Snack-Friendly Produce

From Top Right Clockwise: Photos Courtesy of Mann Packing, Sun Pacific, Sunkist and Grimmway Farms

How retailers can promote fresh, healthful myriad options to young customers and parents.

Dole StrawberriesThe days of three square meals are gone. Snacking is on the rise, especially among children. That’s the findings of Dr. Barry Popkin and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, who this year published an eye-opening article in the scientific journal, Pediatric Obesity. Popkin looked back at nearly 40 years of data, from 1977 to 2014, and found three key points important to the fresh produce industry. First, nearly all U.S. citizens, ages 2 to 18, snack daily compared to only two-thirds four decades ago. Second, the number of snacks kids eat per day has more than doubled (1.1 to 2.4 snacks per day) and so has the total calories eaten in daily snacks. Third, the winners in kids’ snack choices remain desserts, sweets, sugar sweetened beverages and salty snacks, while more nutrient-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy, fruit and vegetable snacks have pretty much stayed flat. The good news is there are several ways fresh produce suppliers and retailers can work together to encourage parents to purchase — and kids to snack on — more fruits and vegetables in the future.

“The Millennial generation understands food, and their kids are born eating fruits and vegetables, so there is a definite movement toward greater produce consumption,” says Steve Jarzombek, vice president of produce merchandising at Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc., a Milwaukee-headquartered chain that operates more than 150 supermarkets under the Pick ‘n Save, Copps, Metro Market and Mariano’s retail banners in Wisconsin and Illinois. “This bodes well and offers a great opportunity for the produce industry. It’s also why we’ve built fruit and vegetable snack sets in the produce departments of some of our stores.”

Snack-Friendly Produce

In the dictionary, the word “snack” is defined as a small amount of food eaten between meals. This is essentially the designation Popkin uses in his research. For this article, snack fruits and vegetables are anything that can be eaten out-of-hand — whole, packaged or pre-cut.

“Fresh produce has long been a favorite choice for kids and families looking for a healthy snack option. In fact, convenient, handheld, ready-to-eat fresh fruits and vegetables continue to grow in popularity in recent years,” says Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for the Dole Food Company, headquartered in Thousand Oaks, CA.

Bananas, Clementines and apples, as well as baby carrots and grape tomatoes, are a few of the produce items that Cassandra Umile, RD, LDN, registered dietitian for the six-store Kenny Family ShopRites located in New Castle County, DE, promotes. “We put fruits and vegetables, those that don’t require cutting and peeling, in snack bags paired with a protein such as string cheese and hand these out at community events, school health fairs and afterschool programs like Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.”

Bananas have long been a favorite with kids and parents, according to Goldfield. “In addition to the popular Cavendish, we have seen a big increase in out other varieties, including Baby Bananas and Red Bananas as a snack option.”

Palm-sized peel-and-eat citrus, such as the Clementine, are finding favor with young consumers.

“We conducted research with IPSOS, a leading market research company, which revealed that nearly two-thirds of parents say their children influence their snack purchases, and more than seven in 10 Millennial moms look for kid-friendly brands to get their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables,” says Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, vice president of marketing for Sun Pacific, Pasadena, CA, which markets its Cuties-brand Mandarins.

Based on the success of Cuties, Sun Pacific introduced Mighties, ripe and ready-to-eat kiwi, according to Nuevo-Celeste. “The packaging for Mighties communicates quickly and clearly that these products are kid-friendly through fun, engaging characters. Mighties packaging also educates people on how easy kiwi is to eat and includes a ‘spife’ — a spoon and knife combination utensil — in some packaging to reinforce that idea.”

Suppliers are creating snack-friendly packs of whole produce that appeals to kids. For example, in February 2017, Dole launched its branded GO Berries!, three snack-size clamshells that snap apart; each contains 4 ounces of fresh strawberries ready to rinse and eat. Ventilated for freshness and easy rinsing, the proprietary package is said to be the first to provide “snap-rinse-go” convenience.

Manufactures have also innovated fresh-cut products for easy snacking. Crunch Pak, Cashmere, WA, offers sliced apples in a variety of sizes, from single-serve to family style, as well as snack packs combined with cheese, peanut butter, pretzels and granola.

“We talk with our produce buyers and category managers about the challenges we face as a perimeter, fresh food item, and that our big competition is at the center of the store, so we have to look like, act like, think like the major consumer packaged goods companies; many do not offer healthy snacking options,” says Krista Jones, Crunch Pak’s director of brand marketing and product innovation. “We work with our partners at Disney to bring new characters to our packages; we focus on packages that have kid appeal with bright colors and portability. This spring, we introduced multi-pack, bag in bags featuring Disney characters from Star Wars and Finding Dory, and we are planning to offer new multi-pack bags for back to school.”

