Originally printed in the October 2019 issue of Produce Business.

Saying yes can help kids consume more fruits and vegetables.

The snack-worthiness of the produce department is better than ever. Growers and suppliers are producing smaller size fruits and vegetables that are easy to grab and go. Single-serve and snack-friendly packaging abounds. And the marriage between dips and produce reinforces the produce department as a snack destination. What is snackable produce? For the purposes of this article, snacks are defined as any fruit or vegetable that can be eaten out-of-hand and does not require cutting or utensils.

The Perfect Fit

Today’s busy lifestyles demand products that are convenient and portable. Produce departments in ShopRite markets, a division of Wakefern in Edison, NJ, offer a large variety of items in ready-to-eat, snack-size packaging, such as baby carrots, apple slices and mini-cucumbers. As with many chains, a “take one” display greets children who are in the store with their parents. Additionally, departments carry freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, as well as a large assortment of packaged nuts, to offer consumers the widest possible variety of fresh produce options.

Product revolution is noticeably strong in citrus, where the Clementine season is nearly year-round and growers continue to introduce new easy-peel varieties. “Kids love products that taste great, are easy to eat and fit perfectly in the palm of their hands, such as Wonderful Halos,” says Adam Cooper, senior vice president, marketing, The Wonderful Company, Los Angeles. “We promote Halos as a solution to ‘snack duty,’ when parents are asked to provide snacks for their child’s events.”

NatureFresh Farms in Leamington, ON, is on a snackability mission, cultivating smaller and smaller versions of produce department staples. Kara Badder, NatureFresh marketing manager, is a fan of produce that can be washed and thrown in the refrigerator for easy accessibility. “Our Tomberry tomatoes are a great example. They are approximately the size of a small candy bar and fit perfectly into a child’s small hands. The pack also fits into a parent’s purse or child’s backpack.”

Packaging Calls Out

“I can’t say enough about how important packaging is when it comes to snackability,” says Lisa Hansen, vice president, McDill Associates in Soquel, CA. “Several proprietary varieties have found their stride with kid-friendly benefits, messaging and marketing. For example, Duda Farm Fresh Foods’ celery sticks are sweeter, crispier and less stringy, and they come in a snack pack with peanut butter. The Pure Flavor Mini Munchies line of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers features kid-friendly packaging that is perfect for schools.”

Other companies have jumped on the snack-package bandwagon. Mann Packing Co. in Salinas, CA, has expanded its snack trays to include kid-friendly items such as pretzels and cheese. HMC Farms in Kingsburg, CA, packages its grapes in 2-oz. snack bags, 100-calorie bags, or a 6-oz. cup holder cup with snackability in mind. For its Cotton Candy grapes, Fresh Farms in Rio Rico, AZ, created an attractive bag with the phrase, “They really do taste like cotton candy” to appeal to kids and their parents.

Integrated Strategies

Debra Heverling MA, RD/LDN, corporate dietitian/nutritionist for C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc. in Robesonia, PA, maximizes her reach using various media channels. “My kid-relevant and kid-friendly outreach can include information on the produce department’s website page and print features in our magazine on snackable items.”

Natalie Menza-Crowe, director of health and wellness at Wakefern’s ShopRite, says, “We combine the expertise of our in-store dietitians with the reach of our social, digital and advertising divisions to find new and exciting ways to inspire our shoppers about the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables and the many benefits of having them for a snack. Still, one of the best ways to inspire and educate shoppers about the many advantages of enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks is to have our dietitians at the store level sharing ideas.”

Grimmway Farms, headquartered in Bakersfield, CA, engages with a group of active brand ambassadors who promote health and wellness and the importance of fruits and vegetables for snacks and other eating occasions. ‘Our Cal-O Creators,’ as we call them, reach a vast audience on social media and help promote produce for snacking,” says Lisa McNeece, vice president, foodservice and industrial sales.

Produce for Kids in Orlando, FL, recently began a podcast, “The Healthy Family Project,” hosted by its director of marketing communications, Amanda Keefer. The podcast’s first “Healthy Bite” segment features Setton Farms, a Commack, NY, grower and distributor of pistachios, as a great snack option.

Halos filmed a video of YouTube celebrity Ryan, of Ryan’s ToysReview, during his and his parents’ first visit to Halos orchards. The video also appeared on the Ryan’s Family Review YouTube channel, and together the videos garnered more than 4.5 million views.

“We show images on our media feeds of our team members and their kids snacking on healthy produce,” says Badder, of NatureFresh. “We think showing examples of how our team members incorporate healthy snacks into their children’s lives is a great way to inspire others. We also communicate this messaging through our blog content.”

