A top executive with the Whole Foods Market grocery chain urges consumers to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, declaring that “produce is the right product at the right time” to help reduce obesity in the U.S.

Walter Robb, Whole Foods’ co-chief executive officer, says, “The ultimate answer to the (obesity) crisis is not a pill or operation – it’s taking more responsibility for your diet. One part of that is fruit and vegetables.”

Nutrient-packed fruits and vegetables on the plate can help nip and tuck the growing obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Robb delivered the pro-produce message to about 5,000 produce industry members during the 2013 United Fresh convention held in San Diego, Calif. in May. United Fresh membership includes growers-packers, wholesalers-distributors, fresh-cut processors, and retail food service.

Want the very latest in agricultural news each day? Sign up for the Western Farm Press Daily e-mail newsletter.

The Whole Foods leader said the nation’s health care crisis is on a financial collision course. About $3 trillion is spent annually on health care.

“This is simply unsustainable,” Robb said. “Many doctors tell me that a lot of (health) conditions begin with obesity.”

As health care costs have risen, Robb added, the amount of disposable income for food has decreased.

Robb stopped short of calling produce a miracle food, yet said produce is an important component of a healthier diet.

“The produce industry has the right product for the right time,” Robb declared. “We’re at a crossroads with the health care and nutrition crises. Fruits and vegetables are clearly the way forward.”  

A mainstay at Whole Foods Market is the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables. The company operates 350 stores and the franchise is quickly expanding, with expansion investments in the 8-9 percent range this year and next.