We’ve been writing about Rich Dachman for a long time. We’ve had many interactions with him as a result of his long career with Sysco:
Also several since he decided to devote his life to the non-profit sector with the goal of increasing produce consumption:
While Brighter Bites Steps Up With Retail Voucher Program And Participation In USDA’s Farmers-To-Families Food Box Project, Produce Industry Heroes Are Needed To Provide Product, Distribution And Funding
He was also named as one of the 35 produce industry Vanguards on the occasion of the 35th Anniversary of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine:
Celebrating 35 Years — Vanguards Who Made a Difference: RICH DACHMAN
This year he crossed the Atlantic to join us a featured speaker at The London Produce Show and Conference.
Rich Dachman, former VP of Produce for Sysco, first participated in the London Produce Show and Conference as part of the 2018 Thought Leader Panel, and this year, Dachman, now Brighter Bites CEO, returned to the 2022 show as a presenter . At Brighter Bites, Dachman brings his lifelong expertise in the produce industry, as well as his passion for making healthy fruits and vegetables accessible to all.
Brighter Bites is a nonprofit that delivers fresh fruits and vegetables directly into families’ hands, with a goal of changing behavior among children and their families to prevent obesity and achieve long-term health. Since 2012, Brighter Bites has provided more than 50 million pounds of produce and millions of nutrition education materials to more than 500,000 individuals (including teachers) in Houston, Dallas, Austin, TX; New York City; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area; southwest Florida and Salinas, CA. In January 2022, Brighter Bites expanded its programming to Los Angeles, CA, and will be expanding to Bakersfield, CA, this fall.
The secret sauce is that the organization emphasizes results, and participates in research to track outcomes. Ongoing evaluation lets Brighter Bites assess what works and what doesn’t, toward the goal of increasing demand for, and intake of, fruits and vegetables among low-income children and their families.
Previously in the Pundit, Dachman provided an in-depth look at the challenges the Brighter Bites team undertook during the pandemic, employing resourceful, multi-tiered strategies to ensure the program continued to thrive and extend its reach with the rising plight of families in need. [You can read the full piece here: While Brighter Bites Steps Up with Retail Voucher Program, And Participation In USDA’s Farmers-To-Families Food Box Project, Produce Industry Heroes Are Needed to Provide Product, Distribution And Funding]
At the 2021 New York Produce Show, Dachman encouraged all present to support any program “that gets people to be healthier by consuming more of the products that we grow.”
“I think we’re a bit naïve, and we think everybody understands if you eat fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll be healthier, but I’m not sure everybody really gets that,” Dachman said.
“It’s not just about buying and selling produce — there’s a purpose in the industry, of unity that is more important than ever right now. You have consumers out there who are looking to be healthier and finding ways to be healthier in fear of what may happen to them. Our products are the proactive answer to help. And the industry, as I’ve said often, needs to get together and figure out how to message that to people.”
We asked Susan Crowell, contributing editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to share an update on Dachman’s role at Brighter Bites, and the organization’s growth.
Q. You got involved with Brighter Bites after reading an article about its founder, Lisa Helfman, in the local newspaper. Why did that article spark your interest?
A. That article pretty much hit every nerve that I had — I’ve always been a huge proponent of using the produce industry as a health vehicle for people. It’s important to me. You can’t be healthy without eating fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s impossible. And they just happen to taste really, really good, and they’re really good for you.
I never thought we did enough to really market that to the population. So, finding an organization that directed its efforts toward behavior change and using produce as the vehicle was spot on for me. I just contacted Lisa at that point, and it’s just turned into a beautiful long-term relationship. I joined the board and then ultimately became CEO. My relationship with Brighter Bites has just been really magical.
Q. How did you make that connection between health and the produce industry? I mean, obviously, it’s hand in hand, but not everybody develops that.
A. I grew up in my father’s produce business, and we were able to bring fruits and vegetables home from the market, so we would always have a huge amount of fruits and vegetables when I was growing up. I think, in general, no matter what you do, you have to live what you believe — and you have to represent yourself to your customers and your employees through sincere belief and whatever it is you do. So if we’re in the produce industry, and we can’t even represent to our own employees and our own customers how important eating and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables is, and being healthy, then I think you have a hard time selling your product. There’s no sincerity. So I just think that’s a good business practice in general.
I just believe you have to walk the walk. I hate to say it, but if you follow an unhealthy diet, and you’re obese with diabetes, and you’re sitting there trying to sell somebody fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s a hard sell. People need to believe you believe in your own product.
