Marketing Organic Produce to Kids and Parents

Produce Display for KidsPhoto Courtesy of Dole Food Company

Characters, tastings and support for the community help reach families.

Kids Organic FruitDemand for organic produce is increasing, with retailers often taking space away from conventionally grown items to make room. Greater numbers of organic SKUs, however, put pressure on retailers to move organic produce into carts. Through in-store efforts, social media and, most importantly, strategic partnerships, grocery chains can get the word out to families and kids about the benefits of organic fruits and vegetables.

Encourage Trial

Visually appealing and tasty fruit attracts all members of the family. Several stores and chains encourage trial by putting out a basket of organic fruit or allowing children to select a fruit or vegetable from any display. “We offer a free apple to all children,” says Jill Herrera, wellness manager for full-service, non-profit grocery store Main Market Co-op in Spokane, WA. “It encourages them to have fresh fruit for a snack and to check out our 100 percent organically grown produce department.”

Suppliers support trial, too. “Zespri participates in sampling efforts both in-store and at retailer events,” says Sarah Deaton, marketing manager of Zespri North America in Newport Beach, CA. “It’s a great way to get kids and parents to experience how SunGold kiwifruit tastes and show them how easy it is to handle — just cut, scoop and enjoy.”

Main Market Co-op invites shoppers for tours and classes and also educates them with POP materials, take-home activities and stickers. The store partners with a local childcare center that brings children and staff to tour the store, pick out and purchase the center’s organic produce for the week, and learn from the produce manager about new and interesting fruits and vegetables. “We are developing a Co-op Kids program, where kids who sign up will receive a membership card, stickers and maybe a button, all to encourage healthy eating habits and awareness of organic agriculture,” says Herrera.

The produce department at Good Earth Natural Foods in Mill Valley, CA, is 100 percent organic. The store builds on the knowledge of its well-informed customer base. “We are opening a community room in our second store and will host all sorts of classes,” says Madeline Ross, marketing, and communications manager.

Main Market participates in community events where it can share information on organic agriculture and produce. Herrera and the store’s produce manager often serve on panels working with small farmers and the community, helping to get more local food into local hands.

Good Earth Natural Foods raises the bar for community involvement, preparing and providing hot organic school lunch options to 1,300 students each day at 14 schools in Marin County, CA. “Everything we do for the community reinforces our mission. We recently introduced cut fruit packaged in biodegradable-corn packaging; we won’t work with vendors who over-package. We help farms that are not certified organic to become organic by offering a set contract when they become organic.”

Partnerships Prevail

On the opposite end of the spectrum are large retailers that enter into partnerships with national campaigns such as Orlando, FL-based Produce for Kids. Produce for Kids strives to reach busy families who are looking for ways to live a healthier lifestyle. Its programs include in-store efforts; registered dietitian-approved, family-tested recipes ideas; tips and more across its social media platforms; and an online campaign and website. Every Produce for Kids program gives back to charities and supports programs that benefit families and children.

Grand Rapids, MI-based Meijer teams up with Produce for Kids during Family Meals Month, a national program of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), every September to encourage produce purchases. The chain invites shoppers to create healthy meals and share them online using the hashtag #PowerYourFamilyMeal. Store displays, signage, and recipes display #PowerYourFamilyMeal messaging and list partnering produce companies. The chain’s home delivery app encourages purchases of products from partner companies Avocados From Mexico, Dole Food Company, Earthbound Farm, Green Giant Fresh, Highline Mushrooms, Marzetti, Sunset and Stemilt’s Lil Snappers kid-size fruit.

“At Meijer, we know Family Meals Month is the perfect opportunity to spread the value of this activity with our shoppers,” says Tina Miller, MS, RD, a healthy living advisor for Meijer. “We are proud to partner with Produce for Kids on an effort that encourages the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and also supports our local school nutrition efforts.”

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Partnership for a Healthier America (a non-profit organization devoted to working with the private sector to ensure the health of the nation’s youth by solving the childhood obesity crisis. Its honorary chair is former First Lady Michelle Obama), and Sesame Street Workshop created the “Eat Brighter!” program in March 2014 to encourage children, ages 2 to 5, to eat more fresh produce. The consumer-facing marketing initiative allows organic and conventional produce suppliers, distributors and retailers of fresh produce to promote fruits and vegetables using the Sesame Street characters, including Big Bird and Elmo, royalty-free. According to a 2015 PMA survey, suppliers participating in “Eat Brighter!” for three quarters reported an average 5.3 percent increase in year-over-year sales.

John Stair, domestic commodity manager for Pacific Organic Produce/Purity in San Francisco is pleased with the results of his company’s participation in “Eat Brighter!.” “Many parents today grew up with Sesame Street, so they have an affinity for the brand, which also appeals to kids. We really like the idea of joining the PMA in offering the Sesame Street brand as a vehicle to help parents bring home more fresh organic produce each week. We currently offer the packaging for our organic apples, lemons, and Sweet Rio red grapefruit.”

“We really like the idea of joining the PMA in offering the Sesame Street brand as a vehicle to help parents bring home more fresh produce every week.”

— John Stair, Pacific Organic Produce/Purity

Dole Food Company collaborates with Walt Disney Company to use popular characters to promote fruit and vegetable consumption. “Research shows when kids see their favorite characters promoting fruit and vegetable consumption, they are more likely to choose fruits and vegetables themselves,” says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications at Dole Food Company, Westlake Village, CA. Most recently, Dole ran a four-month program in conjunction with Disney Pixar’s Cars 3, which included on-product and in-store messaging, along with character-inspired recipes, digital integrations, events, and promotions.

