Encouraging Kids to Snack On Fresh Produce

Pyramid Food DisplayPyramid Foods, a Rogersville, MO-based retailer promotes a Free Fruit for Kids program in store to encourage healthy snack choices. (Photo Courtesy of Pyramid Foods)

Five ways retailers can make fruits and veggies top of mind.

The good news is kids are eating more fruit. The bad news is even though fresh vegetable consumption among 2- to 17-year-olds rose 10 percent between 2009 and 2014, vegetable consumption overall is down, according to the State of the Plate: 2015 Study on America’s Consumption of Fruit & Vegetables, released by Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), Hockessin, DE.

Boy Holding Grapes

Photo Courtesy of California Table Grape Commission.

At the same time, “Trends In Snacking Among U.S. Children,” published in a 2010 issue of Health Affairs, shows kids are snacking more than ever — munching on average three times a day between meals. The largest increases are in candy and salty snacks.

An effective way to grow produce consumption one bite at a time is for retailers to tap into this trend by positioning fresh fruits and vegetables as nature’s original snack foods.

“Poor eating habits didn’t happen overnight,” says Steve Jarzombek, vice president of produce merchandising and procurement for Roundy’s Supermarkets, Inc., Inc., a 150-store grocery store chain headquartered in Milwaukee. “If we as an industry can catch this generation now, we can create life-long produce consumers.”

Here are five ways retailers can encourage parents to buy and kids to snack on fresh produce.

1‭. ‬Stock Kid-friendly Produce‭ ‬

Visibility and convenience are key to promoting fresh fruits and vegetables as snack foods to parents and kids, says Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), in Newark, DE. “Consumers can have a bowl of fruit on the counter, fresh-cut veggies and dip at eye level in the refrigerator, etc. The easier retailers make it for consumers to use fresh produce as snacks, the more consumers will do so.”

The first step to achieving this is stocking kid-friendly produce. Berries, bananas, apples and oranges — “as is,” not served in meals, fresh-cut or processed — are driving the increase in fruit consumption among this age group, according to the State of the Plate 2015.

“Parents thank us for finally offering kid-sized apples,” says Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Inc., in Wenatchee, WA. “We’ve always had small apples, but the Lil Snappers package makes that connection and offers an easy grab-and-go solution.”

Stemilt introduced its kid-size Lil Snappers line of 3-pound pouch bagged apples to retail in 2011. Sunkist Growers joined the following year, offering a variety of small-sized citrus, including Cara Caras, Mandarins and Moro blood oranges. The same year Stemilt added small pears, including Bartlett, Anjou, red and Bosc, to the line.

This season, Pepperl says the company will launch a complete 9-variety organic apple under its Lil Snappers brand, including best-sellers Gala, Pink

Girl with Grapes

Photo Courtesy of California Table Grape Commission

Lady and Pinata. Small Tosca pears will be available for the first time in Lil Snapper packaging from Aug. 1 to 31. Pepperl adds Stemilt is looking at adding small peaches and nectarines to the line on a test basis.

“Display and sales contests have taught us the best place to merchandise Lil Snappers is on refrigerated endcaps or side merchandisers off Euro tables. We offer display-ready cartons that can be used to create wing displays on the side of tables,” says Pepperl.

Kids love products that taste great and are easy to eat, while parents focus on health attributes and quality when choosing snacks. This is what makes palm-sized citrus such a hit with the whole family, according to Adam Cooper, vice president of marketing for Wonderful Citrus, the Delano, CA-based growers and marketers of Wonderful Halos brand Mandarins.

“We found that eight out of 10 parents provide snacks for their child’s events, with 50 percent of these parents providing snacks five times or more per year. Among parents who are regular citrus buyers, our research shows Mandarins are the most requested snack by kids,” says Cooper. “Retailers can make the most of this by stacking our display-ready, high-graphic packages of Halos in any area of the store or in branded bins. More than 150 of our merchandisers set up Halos displays with bin bases, balloons, signs and posters to serve as billboards for our products in-store.”

“We have multiple offerings that are perfect for a healthy children’s snack including our Grimmway Farms and Bunny-Luv Organic branded Baby Carrot Snack Packs and our Carrot Dippers,” says Jennifer Hayslett, brand manager for Bakersfield, CA-based Grimmway Farms. “Each product is packaged in a convenient single serving making them perfect for school lunches, travel, picnics and other grab-and-go occasions.”

In addition to carrots and Mandarins, grapes and kiwifruit also meet the kid-friendly common denominator of great taste and ease of eating.

