A lunchbox full of fruits & veggies

Produce companies’ kid-friendly snack packs and seasonal fruit promotions are making parents’ back-to-school shopping as easy as A-B-C.

One of the most exciting moments in a mother’s life is when her child repeats after her, “Mama.”

That is just the beginning. Soon after, the child will begin mimicking longer phrases, physical movements and even habits—particularly eating habits.

Experts say that eating habits learned at a young age, such as an afternoon snack of potato chips, will stay with children for years. With the pending return to school, kids will be left to their own devices during the day and under the influence of cafeteria trading rings and the temptation of hot, greasy meals. It is up to parents to not only pack nutritious meals and snacks in their kids’ lunchboxes, but instill healthy eating habits in kids at a young age.

“Kids are constantly mimicking the habits and action of their parents,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, based in Coral Gables, Fla. “When parents show that they like—and are excited about eating—different kinds of fruits and vegetables, kids will usually follow suit.”

Retailers and produce growers/packers are also feeling the responsibility. As the face of the produce industry, industry observers say retailers particularly are feeling a sense of moral obligation towards helping consumers make smart eating and snacking decisions. “Consumers are increasingly focused on healthy living and the message has been resonating for some time. Retailers who support healthy eating initiatives are perceived to be more responsive and in tune with what is important to their customers,” adds Christou.
The quick growth of pre-packaged nutritious fruit and vegetable snacks has made it easy for retailers. Cartoon-themed packaging and targeted marketing are taking the place of chips and sweets in the lunchbox—and at home.

Officials at Wholly Guacamole have witnessed this trend firsthand. Sales of its snack packs—currently available in Classic and Spicy with a new variety debuting in the coming months—have increased, making them the company’s No. 2 SKU. “Consumers understand that guacamole is not just a dip anymore and many are discovering the brand through our snack packs instead of the dips,” says Tracey Altman, vice president of marketing for Fresherized Foods, maker of Wholly Guacamole, based in Saginaw, Texas.

To increase its appeal to kids and families the brand is running a DVD promotional offer right before the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie is released in theaters this month. The timing puts the product in front of moms right at back-to-school, when kids and parents are readjusting their schedules. “It’s all about capitalizing on getting kids to eat healthy.

We even designed the box to look like the book series and Jeff Kinney, the author, was nice enough to do a special drawing of his two characters eating guacamole, just for us,” adds Altman. The company views the season as a double pronged opportunity in terms of promotion—putting snack packs in lunchboxes and incorporating the convenience of guacamole products into at-home meals.

Fresh fruit growers and distributors are targeting the back-to-school crowd in their own way. For example, impulse displays packed with colorful berries can often remind parents that healthy snacks can be as simple as a piece of fruit, sans fancy packaging.

Jim Grabowski, merchandise manager for Well-Pict Berries, based in Watsonville, Calif., recommends grabbing kids attention with rainbow-colored quick-grab displays advertising the “color of the day” to attract families. “Strawberries can be sliced onto sandwiches as an alternative to jelly or jams, and larger pack promotions are popular for the autumn soccer season and back-to-school events,” he adds.

Del Monte’s Gold Extra Sweet pineapple spears and smaller fresh cut items have become a popular lunch box addition, say company officials. The Dole Berry Co., based in Monterey, Calif., which operates as a subsidiary of the Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co., is focusing on berry snacks with its Brainberries, a ready-to-eat blueberry snack. Dole officials say the berries are pre-washed and packaged for an on-the-go snack that requires no preparation.

“I think it is important for parents to start associating kids with fruits and vegetables at an early age to develop healthier patterns from the start,” says Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit. “We need to position fruits and vegetables as a natural, desired and enjoyable part of the American diet. The worst thing is to make fruits and vegetables something that we eat solely because they are good for us, or only to be healthy or stay healthy.” 


Lacking the bright colorful displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fruit companies put forth an extra effort to get product into consumers’ carts—and into kids’ hands.

“The easiest, most effective way to sell more raisins and dried fruits is to get them out on display,” says Joe Tamble, vice president of sales for Sun-Maid Growers of California, based in Kingsburg, Calif. “Sun-Maid offers an eye-catching, theme-oriented display shipper with back-to-school graphics on the 6-pack raisin item. Retailers frequently cross-merchandise raisins with other kids’ lunch items, such as single-serve juices, trail mix/granola ingredients and other single-serve ingredients like crackers or chips. Other popular categories include oatmeal in the winter and salad dressings.”

