Making the grade

The back-to-school season provides retailers with a chance to contribute to the health and wellness of children.

By Craig Levitt

Back in the day, the man­tra for kids heading back to class in September was the three R’s; Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rith­matic. Today you can easily add ‘Roduce to that list as more and more schools across the country are teaching children about the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables.

The upcoming back-to-school time period also provides growers, shippers and retailers with the perfect opportunity as well.

“Taking advantage of the back-to-school season is a perfect occasion to promote whole and fresh cut produce to parents who are focused on preparing their children for a healthy and successful start to the school year,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president, marketing for Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce.

“Proper nutrition and healthy eating habits are in the forefront of most parents’ minds that are eager to find tasty, healthy and convenient alternatives to the traditional processed foods for their children’s lunchboxes.”

Industry observers say retailers can help parents find healthy alternatives and encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables by positioning produce as colorful and fun. They add that partnering with popular cartoon characters is a start.

One example is Sun-Maid Grow­ers’ partnership with Dream­Works Animation SKG to promote the most recent Shrek DVD as well as its lineup of dried fruit. Joe Tamble, vice president of sales for the Kings­burg Calif.-based company, says partnerships during key times of the year such as back-to-school are a good way to increase consumption. He adds that Sun-Maid provides retailers with shipper displays for its six-pack and mini items, which are its most popular back-to-school offerings.

Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms,  says that while carrots—specifically baby carrots—are usually on the top of kids’ vegetable lists all year long, they always see an uptick in sales during the back-to-school season. He adds that Grimmway features several packaging options designed to attract kids.

He says that because carrots aren’t a new vegetable, there isn’t a “wow” factor when parents encounter them in the produce aisle. Although sales remain strong, he says that retailers can benefit by occasionally giving carrots a bit more attention. Back-to-school is one of those times when Grimmway provides retailers with displays.

In addition to displays, Grimmway offers carrots in a variety of ways. “The baby carrot really brought some life into the carrot category because it made carrots so convenient,” says Gruszka. “We have made carrots a little more value-added by making carrot chips, carrots coins and shredded carrots. We also have petit carrots, which are carrot tips that are a bit more tender and come in a microwavable bag.”

In addition to value-added offering, retailers can also maximize carrot sales through cross-promotion, according to Grimmway executives. Gruszka says a popular cross-promotional opportunity for carrots is with dips and salad dressings. Observers agree that cross-promoting, especially during back-to-school, can drive impulse purchases as well.

Recipe for success

In addition to cross promotion, many industry observers suggest that retailers offer parents recipe ideas for various fruits and vegetables during back-to-school time. Well-Pict Berries, is a big believer in using recipes to increase consumption of its strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. So much so that Dan Crowley, sales manager for the Watsonville, Calif.-based grower, says they frequently call on chefs to develop “new and exciting” recipes.

“Back-to-school has always been a very important promotional time for Well-Pict Berries,” says Crowley. “We receive a lot of emails and questions from moms looking for healthy alternatives for school lunches and after-school snacks. Not only do we collaborate with our retail partners to promote the many benefits of our berries, but we go the extra step to talk directly to the consumer by routinely posting ‘kid-friendly’ recipes on our website.”

For Hurst Berry Farm, the back-to-school season comes at the height of the Sheridan, Ore.-based grower’s harvest. Doug Perkins, Hurst Berry Farm sales manager, says that it is a perfect time for retailers to promote fresh berries for inclusion in lunches, after-school treats or even as an addition to breakfast cereal.

The grower has also recently introduced new labels that Perkins says are designed to be enticing to children and adults. “The clean, crisp look featuring beautiful fruit illustrations for all seven of our main products not only conveys our forward-thinking brand image, but also allows the consumer to more easily see the product inside,” he says.

According to Bert Boyd, sales and marketing associate for Sunlight International Sales, the  Delano, Calif.-based company is continually researching packaging and promotional ideas to entice children to eat healthier. Boyd says that the fall promotion of Sunlight’s Harvest Hobgoblin Grapes will include high-graphic promotional bags, shelf danglers and display bins.

“Kids like interesting characters and the Harvest Hobgoblin and Pretty Lady are certainly memorable,” says Boyd.

While back-to-school is a natural way to use attractive packaging, cross-promotion and recipes to entice children to eat more fruits and vegetables, many observers say that the industry still needs to be more proactive in reaching kids both in store and online. The Orlando-based Produce for Kids (PFK) will once again will feature its annual fall campaign “Eat Smart for a Great Start,” which executive director Heidi McIntyre says is all about kids and back-to-school education.

“The message [of the campaign] helps educate kids, parents and teachers about the benefits of eating a healthy diet loaded with fruits and vegetables,” says McIntyre.

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