On the vegetable front, Mann Packing in Salinas, CA, last year launched snack trays under its Snacking Favorites brand. The seven-item line includes Veggies 4 Kidz (carrots, celery and cheddar crackers with ranch dip), Veggie Hummus (carrots, celery and broccoli with hummus) and Honey Turkey Cheddar (carrots, broccoli, cheddar cheese cubes and honey turkey bites with ranch dip).

“Our conventional and organic cut and peeled baby carrots, snack packs and trademarked Carrot Dippers, Carroteenies, Carrot Stixx and Carrot Chips are easily positioned to parents as snacks for their children, as they are bite-sized, ready-to-eat and sold in convenient packs,” says Valorie Sherman, communications and engagement manager with Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, CA. “Our newest value-added product is our organic rainbow baby carrots.”

There are many ways to spotlight kid-friendly snackability in the store, ranging from tried-and-true display tactics to out-of-the-box methods, such as cooking classes that retailers can use to promote fresh produce to parents and kids.

Build Destination & Impulse Buying Displays: There are 4-foot sets stocked with kid-friendly snack fruits and vegetables and signed as such in the produce departments of 10 Roundy’s Supermarkets, according to Jarzombek. “Space is a valuable commodity in produce, thus we’re only able to have these sets in our larger stores. They are well received by customers who get the idea. That is, go to one location and find a variety of healthy snacks for their children.”

Displays are a great way for retailers to encourage families to eat healthier, especially during key times of the year, according to Joan Wickham, director of communications for Sunkist Growers in Valencia, CA. “For example, promote produce during football season instead of other snack choices. We offer secondary displays that are highly customizable and can help retailers do this without taking up shelf space.”

Retailers participating in Sun Pacific’s Mighties kiwi display program, which is accompanied by high graphic display risers, report category sales increases of more than 25 percent year over year, according to Nuevo-Celeste.

Encourage Kids To Choose Produce Snacks: Kid’s hold sway when it comes to what goes in the family’s grocery cart, according to Sun Pacific’s Nuevo-Celeste. According to a recent survey commissioned by Sun Pacific with W5, a Durham, NC-based market research firm, nearly three-fourths of parents cite their kids as major influencers on fruit purchases, and nutritious, easy-to-eat options are important to parents.

“Kids enjoy selecting new produce to try at home,” says Trish James, vice president of Produce for Kids, an Orlando, FL-based cause-marketing company that encourages families to eat healthier, increases sales of partner’s produce products and benefits children’s charities. “Many families want to make the switch to eat more fruits and vegetables, but don’t know where to start. We also hear from families on a regular basis that healthy eating is ‘expensive’ and ‘hard.’ If a grocer keeps these struggles in mind when developing its merchandising campaigns, it will capture these shoppers. For example, we recommend using the Produce for Kids’ What’s in Season chart in the produce department so kids and their families can choose produce at peak and at a lowest cost.”

To make it easier for kids and parents in income-challenged families to purchase more produce for meals and snacks, Umile at Kenny Family ShopRites applied for and received a USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant on behalf of the retailer’s non-profit, Kenny Family Foundation. Specifically, this enables participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), of which nearly half are children, to receive a certain amount of monetary credit to buy produce based in SNAP expenditures.

“We are rolling out this program this month. In addition to the purchase incentive, we’ll have a weekly produce pick, local depending on what’s in season, and sample it in-store,” says Umile.

Give Out Free Produce: Weis Markets, a Sunbury, PA-headquartered retailer operating more than 200 stores in seven Mid-Atlantic states has a Free Produce for Kids program.

“The program is meant to encourage children ages 8 and younger to eat more fruit and veggies for a healthier lifestyle,” says Lindsey DeCaro, RDN, LDN, retail healthy living coordinator for Weis Markets. “Parents and children can simply ask a produce associate when they are in the store shopping. We offer ready-to-eat options, such as pre-packaged apple slices, pre-packed carrots and small boxes of raisins. We feel that by having the customers speak with a Weis produce associate, we’re ensuring the snack is fresh and safe to eat.”

Taste Sample: “Offer tastings of interesting produce items in the produce department and provide ‘I Tried It’ stickers to kids, along with information on what they tried and a recipe using the item,” suggests James.