I think we owe it to ourselves to take responsibility to try to help the world. I’ve been blessed with this wonderful involvement in this extraordinary industry. We have the power to change lives: Our product is the proactive prescription for health. Not many industries can say that. We’re lucky to be part of that opportunity and have that solution in our hands — and it’s a shame that we wouldn’t use it. I really believe the whole industry should get behind it. I’ve always said the industry is short-sighted when it comes to this — they’re about selling a product and getting a return for it, and not looking at it as an overall marketing strategy to understand the true power of our product.
Q. How has Brighter Bites been working, specifically, to raise consumption of fruits and vegetables?
A. What Brighter Bites does is go the last mile. It’s very unusual. We’re changing the lives of our families, and we have data to show that those are changed. I’ve always called it hand-to-hand combat — we’re the ones on the battlefield, fighting for one family at a time. We’re not like others that are like broad air support, with broad messaging, which, yes, we need. But the Brighter Bites program goes in and we give 20 pounds of produce to a family during the school year, and we also have a summer program.
The traditional distribution model is pallets of bulk produce are brought out to a school, and volunteers bring them into the school area, whether it be the cafeteria or the auditorium. And then assembly lines are manned with parent volunteers and, with the supervision of our staff, they create bags for distribution that day.
During the pandemic, when we couldn’t even get in schools or schools had shut down, we went to a pre-box program where we paid either our food bank partners or our distribution partners to build the boxes for us with the amount of produce and varieties that we require. Then we would have parking lot distributions, so even when the kids weren’t in school, the family would still come pick up their produce. We only deal with schools that have a minimum of 80% free lunch, so we’re working with under-resourced families. We estimate the produce that we give them would cost around $30 to $35 a week at retail, which is big for a family.
Most importantly, are our nutrition lessons that are taught in school. When we go into a school for three years, it’s required that teachers teach our Nutrition Education lessons to the students and also have a minimum number of produce activities with the kids. We also have recipes and teach people how to use our products. So they are physically receiving the product at no cost — and then we’re teaching what’s important about nutrition and why it’s important that you eat right.
We’re in a school for three years. And during that time, we have proof from our co-founder, Dr. Shreela Sharma and her team, through many, many surveys and published papers, that we change behavior in those families. And we’ve done follow-up two years after we’ve left a school and determined that the behavior change still exists.
The statistics showed 19 extra servings of fresh produce being consumed from baseline even two years after we left a school. So we can confirm behavior change — and we’re creating consumers for the industry on a permanent basis.
[Editor’s note: Brighter Bites co-founder Dr. Shreela Sharma developed the research infrastructure for the program and ensures rigorous replication across all its sites. She is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTHealth) and a trained dietitian and physical therapist. You can read more about the Brighter Bites research in this Q&A with Dr. Sharma:
Q. Tell me how the program has expanded beyond the Houston, TX, area.
A. This year is our 10-year anniversary, and we’re planning a very large fundraising event in the Houston area to celebrate our anniversary, and we’re very excited about that. But the program started in Houston and expanded to Austin and Dallas. Since then, we have expanded to New York, Washington DC, southwest Florida. We also are now in Salinas, CA, and, within the last couple weeks actually, we started in Los Angeles, which we’re really excited about. We’re going to be starting in Bakersfield this fall as our third California city, and we have plans to also open up Phoenix, AZ, this fall, which will be our 10th city in our 10th year.
Q. So if you could wave a magic wand, what would you like the produce industry to do as a whole to raise the produce consumption — and overall health — bar?
A. Our industry is extraordinarily fragmented when it comes to funding the necessary marketing that communicates to the consumer. I think the industry needs to centralize itself to be able to build a large enough fund to actually get messaging across to the consumer in the right way.
We have a product that’s better for you than anything else you could eat. Yet companies are spending tens of millions of dollars marketing a product like macaroni and cheese — convincing people to eat it — and we’re not doing anything. It’s sad. We’re not growing produce consumption, because I just don’t think we’re putting in enough effort, and we’re not messaging people in the appropriate manner.
I understand they’re all competing against each other, and it’s very difficult for them to say, ‘I’m gonna go in with my competition to help sales.’ And there’s a lot of individual commodity advisory councils out there and so forth where products are already getting money — it may not be a lot, but they’re getting money to build demand, whether it’s strawberries or blueberries or citrus. But each one of them is individually trying to say, ‘eat blueberries,’ or ‘eat oranges,’ and they need to understand the concept if people start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, they’re all going to gain. Everybody’s going to gain.
