By offering the latest kid-focused products, along with exciting promotions and events, retailers can turn the produce department into a tool in the battle against childhood obesity.
By Elizabeth Louise Hatt
The issue of childhood obesity was thrust into the national spotlight last year when First Lady Michelle Obama launched “Let’s Move,” an initiative to tackle the epidemic. The First Lady’s ambitious goal is for today’s children to reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
The produce department is a logical place for parents to seek out better-for-you options for their children. “Parents want to build good healthy habits in their kids when they are young,” says Phil Gruszka, vice president of marketing at Bakersfield Calif.-based Grimmway Farms. “They realize that if their children make healthy decisions when they are young, there is a good chance that they will continue to make those good decisions when they get older.”
Studies back up the assertion that adopting good eating habits early is crucial to life-long health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. One study noted on the CDC’s website states that 80% of children who were overweight at ages 10 to15 were obese at 25 years old, and another found that if kids are overweight before eight years old, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.
Retailers are in a unique position to help tackle harmful eating habits by stocking and promoting healthy snacks. Manufacturers have done a lot of the legwork by researching kids’ favorite choices and adding touches to appeal to kids, such as incorporating the hottest cartoon characters into the packaging.
Officials at Produce for Kids (PFK), an organization that educates shoppers about healthy eating through in-store promotional campaigns that raise money for organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network, say the results of a 2008 survey they conducted found that kids prefer fruits to vegetables. “We surveyed moms both in-store and online and found that fruits were more popular than vegetables, with bananas, apples, grapes, strawberries and other berries and citrus at the top of the list,” says Kim Lathbury, marketing director for the Reidsville, Ga.-based organization. “Vegetables were more popular when there was a dipping component, such as ranch dressing or peanut butter. The top veggies were baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, lettuce and salad, corn and potatoes—but we think that’s just because kids love french fries.”
Kids pick fruit
Officials at Well-Pict Berries, based in Watsonville, Calif., often hear from customers whose kids prefer strawberries and raspberries to cookies for dessert, says Dan Crowley, sales manager. “Major independent studies show that strawberries rank as the No. 1 favorite fruit of children between the ages of 6 and 17. They are not only perfect for school lunches but also a great choice for breakfasts on the go or over cereal.”
One commonality between these fruits and vegetables is that they are easily held. Industry experts agree that children’s favorite healthy snacks are ones small enough to hold and finish in one sitting. Even apples are more popular in smaller sizes, says Jim Allen, the New York Apple Association (NYAA) president. The Fishers, N.Y.-based commodity board advises its retailers to give out apples to kids during their promotions. “Some innovative retailers offer small apples in a special bag, calling them ‘Kids’ Treats’ or ‘Apple Teasers,’” says Allen. “They cater to the smaller hand and smaller mouth. Instead of great big apples, give them something that they can pick up, eat and finish so it doesn’t go to waste.”
When officials at Crunch Pak decided to focus a portion of their marketing efforts on capturing children’s attention, they turned to Disney. This January, the Cashmere, Wash.-based company introduced a family pack/clamshell containing five 2.2-ounce bags of sweet apples featuring characters from the popular kids show Phineas and Ferb. “We made the commitment over the last two to three years to focus part of our product line on kids and we are the first produce company to feature Phineas and Ferb,” says Tony Freytag, director of sales and marketing. “Today, over 50% of our packages are less than six ounces—ideal for snacking—and we produce in excess of 2 million packages each week.”
The company also keeps things fresh by varying the packaging. “For example, the clamshells hold five bags of fruit and those can have any one of four designs on them,” he says. “Varying the labels adds excitement to the shelf which in turn creates interest for the shopper and fun for the kids.” Disney also shows up in the company’s Foodles selection, a line of snack packs in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head with apples, grapes, cheese, pretzels and peanut butter.
Observers find that creating a kid’s section in the produce department helps build sales. “Consumers are presented with a plethora of healthy choices not only for their kids but also themselves and their families,” says Grimmway Farms’ Gruszka.
This also provides a set-up for food tastings and cooking demos. Children are more likely to eat something if they can see, taste and touch it themselves, says PFK’s Lathbury. As part of the Produce for Kids campaign, retailers are provided with Ideal Meal display units that hold 12 meal cards—three breakfast, three lunch, three dinner and three snacks—with meal ideas approved by a dietician. “Some retailers we work with hold in-store events as part of our program and demonstrate the Ideal Meals to show moms how easy they are to cook. They are all under 30 minutes of prep time and kid-friendly.”
The NYAA works with retailers to bring children-friendly programs to their stores, including one local supermarket that hosts Good Food Store Tours. “They bring in about eight to 12 thousand elementary school kids a year. The kids get to visit the store with their class and we provide them with free apples and a game,” says Allen. “We also have a major retailer who used to have a cookie club and kids who came into the store got a free cookie. Now they incorporate fresh fruit into it and kids get a free apple or grapes.”
Since kids aren’t always at the supermarket with mom, retailers should complement their in-store displays with advertisements and promotions that reach them in their environment such as kids TV shows and websites. Connecting to kids and parents through social media, such as posting product information on Facebook and Twitter and creating YouTube videos, has quickly become popular among manufacturers, commodity boards and retailers alike, say observers.
Last year, Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express ran a two-month Farmville promotion on its Green Giant Fresh products giving away millions of virtual Farm Cash to play Zynga’s online game. “The promotions rewarded our customers in a whole new way, increasing foot traffic and sales in participating stores and encouraging kids and parents to buy fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Jamie Strachan, Growers Express president and CEO. The company is also expanding General Mills’ well-known Box Tops for Education program to the produce department by including Box Top coupons on fresh fruits and vegetables exclusively under the Green Giant Fresh brand. The program is the number one cause marketing program with moms, says Strachan. “Our retail customers are already familiar with Box Tops and are excited about our upcoming back-to-school promotions,” she adds.
Officials at PFK recognize the important of reaching moms. “We have an educated realm of moms out there who are very online savvy. Between social media sites and blogging, they are in the know,” says Lathbury. “They trust information coming from retailers that is substantiated by nutritionists and dieticians, as well as from other moms.”
Well-Pict Berries also posts kid-friendly recipes such as Peanut Butter Wraps and Berry Popsicles on its website open the door for in-store cross-promotions.