Sampling is a key activity for kids at Weis Markets. “I encourage kids to ‘eat through the rainbow’ and to try a new piece of produce on every store visit,” says DeCaro. “In addition, when I’ve hosted kids’ events, I’ve sampled everything from typical fruits like apples and oranges to more unique or exotic fruits. However, I use different varieties. For example, an Ambrosia apple or Blood orange, as well as kiwi, papaya, mangos and star fruit. Or, I’ll have hummus for veggies that helps to increase consumption of both the vegetable and a plant-based protein dip. Most of the kids absolutely love trying new stuff, especially when it’s not their mom suggesting they try it.”

DeCaro put a twist on sampling last February when she hosted a “Be My Valentine” workshop in-store. Each kid, accompanied by an adult, made a Valentine with a produce theme, by attaching cards to the fruit which, for example, read, “Orange you glad we’re friends” and “You are Plum perfect!” The kids had an opportunity to sample each type of fruit and listen to DeCaro talk about the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables.

Offer Recipe Ideas: Produce for Kids’ in-store campaign signage at Meijer, a Grand Rapids, MI-based retailer that operates 230-plus supercenters and supermarkets in six Mid-western states, showcases recipe takeaways divided by category — breakfast, lunch and dinner, says James. “It’s a great way to connect to the shoppers, and they are able to take our website address home with them to get more recipes and information. They are also able to see the branded produce partner in the recipe, which adds exposure for our brands.”

In addition, Produce for Kids started its We Heart RDs program in 2016, which reaches retail dietitians. Commodity boards from across the produce industry took part in the creation of these kits by offering commodity-specific recipes for seasonal produce. The program has been a great way to get seasonal recipes and ideas for families to the store level and in the hands of shoppers, according to James.

Cooking Classes: “We consistently hear from families who are surprised that when they let their kids lend a hand in the kitchen in creating a meal, snack or lunch, they are more likely to eat what they have helped prepare. This can be as simple as a trail mix for a school or camp snack, or as elaborate as a birthday dinner,” says Produce for Kids’ James.

Kenny Family ShopRites’ Umile hosts cooking classes. “I worked with a Girl Scout troop and we made veggie calzones with spinach, eggplant and squash. At first, they weren’t so sure. But it was unbelievable how excited they got when they tried it and liked it, because they made it themselves,” says Umile.

Reach Shoppers Where They Spend Time

Millennials spend the amount of time equal to nearly one day on their mobile phones, almost and more than twice as much as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, respectively, according to research by London-based global insight, information and consultancy group, Kantar TNS.

Out-of-store, it’s important to create meaningful connections with consumers when it comes to increasing kids’ consumption of fresh produce through snacking.

“This season, we developed a first-of-its-kind promotion on Snapchat through a special lens announcing it was Cuties season,” says Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, vice president of marketing for Sun Pacific, Pasadena, CA, which markets its Cuties-brand Mandarins. “The lens allowed Snapchat users to ‘Cutie-fy’ their face and delivered 68 million impressions. It also increased consumers’ favorability of the brand by nearly 8 percent. These types of activities make produce fun and appealing to kids and parents, encouraging them to choose products like Cuties and Mighties as healthy snacks. We continue to focus our marketing efforts in digital channels where Millennial moms and their kids spend time.”

Also this season, Sun Pacific created a series of fun, animated videos that tell the story of how Cuties are grown and features them in places like the Disney Channel app, where moms and kids watch together.

The Dole Food Company, Westlake Village, CA, is another fresh produce supplier that has made it easier for retailers to promote heathy snacking for kids and families through its collaboration with Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. In May 2017, Dole introduced its Fuel Up with Dole, a summer campaign themed to Disney/Pixar’s Cars 3, where movie characters are on bananas, pineapple, salads, berries and vegetables. The four-month program features digital and social media integrations, including an interactive quiz and activities; a downloadable healthy living Dole Fuel-Up Family Road Trip Guide; and a promotional contest to win the Ultimate Family Road Trip.

Mann Packing, Salinas, CA, is involved in some exciting content creation on its social media channels, says Jacob Shafer, senior marketing and communications specialist. “Parents are connected online. More importantly, they are using it as
their primary source to find and hear
about products, special deals, and shopping news and trends. Social media engagement seems to be outpacing traditional methods of advertising, such as television and print. Retailers can still drive sales by creating an easy-to-use value-added loyalty program, and for Millennial consumers, transparency within the program is key. The program must be mobile-friendly, accessible from anywhere and easy.”