Q. At the London show, you presented to people who aren’t familiar with Brighter Bites. What is it that people were most interested in learning?
I would say trying to grasp what causes behavior change and how it’s sustained. People are also intrigued and want to know more about the process: How do you do that? How do you get an elementary school child to change his/her eating behavior and how do you prove that? Any of us who have kids know that that’s not an easy thing to do. But when you actually go out to these distributions, and the kids wait in line to get their boxes or their bags, and they immediately want to look in the bag to see what’s there… They look up with bright eyes at their mom or dad and say, ‘oh my, we have mangos today’ or ‘we have a couple of avocados’ and they’re literally joyful when they see that… It’s really one of the most gratifying moments you could have.
You know, that item used to be cookies and candy, so to see them get excited about a fruit or vegetable is an extraordinary victory. I try to portray that to people so they understand.
We’re not saying we’re going to start Brighter Bites in London, although we are partnering to a great degree with the International Fresh Produce Association, and they’re a global organization and very helpful in what we do. But I think the messaging in London is about the importance of health and the importance of using your industry to be responsible and to be a part of that. Brighter Bites is a great example of how that works.
Generally speaking, people in the produce industry really want to be to help people. What if you can show them that they’re actually helping a family with a need, and that they can touch that? Almost everybody is like, ‘I really want to be a part of that.’ We have an industry that really is empathetic about people; they want to help. So, if you can show someone that they’re affecting a life in a positive way, most of the time, we have wonderful people in our industry who want to get behind that.
Q. So how can people help?
A. I always say you have to ask for the order in the end. The ‘ask’ for me is what we do with Brighter Bites is very expensive, because we provide all the produce for free, we have our own staff at every school, feeding the families and managing the whole process. We can go as far as we’re funded.
There are generally three needs when you have to open up a Brighter Bites. First, you need people in need, schools in need — and when we go into a city, it’s never hard to find enough schools. Second, we have to provide produce and the logistics of produce and, quite frankly, we’re always able to find a way to get that done. And the third thing is you need to fund it — and that’s the most difficult part, is finding funding to get this done.
I don’t want this to be a commercial or anything, but that’s where we need help. We’re all struggling, but we need some more funding that could be funneled into what we’re doing so we can expand it to reach more families and more cities. We do have USDA SNAP-Ed (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance-Education) funds that support us in Texas, California and New York, and they’re spectacular, but I think there’s a lot more USDA funds out there that we could somehow plug into. But I hope the private produce industry could get behind this a little bit more, and, as big as they are, help Brighter Bites expand, and expand the consumption of their product.
Rich has a wealth of knowledge. He engaged heavily in the UK when Sysco purchased Brakes and Fresh Direct, and he will bring to London an unparalleled engagement in fresh produce, foodservice and the industry efforts to boost consumption.
In addition to his presentation, there will be a robust Q&A and the UK audience can ask questions such as these:
- If someone in a non-US location, such as the UK, was interested in funding something like a UK Division of the non-profit Brighter Bites, would its board consider going international?
- If someone wanted to set up a similar organization to Brighter Bites type in their country, say the UK, what are the biggest obstacles? We can challenge Rich to identify five guideposts.
- If someone wanted to support the idea of boosting consumption, but there was no Brighter Bites in their market or in their country, what other approaches could they use?
Some more specific questions as well:
- How does Brighter Bites get the produce? Do they buy it? Is it donated? What if I want to sell to Brighter Bites? Who buys it? Someone local? Someone at headquarters? In each regional hub?
- How is the assortment in the box determined? By whom? When is this determination made? If I can offer a great deal on avocados, will they increase the number of avocados in a bag?
- How does distribution work? If I sell or donate a trailer of apples to Brighter Bites in a particular city, do they have a warehouse or partner with a produce company? How do the logistics work?
It will be a demanding and robust discussion.
We can say this: The world is filled with efforts to boost consumption of produce, but very few of these programs have gone through the rigorous science-based approach that Brighter Bites has to prove it can actually increased consumption.
This opens the door to funding from not only the industry, but other non-profits and the government.
Now, not enough time has passed to know the long-term impact. Do children, impacted by the Brighter Bites program, eat more produce as grown adults? Do they feed their own children more produce?
These are questions that only time and study will answer. But the program is more rigorous than almost any, and, so far, the numbers are looking good. Rich is just one man, but if he can get the poor to eat fruits and vegetables as higher income people do, he will be responsible for not just helping the industry, but for improving the health of millions and millions of people. What an incredible journey!