“The best way for retailers to promote healthy snacking is to display items like our Cuties Clementines, Air Chief label table grapes and conditioned, ready-to-scoop-and-eat Mighties Kiwi prominently and promote them frequently,” says Bob DiPiazza, president of Sun Pacific Marketing, based in Pasadena, CA.

DiPiazza says a great out-of-the-box idea for point-of-sale is incorporating 4 inch by 4 inch signs with holders that can be integrated into the space used to display fresh produce snack items. These signs can provide direct comparisons to “junk food.” For example, show a photo of a Mandarin orange alongside a chocolate chip cookie, snack cake or candy bar with comparisons of calories, fat, carb, sugar and vitamins.

“I think this would motivate parents when shopping to have healthier fresh produce snacking items readily available in the household, and less junk,” says DiPiazza.

Grapes are an especially kid-favorite snack.

“Eight-two percent of children eat grapes in households of grocery shoppers with children under 18 years of age,” says Cindy Plummer, vice president of domestic marketing for the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, CA. “Each variety has its own characteristics of taste, color, texture, size, etc.; providing all three colors of grapes gives primary shoppers more purchasing options for everyone in their households, including kids.”

Many suppliers have made it even easier for kids to snack on fresh produce. Some of these include carrots, salad and vegetable juice, as well as peppers, broccoli and spinach — the vegetables 2- to 17-year-olds ate more of during the last five years, according to State of the Plate 2015.

“There are many great produce items that are appealing to kids, like baby carrots and dip, fruit cups and squeeze fruits,” says Roundy’s Jarzombek.

One example is Foodles, the number one seller from Cashmere, WA-based Crunch Pak. This product line pairs healthy snack foods like cheese, grapes, sliced apples, carrots and/or pretzels in a Mickey Mouse-shaped tray. The company also features other Disney characters, as well as Marvel comic and NBA characters, on its packaging to make the produce fun and enticing to kids.

Another example of a kid-friendly snack solution is the Ready Snax line by , in Irwindale, CA. The line is available in cups and packs, and includes sliced apples, carrots, snap peas, celery, grapes and grape tomatoes paired with cheese, hummus, pretzels and flatbread. The newest addition to the line is Pico Fiesta, a single-serve salsa and chip pack. Further line extension is planned.

Some retailers like Hy-Vee, Inc., a West Des Moines, IA-headquartered chain with 240-stores located across eight Midwestern states, make fresh-cut fruit and vegetable trays in-house and promote these for snacking.

“As a dietitian, I promote these as great options for kids and adults to snack on while waiting for the main course,” says Stephanie Vande Brake, RD, LD, who works at Hy-Vee in Coralville, IA.

2‭. ‬Create Destination Snack Sets

The media is a major factor that influences the choices parents make when it comes to choosing snacks for their children.

“Moms and dads understand from the media the importance of providing healthy snacks to their kids. Retailers can make it easier by grouping these

Lil Snappers

Stemlit introduced Lil Snappers line of 3-pound bagged apples to retail in 2011.

products together. For example, in our newer stores — where we have more room — we are able to dedicate a 3-to 4-foot section of our refrigerated value-added case to these products. We sign it as our kid’s section and everything in this section is for snacking,” says Roundy’s Jarzombek.

Tristan Simpson, Ready Pac Foods’ chief marketing officer, agrees. “Today it is difficult to find the fresh convenience products, as they are spread out across the produce department, making it harder for parents to shop. Building destination set-ups in stores to show the breadth and depth of the different fruit and vegetable snacks available will encourage parents to buy fresh produce. In addition, providing multiple locations in the store, including adjacent to kid’s snacks, will build awareness around convenient, fresh produce.”

Several companies that make products ideal for this type of promotion have joined the Eat Brighter! movement. This initiative — a partnership between PMA, Sesame Street Workshop and the Partnership for a Healthier America — enables producers, suppliers, distributors and retailers of fresh produce to use Sesame Street characters such as Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster royalty-free on packaging in an effort to get kids, ages 2-to-5, to eat more fresh produce.

“Though we haven’t surveyed kids, we do know from our surveys of suppliers there is around a 5 percent increase in sales due to Eat Brighter!,” says PMA’s Means.

“Our snack packs are a fun, versatile, crunchy and tasty alternative to other snacks,” says Grimmway’s Hayslett. “You need eye-catching packaging and point of sale material to capture their attention and get them excited about trying new things. The goal should be to help make meal planning stress free by providing healthy lunchbox ideas, easy dinner recipes and snack options the whole family will love.”

3‭. ‬Give Away Free Produce

A great way to get kids to eat fresh produce is to let them snack in-store.