Jen Driscoll, product manager for dried fruit at Sunsweet Growers, based in Yuba City, Calif., agrees: “Dried fruit is such a small category compared to fresh produce  but it performs really well during back-to-school with secondary displays. We can call out other products or uses to get consumers to visit different sections of the store,” she says.

Amazins—diced prunes, with more fiber and less sugar than other dried fruit—are positioned as a baking topper or accompaniment to cereal, yogurt, salads or dressings, while Ones—individually wrapped prunes—are “a great on-the-go snack for busy moms,” says Driscoll. “The great thing about prunes is that they are shelf-stable; you can display them right next to other snacks, such as chips, for moms to compare and make a healthy choice.”

Dried fruit does not have the same impulse drive as fresh products. Thus, reaching consumers outside the store—usually via circulars and online advertisements—is an effective of getting onto consumers’ shopping lists, say industry observers.

This year, specifically, Sun-Maid is hosting numerous promotions in honor of its 100th anniversary through Facebook, online advertising, QR codes and FSIs. The company has built its brand on the iconic image of the Sun-Maid Girl. “The Sun-Maid Girl even has her own Facebook page, a complement to the original Sun-Maid Growers Facebook page,” says Tamble, “and she will be seen involved in numerous activities during the back-to-school promotional period.

“The key trend in kids snacking that continues to build steam is to find an ideal balance between taste and nutrition, and Sun-Maid raisins provide the best of both worlds. Many retailers do an excellent job of encouraging healthy eating habits in kids and I expect this trend to continue to build momentum,” Tamble adds.


Popular cartoon characters from kid-oriented movies and TV shows featured on packaging and marketing materials captures more than just kids’ attention—there is parent appeal too. Collaborations with brands such as The Walt Disney Co. add a level of credibility that instills confidence in parents about their purchase decision, say industry observers.
Many produce companies have built up partnerships opening windows of opportunities for retailers. Here are some products retailers should have on their shelves.

  • Just in time for back to school, Ready Pac is the latest company to team up with Mickey and friends with two product lines. Cool Cuts Salads and Cool Cuts Mini-Meals—both available in four varieties—are designed for kids 6- to 12-years old. “Each product has a selection of great tasting foods that together meet the strict Disney nutrition guidelines,” says Tristan Simpson, director of marketing for Ready Pac, based in Irwindale, Calif. “In addition, a Disney character was matched to each mini-meal and salad based on the character’s personality and color palette; and inside kids will find a ‘fun factor,’ such as a sticker or temporary tattoo, that matches the Disney character.”
  • Dole recently concluded a co-branded partnership with DreamWorks Animation for the movie Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted. The nationwide campaign featured special movie-themed stickers on 100 million Dole bananas, a customized game and other elements that “took the banana nutrition message directly to moms and kids in a compelling and fun way,” says Bil Goldfield, communications manager for Dole Fresh Fruit, based in Westlake Village, Calif. The alliance with DreamWorks was part of Dole’s year-long Go Bananas Every Day initiative.
  • Disney and Crunch Pak are no strangers. The cartoon characters have made another appearance on the Cashmere, Wash.-based company’s recently launched line of flavored apple snacks, Flavorz. The goal of the Disney relationship is to increase consumption with kids, says Tony Freytag, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “The Flavorz Multi Packs will have Scratch & Sniff stickers providing an interactive element at the store level and making it more fun for kids to experience what the apple slices will taste like.”

Freytag is also excited at Disney’s announcement regarding a new set of guidelines for its broadcast companies. Building on its 2006 landmark guidelines, Disney will now require all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored or promoted on any of Disney’s broadcast outlets to meet its nutrition guidelines by 2015. The guidelines are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

“Food marketing is really important because it shapes the way kids expect to be fed,” says Freytag. “For years, nutrition experts have objected to the way kids are bombarded with ads for fast food, snacks, sugary cereals and other junk food on TV and websites. We are pleased that our partner will no longer run advertising for junk food.”

Additionally, Disney is introducing its Mickey Check Tool, an icon that calls out nutritious food and menu items sold in stores, online and at restaurants and food venues at its U.S. parks and resorts that will be seen on products by the end of 2012.

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