Del Monte’s Quest to Change How Americans Feel About Canned Produce

Experts say prepackaged fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh

Del Monte products
Simply delicious, or also nutritious? Del Monte

Key insights:

Del Monte Foods, maker of canned fruits and vegetables, got both good and bad news in a report commissioned by the company.

On one hand, 86% of U.S. adults think eating fruits and vegetables is crucial to maintaining a healthy diet, according to the study. Furthermore, 70% said they feel like the best version of themselves when making nutritious food part of their regular intake.

But on the other, only 19% of Americans consider frozen produce healthy. Worse, a mere 13% said the same about prepackaged goods. By contrast, the majority of people believe fresh (78%) and organic (61%) food is good for them.

The view that fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, while frozen and canned are not, has been around for a while, and it’s a problem for companies like Del Monte.

“It’s a very common misperception,” said Jennifer Reiner, Del Monte’s senior director of omnichannel marketing and ecommerce. “People think that any packaged product in the center of a grocery store is highly processed and not good for them.”

According to Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, which works with industry and government partners to increase the nation’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, whether items are fresh, frozen, canned or dried, they’re all nutritionally equivalent.

“People often assume that certain forms or types of fruits and vegetables contain more of what we’re supposed to be eating less of, such as bad fats, salt and sugar,” Kapsak said, adding that it’s simply not the case.

To help change minds, in one of Del Monte’s latest ads the narrator explicitly states what’s in a can of the company’s sweet corn: “Just water and a dash of sea salt. Nothing else.” The 30-second spot, created by Doner LA, is part of Del Monte’s multichannel “Growers of Good” campaign, which debuted in September 2018.

“If you don’t like the salt, you can get the no-salt version,” Reiner added.

Last fall, Del Monte partnered with Los Angeles-based nonprofit GrowingGreat to address what Reiner called a root cause of the perception problem: a lack of education.

Del Monte’s sponsorship will allow GrowingGreat to run science and gardening programs designed for elementary and middle-school children at a variety of venues across the country, such as the Detroit Zoo, the Saint Louis Science Center and the Marbles Kids Museum, located in Raleigh, N.C.

According to Del Monte’s recent report—titled the 2020 State of Healthy Eating in America Study, which was produced in partnership with Edelman Intelligence—one in three Americans say they were never taught about nutrition. “We have a huge education opportunity as an industry,” Reiner said.

While the public might be skeptical, science is on Del Monte’s side.

According to Ronald Pegg, a professor of food science and technology at the University of Georgia, frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh produce, if not more so. As he explained it, freezing fruits and vegetables when ripe locks in their nutrients, preventing the degradation that occurs to items left unfrozen. “It’s kind of like Mother Nature hitting the pause button,” Pegg said.

Steven Miller, an assistant professor at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University, said the main factor in canned food being as nutritious as fresh food is time. If consumed relatively soon after harvest, fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier. If consumed relatively late after harvest, however, canned and packaged items are often healthier because they’ve retained their nutritional value.

Miller added that when fruits and vegetables get canned, they get heated—a process that kills harmful enzymes and bacteria, but also damages nutrients, such as vitamins B and C. Still, he said, the benefits of a longer shelf life outweigh any harm caused to the produce initially.

“Given all of these considerations, I do not think we can say that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables provide universally lower nutritional values than fresh,” Miller said.

Del Monte’s 2020 State of Healthy Eating in America report also found that 32% of millennials feel pressure from friends to eat healthy food, compared to 18% of all U.S. adults.

“As a fruit and vegetable company, clearly we’re very focused on increasing consumption and making it easier for consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables,” Reiner said. “We want people to feel confident that they can get the same nutrients from their vegetables, whether it’s fresh or in a can.”

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.