Committee to support ensure the continued success of the Foundation in increasing kids’ access to fresh produce. We chatted with one of the committee members, Tony Mitchell, VP of Produce Sales and Procurement, SpartanNash and Caito Foods LLC., to hear why he’s so passionate about the Foundation’s mission.
In your words, what is so important about the work of the United Fresh Start Foundation?
With the high rate of childhood obesity in our country, it’s so critical that all kids have access to fresh fruits and vegetables to support a healthy diet. Not only will they be eating healthier, but they’ll develop lifelong healthy habits to build upon. United Fresh is putting forth great efforts to help increase children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables through the Salad Bars to Schools initiative. Over the past decade, more than 5,000 salad bars have been placed in schools across the country.
Can you share a specific story of your involvement with the Foundation?
We were fortunate enough to part of a team that donated a salad bar to a local school in Elkhart, Indiana a few years ago. It was great to experience the impact of the salad bar firsthand when our team visited the school. It was clear that the kids loved the autonomy of choosing between several produce options to create their salads with their peers. Offering a variety of fruits and vegetables exposes children to new foods they may have otherwise not tried due to the expense or lack of availability.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for industry peers on how they can get involved in the work of the Foundation?
The produce industry is in a great position to improve the health of their community. Namely, I feel there’s a big opportunity to get involved with school districts. Many districts contract with local growers and work with produce distributors to procure additional fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. Produce is a mandatory component of every school meal, and school foodservice directors are seeking the latest trends, services and guidance to serve fresh-focused meals and snacks to the thousands of children they serve each day. In addition, there are nearly 300 schools on the waiting list for salad bars. Any support of the Foundation goes a long way.
What would you tell a peer who is just learning about FreshStart 2019 for the first time?
FreshStart is great opportunity to collaborate with your peers and discuss industry issues and topics that are affecting all of our businesses. The industry comes together to support a great cause, and because of that, it attracts some of the most dedicated and thoughtful people in our industry. Any company who is looking to connect with today’s youngest fresh produce consumers will certainly benefit from the half-day conference program. Personally, I’m looking forward to hitting the links with some of our retail customers in the Foundation’s annual golf tournament.
Join Tony and other industry leaders for the United Fresh Start Foundation’s FreshStart 2019, January 15-17, 2019 at the La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, CA. The event features a half-day conference program, as well as the Foundation’s annual Gala Dinner and presentation of the United Fresh Lifetime Achievement award to this year’s winner Ron Carkoski, CEO of Four Seasons Family of Companies; our annual fundraising golf tournament and the second annual “Bids for Kids” silent and live auction. For more information on FreshStart 2019, contact Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association, at 202-303-3420.