Merchandising Matters

The Wonderful Company prides itself in creating in-store displays that are “fun, eye-catching and cart-stopping,” says Cooper. “This season, we introduced a new fruit stand display as a companion to our Halos grove tree display to help secure secondary locations outside of the produce department.” Wonderful Halos’ bright packaging and stickers also help grab attention.

Marketing of Stemilt Lil Snappers apples leverages the company’s small, snackable size. “Consumer surveys tell us that apples generally are eaten as a snack,” says Brianna Shales, communications manager, Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, WA. “Stemilt packs 9-12 apples in a 3-pound, grab-and-go bag that can sit in the refrigerator. They are very retailer-friendly, and our new, half-pallet display makes it easy for retailers to combine different varieties.” Stemilt will be using its packaging to promote the new Have A Plant slogan adopted by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Naturipe Farms in Salinas, CA, designs the top seal of its snack cups and boxes to provide visibility and communicate freshness to consumers and retailers. Steven Ware, vice president of value-added fresh, says “Naturipe Snacks are innovative, easy and convenient for kids, as well as other snackers. In one portable package, we pair strawberries, blueberries and grapes with specialty cheese and seasoned whole nuts. Our line also includes several car-friendly fruit cups designed with a built-in spork. These combine health, convenience and snacking.”

Produce Partners

Strategic partnerships help promote the produce department as a snackable destination. “Everyone wants into the produce department, so it’s important to pick partners that make sense for the brand,” notes Hansen.

“A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports pairing veggies with something a child already likes can be an effective way to get her/him to eat more vegetables,” says Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, president and chief executive of the Produce for Better Health (PBH) Foundation in Brentwood, MO. The PBH’s “Have A Plant” campaign suggests a variety of kid-friendly snacks, including broccoli florets with a tasty dip, or celery sticks filled with peanut butter.

Partnerships outside the store can be highly effective. Dole Food Company in Westlake, CA, stands out for its long history of nutrition collaboration with The Walt Disney Company. Favorite characters have been shown to influence food acceptance and behavior, including choosing fruits and vegetables, among children.

“A central part of our alliance with Disney is positioning Dole fruits and vegetables as the perfect, healthy, grab-and-go snack,” explains Bil Goldfield, director of communications. “To accomplish this, we’ve been putting characters from the most iconic Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars films and properties on tens of millions of Dole bananas, pineapples, packaged salads and fresh vegetables. A 2019 social media contest gives fans of Dole, Disney and Disney’s The Lion King the opportunity to share their favorite family traditions by posting on social media and using the appropriate hashtags.

“Halos teamed up with The Holderness Family, famous on YouTube for its ‘Christmas Jammies’ viral music videos,” says Cooper. “The collaboration debuted an original song and music video, “Snack Panic Attack,” to highlight Halos as the perfect time-saving, healthy snack to alleviate mom’s snack-duty anxiety.”

HMC Farms, Kingsburg, CA, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Grape Escape snack item. “Our Grape Escape bags are a perfect snack for kids,” says Chelsea McClarty Ketelsen, sales and marketing. “This year we partnered with Nickelodeon to get kids even more excited about eating fresh fruit. Our kid-size snack bags of grapes will be available in both PAW Patrol and SpongeBob packaging at retail chains across the country just in time for back-to-school.”

NatureFresh’s Badder says, “We collaborate with many local dietitians, moms, industry organizations and retail partners to showcase the snackability of our produce. Collaboration with partners increases the engagement and reach of product promotions.”

Produce for Kids actively partners with companies and retailers to promote fruits and vegetables in the snacks and meals of children. “We know families are busy with work, school, sports and more, so we work to understand the challenges that come with each time of year,” says Keefer. “For instance, when spring sports kick off, we center much of our messaging around healthy snacks parents can take along or provide for the entire team. We encourage our retail partners to position easily accessible options where parents can grab them quickly.”

Top Of Mind

“At the end of the day, we all want to offer samples of our fresh produce snacks and make meaningful connections at the same time,” says McDill’s Hansen, “People are craving experiences and authenticity, which lend beautifully to community efforts and socially responsible marketing programs. That’s why the Cosmic Crisp campaign we’re working on has a partnership with the Missoula (MT) Children’s Theater. Both organizations have visions that align really well to create an authentic and valuable touchpoint for our marketing efforts,” she says.

“Mindfulness is where it’s at when it comes to snacking, because it helps parents to make smart choices for their children,” says Lori Taylor, founder, The Produce Moms, Indianapolis. “It’s not nutrition until it is eaten, so provide and promote fresh produce as the first food choice for a snack,” she adds.

“Studies show six in 10 kids are not eating enough fruit, and nine in 10 kids are not eating enough vegetables. So, let’s make it fun to incorporate fruits and vegetables into snacks kids already love and enjoy,” says PBH’s Kapsak.