“We all know busy parents do their best to juggle work and home life. Sometimes the trip to the grocery store happens during snack time. The good news is the grocery store is the perfect place to find yourself when hungry. As a Hy-Vee registered dietitian, I love when kids associate a trip to the grocery store with getting a free piece of fruit, such as a banana or clementine. Our store usually has three choices of fruit available, so a child has the ability to pick something he/she likes,” says Vande Brake.

Pyramid Foods, a Rogersville, MO-based retailer that operates 47 grocery stores in Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas under banners such as Price Cutter, Food Pyramid and Country Mart, has a Free Fruit for Kids program.

“This might be a small apple, banana or pear… whatever our produce manager decides,” says registered dietitian Rebekah Allen. “The fruit is placed in a basket at the front of the produce department with signage encouraging kids to take a piece and munch while their moms are shopping. We get so much positive feedback about this from our customers.”

There’s a Fruit of the Month Club at County Market/Niemann Foods, Inc., a 54-store chain that operates in Illinois, Missouri and Indiana, with its corporate office in Quincy, IL.

“We like to offer seasonal items — a Bosc pear, kiwi, baby banana or Cara Cara orange,” says Niemann Foods’ Hope Danielson, health and wellness advisor. “Kids, ages 12 and under, receive a card in produce, at the customer service desk, during school visits or at community events. The card is good for one year and entitles kids to one free fruit each month. Those that fill up the card have their names entered in a drawing to win a fresh fruit basket. This does a couple of things. It stops kids from bugging Mom for a snack that is perhaps less healthful, and it introduces them to new fruits they may not have tried. Plus, kids like the idea of having their own card.”

Demos are another good way to introduce the idea of snacking on produce to kids.

“The produce department is a natural fit for dietitian demos in the store. If the kids like the item being sampled, their parents most often will purchase it. The opportunity is endless for showing our customers how their families can enjoy produce in simple recipes that are delicious to eat,” says Hy-Vee’s Vande Brake.

“Another great option is produce demos with cheese,” she continues. “Research shows kids will eat more fruits and vegetables if cheese is served alongside it. Our cheese and grape cups are a great option for an on-the-go snack.”

Out-of-store, Roundy’s gives fruit away to kids and parents at fitness events.

“Runs and walks are very popular in the communities we serve. We’re a big sponsor of these and donate bananas, apples or oranges to the participants,” says Jarzombek.

4‭. ‬Set Up A Healthy Checkout Lane


Foodles in the No. 1 seller from Cashmere, WA-based Crunch Pak. This product line pairs healthy snack foods like cheese, grapes, sliced, apples, carrots, and/or pretzels in a Mickey Mouse shaped tray

Lil Snappers

Stemlit introduced Lil Snappers line of 3-pound bagged apples to retail in 2011.

“Some retailers are introducing healthy checkout lanes and offering snack-type produce items here,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, PBH president and chief executive.

One of these is Hy-Vee, which as part of its participation in the community well-being improvement initiative Blue Zones Project, offers fruit, nuts, granola bars and water at a dedicated checkout lane.

Creating secondary displays of ready-to-eat produce at the checkout is a powerful impulse marketing opportunity for suppliers and retailers alike. The fact this is virgin territory for fruits and vegetables was highlighted in a 2014 study of 30 chain stores in the Washington, D.C., area reported in the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance’s National Action Plan’s 2015 Report Card. Results of the study showed there were only 33 total facings of fruits and vegetables at checkout (13 facings of fresh fruit, four for dried fruit and 16 of fruit juice) compared to 8,786 food, beverage and merchandise facings, or basically 0 percent.

5‭. ‬Make Produce Part of In-store Events

Special in-store events can shine a spotlight on fruit and vegetable snacks. For example, County Market/Niemann Foods is one of many nationwide retailers that participate in cause marketing campaign, Produce for Kids. The campaign helps families eat healthier, raises funds for children’s charities and helps to increase sales of partners’ products, through in-store signage that calls out produce partner’s products.

“Many Produce for Kids suppliers are those companies that make great snacks, such as pre-cut apples, mini bell peppers, baby carrots, Mandarins and guacamole dip. We always highlight that fact as part of the campaign,” says Niemann Foods’ Danielson.

Another good example is Hy-Vee’s monthly kid’s cooking classes hosted by the company’s registered dietitians. Kids, ages 4 to 12, learn cooking basics and kitchen etiquette while preparing kid-friendly recipes.

“We made everything from kale chips, beet cupcakes and burrito bowls with cactus to fruit sushi,” says Vande Brake. “While it is common for kids to be picky, there is something about the group setting and watching their peers trying a new food that makes it cool to taste something unique. Sometimes it takes kids several times of trying a new food to develop a liking for it, so a cooking class is a great way to experiment in a relaxed environment.”