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is overseen by the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association and brings together produce companies and retailers to provide salad bars in schools nationwide. In Texas, for example, H-E-B worked with Dole to support this effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among children.

Lunchbox Opportunities

The current focus on healthier lunches and eating habits opens the door for retailers to promote fruits and vegetables suitable to pack for lunch. Produce for Kid’s September Power Your Lunchbox campaign and Power Your Lunchbox Pledge empowers families with ideas, tips, recipes and more for packing nutritious and delicious lunches. Consumers are encouraged to pledge online to pack a healthy lunchbox using products from participating industry partners, who donate a collective $1 for each pledge to Chicago-based Feeding America. Corporate partners for 2017 include Avocados from Mexico, Bee Sweet Citrus, Earthbound Farm Organic, GROW Bananas, NatureFresh Farms, Pero Family Farms, Sun World and Zespri. Each partner has a link on the Power Your Lunchbox website and supports the campaign through social media and other efforts.

Zespri Shipper Unit

Photo Courtesy of Zespri

Zespri SunGold kiwifruit, for example, was featured on the Power Your Lunchbox microsite and promoted through the Produce for Kids social media channels. Zespri developed fun ways to incorporate kiwifruit into easy recipes to make it convenient and quick for parents to provide healthy snacks.

Successful efforts can increase sales. Participating retailers promote the Produce for Kids program and its recipes and online content to their customers. Although the lunchbox campaign lasts just a month, the year-round display of the Produce for Kids logo signals support of local charities.

Retailers also can help promote products that come in lunchbox-friendly packaging. Wenatchee, WA-based Stemilt packages its smaller size organic and conventional apples, called Lil Snappers, in a 3-lb. pouch bag that holds 10 to 12 apples. “The pouch matches well with how people shop,” says Brianna Shales, communications manager. “It holds enough apples for two kids each to bring an apple to school every day for a week.” Lil Snappers ship in a display-ready carton; Stemilt also produces table displays and pop-up display bins for secondary areas.

Crunch Pak packages its organic apple slices in mini bags that are great for grab-and-go to soccer games, birthday parties, and classroom activities, as well as for in-store sampling,” says Krista Jones, director of brand marketing and product innovation, Cashmere, WA. “We work with each of our partners to customize a program that fits their needs in store; we support their in-store promotions, as well as outreach through social channels.”

Integrated Campaigns‬

“We are just scratching the surface with integrated approaches to marketing produce,” says Lisa Hansen, vice president of marketing communications company McDill Associates in Soquel, CA. “A campaign might include outreach to bloggers who can spread the word to moms through social media, farmer visits to the store, gardening programs, and social media targeted to shoppers, in addition to the physical presence of the product in the store.” Various approaches increase the odds of reaching and appealing to parents in one way and kids in another.

In 2005, Organics Unlimited in San Diego, CA, created a social responsibility program called GROW (Giving Resources and Opportunities to Workers) to provide ongoing financial support to services for farm workers, their families and surrounding communities. Bananas purchased through the program helped provide nearly $2 million for educational programs, dental and vision care, and clean water in banana growing regions of Mexico and Ecuador. “In selling organic bananas, we reach kids through their parents through new labeling that talks about everything that GROW bananas stand for, from sustainability to community support,” says Mayra Velazquez de Leon, chief executive. Both Good Earth and Main Market Co-op utilize a combination of in-store signage, social media, television, and information on local farms and farmers. “Our bi-monthly newsletter focuses on organics. In our produce department, we name each farm and list its mileage from the store. We don’t like to bombard customers with too many emails,” says Good Earth’s Ross.

Whole Foods displays a particularly strong commitment to community. Its website offers videos, recipes, and tips for healthy lunches and snacks. The Whole Kids Foundation provides children with access to healthy food choices through partnerships with schools, educators, and organizations. Foundation activities include grants for school gardens and salad bars, a program to improve teacher health, and technical assistance for school districts that want to prepare meals from scratch. Whole Foods also forms relationships directly with children. Its online Kids Club offers access to a downloadable and printable monthly newsletter, lessons and simple tips for healthful eating. The retailer also provides tips and activities for parents.

Gelson’s Markets in Encino, CA, maintains an active program targeted toward parents through custom-store tours. Store registered dietitian Jessica Siegel, MPH, RD, created a “Jessica Selects” shopping list, with emphasis on organic items, with shelf tags on shopping list items throughout the store. The company encourages school tours and has created a coloring and activity book.

PCC Natural Markets in greater Seattle offers kids numerous opportunities to experience organic fruits and vegetables. Any child 12 years of age and under can select a free piece of fruit. The PCC Healthy Kids Program incorporates programs, activities, classes, recipes, and tips for kids and their families. A Healthy Kids Cook video series shares kid-friendly recipes. Its Kid Picks sampling program invites children to attend taste tests in the chain’s traveling PCC TasteMobile. Items that are “approved” by at least two-thirds of kid judges are flagged in stores with a bright orange PCC Kid Picks logo.

The National Mango Board in Orlando, FL, runs a comprehensive promotional campaign. It partners with mom bloggers to help promote kid-friendly recipes for back-to-school and supports Facebook and Instagram channels with easy and healthy recipes.

Many campaigns don’t distinguish between organic and conventional. “The facts prove that kids aren’t eating enough produce in general, let alone organic,” says Dole’s Goldfield. “Our mission is to increase America’s nutritional health through increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables – whether they’re organic or conventional.”