An after school’s [out] snack

As manufacturers continue to grow their small-size produce offerings, it is up to retailers to make the connection with parents and kids in store.

Most parents will agree getting kids to eat fruits and vegetables is no easy task. With a plethora of less-healthy options flooding supermarket shelves, nutritious snacks are pitted against some stiff competition.

Involving kids in the food selection process  can be a successful technique used to encourage them in make healthier snack choices, according to a survey by the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH). Produce manufacturers are making this easier for parents by offering lines of kid-centric produce snacks.

Smaller-sized bags and dippers, featuring bright colors and popular cartoon characters, meet both the “cool” factor for children and have the nutritional value parents want—not to mention a higher ring than less healthy food, making it a win for retailers.

“Offering a product with popular cartoon characters on it plays a huge role in capturing kids attention,” says Estela Schnelle, a healthy-eating blogger and registered dietician for Orlando, Fla.-based Produce for Kids (PFK). “If there is something with a princess on it, my daughter will want it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bag of carrots or snap peas.”

Naturipe Farms and Ready Pac Foods are two of the latest companies to welcome Mickey and friends to their snack packs. Naturipe added well-known Disney characters to its three-pack of pre-portioned single-serve Berry Quick Fresh Blueberry Snacks, while Ready Pac will be launching a line of products for back-to-school with select Disney characters on them.

It is all about creating awareness and connecting with the consumer says David Adams, director of business development for ready to eat and foodservice at Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms. “We want to build on the relationship we have with moms. Our product is on the healthy side, it’s a fruit, it offers antioxidants, it tastes good—there were a lot of strong points that connect with Disney.”

Not just any company can spotlight Mickey on its packaging. Adams explains that the products featuring the cartoons are thoroughly vetted to make sure they offer nutritional value and have kid-friendly packaging that is easy-to-open and even recyclable.

Crunch Pak is another brand that has aligned itself with Disney’s most popular. Adding to their Disney offering, which includes the Foodles line packaged in the shape of Mickey and its apples, the Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak debuted a line of flavored apples at the United Fresh show in May. The apples come in three flavors, Peach Mango, Grape or Strawberry Cream, with images of Mickey and Friends, Phineas & Ferb or the princesses.

“The whole goal of our relationship with Disney is to increase consumption with kids and get kids to like them. We knew that flavored apples had been tried in the past but never took off, so we did focus groups and taste tests with kids,” says Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The results of the taste tests surprised the team and highlighted the differences between the palette of children and adults. To support the findings, Crunch Pak made videos of the children’s feedback to use a sales tool and support at retail.

“Kids opinions are a great selling/demo tool, but we can’t bring 30 kids with us to a sales presentation,” says Freytag. It seems to have worked as he says the company already received some early commitments.

Disney is not always the right answer. The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB) has seen the benefit of adding its own cartoon, J. Slice, who is always doing something active, such as playing soccer, in order to emphasize watermelon’s role as a snack for active kids.

“Parents are always bringing snacks to their kids’ sporting events. A couple of clamshells with cubed watermelon is the perfect thing; its healthy and hydrating,” says Gordon Hunt, the Orlando, Fla.-based NWPB’s director of marketing and communications. “Produce buyers can buy it already cut but the smart retailers will cut it up themselves—there is an enormous amount of profit. Every time you run a knife through a watermelon you are sort of doubling the value of it.” The NWPB provides retailers with J. Slice stickers to put on their in-store clamshells.

Grimmway Farms has also capitalized on its own cartoon characters with its 6.2-ounce Bunny-Luv Carrots. Targeted at kids with a busy lifestyle, the resealable bag contains six individual 2-ounce bags of baby carrots with animated baby carrot images. “There is a carrot listening to music, one holding a baseball, another with a soccer ball,” says Bob Borda, vice president of marketing for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms. “We’ve had very good response. Consumers love the convenience and many have commented on the graphics and the energy around the characters on the bag.”

When armed with the right produce mix, retailers are in a unique position to create awareness at the point-of-sale. Elizabeth Pivonka Ph.D., R.D., president and CEO of PBH, says that moms find point-of-sale information to be one of the most influential forms of advertising—and retailers are not doing enough. “Fifteen years ago we saw a lot of kids clubs and programs. Some of this has gone by the wayside and it is too bad, especially when so much education can occur at the store level,” she says.

Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., based in Selah, Wash., agrees. “I think it’s everyone responsibility [to encourage kids eating habits]. As consumers and retailers move online with club and frequent purchase programs, there is more space and less cost to communicate health benefits,” she says. “More retailers are bringing in dieticians to join their stores and marketing departments. They are a huge benefit to the retailer in getting the message out.” 

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