Honing in on healthy snacks

With innovations in flavor, packaging and brand appeal, produce companies are winning over the snacking category.

Banana-Pudding-PopsIt seems almost weekly a new snack item targeting kids pops up. The accompanying commercials take over Saturday morning cartoons leading to kids begging mom to add these items to her grocery list. Lacking the nutrition that moms demand, many of these snack items vanish from store shelves just as quickly as they appear.

With health concerns sweeping across the nation, moms are more concerned than ever about feeding their young ones healthful snacks. “There has been a noticeable increase in consumer interest to become more educated about healthy snacking in recent months, particularly to make more of an effort to consume many of the healthy snack items that are generally shopped in produce,” says Joe Tamble, vice president of sales for Sun-Maid Growers of California, based in Kingsburg, Calif.

Stirring up excitement for a piece of fruit over a salty bag of chips is no easy task, of course. The only thing that could be considered as difficult is holding kids’ attention.

The produce aisle, however, is unyielding as fruit and veggie producers have set their sights high to win over kids with on-trend tastes and by tackling the “cool factor.” Products like raisins, carrot sticks and apples are continuously innovating their image—and in some cases, their flavor—to capture kids’ attention, especially as they head back to school.

Grimmway Farms, in an attempt to figure out how to build on its appeal to the lunchbox market, conducted an informal survey among third and fourth grade students. The goal was to find out their favorite ways to consume carrots. “The unanimous response was, ‘I like to dip my carrots in ranch dip,’” says Bob Borda, vice president of marketing. The Bakersfield, Calif.-based company listened to the kids and gave them what they wanted—improved Carrot Dippers with Ranch Dip.

It seems as if Grimmway hit the mark. A recent study conducted by the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University reported that offering a dip would encourage kids to eat fruits and vegetables they would normally avoid. The results shows 64% of kids willingly consume a vegetable when paired with a flavored dip, while only 31% will eat a fruit or vegetable by itself. Grimmway is not alone. Other companies offer similar style snack packs, such as Irwindale, Calif.-based Ready Pac Foods’ Ready Snax, which covers all the components by including a fruit or vegetable with a dip and a protein.

Snack packs, in general, tend to be a hit with school kids and an ideal entryway into the market. Natural Delights Medjool Dates has been exploring this route with its new line of snack packs. They are “perfect for first-time date consumers,” says David Anderson, marketing director for the Bard Valley, Calif.-based Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association. “Kids will reach for whatever handheld snack is available, so it makes sense to stock Medjool dates to increase the chance for healthy snacking.”

The snack packs come in five varieties and provide potassium, dietary fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and zinc. “Since they taste more like candy than a piece of fruit, caramel-like Natural Delights Medjool Dates are popular with kids,” Anderson adds.

Dried fruits are actually an ideal lunchbox snack, say observers. Packed with nutritional content, they taste like a sweet treat to kids, can hold up in a lunchbox for hours and are a natural boost of energy. If that is not enough of a reason, many dried fruits companies are experimenting with new flavors and concepts.

Take Sun-Maid raisins, for example. The classic snack has new concepts and varieties. The latest flavors added to its yogurt covered raisin product line-up include orange cream yogurt, strawberry Greek yogurt, dark chocolate yogurt and cherry chocolate yogurt, most of which are available in mini-packs.

Dates and raisins both contains magnesium, one of the most beneficial nutrients for active kids, according to Dr. Keith Kantor, a Norcross, Ga.-based nutritionist, author and the CEO of Green Box Foods. “Magnesium is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in Americans,” says Kantor. “Recent studies have shown it is directly related to the onset of ADD/ADHD. This deficiency is becoming more common with each generation due to environmental stressors and a diet rich in refined sugars and food additives.”

Another fruit that falls into the magnesium-rich category is the banana. The popular fruit is getting a fair share of the spotlight, including a summer road-trip across the country. Dole Fresh Fruit’s Summer Truck Tour is part of its Peel the Love initiative designed to highlight the fun side of bananas.

Dole’s philosophy is that eating fruits and vegetables can be fun for kids, says Bil Goldfield, director of communications for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Fruits. “Bananas are individually portioned, wrapped and do not require refrigeration, making them the perfect portable healthy snack. We know that kids want fruit- and vegetable-based snacks that are fun and taste great.”

Winning parents’ approval

Most moms consider the fruits and veggies aisle “safe shopping,” say observers. Meaning if it is featured in the produce department, it is a smart choice for their family. Still, there are hundreds of options and shoppers could use some guidance—this is where retailers come in.

“Consumers are increasingly focused on health living and the message has been for resonating for some time,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce, based in Coral Gables, Fla. “Living healthy is a lifestyle that has been taken more seriously in recent years. Retailers who support healthy eating initiatives are perceived to be responsive and in tune with what is important to their customers, thus building loyalty.

“Along with suppliers, retailers can provide information on the nutritional value of fresh produce, the provenance of the product as well as easy ways to prepare and use the product throughout the day. Education is key to fighting this serious epidemic,” he adds.

Observers agree with Christou; two is better than one. Many produce suppliers are teaming up with retailers to help educate the consumer. Brands like Del Monte, Grimmway Farms and Dole Fresh Fruits provide retailers with informational materials about the nutritional benefit of their products.

“We also work closely with our in-store retail dieticians to hold educational workshops with consumers on the benefits of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Grimmway’s Borda. “Through this cohesive effort, we promote the affordability of fresh produce with the consumer to overcome the long-standing stigma that fresh produce is too expensive. Education is key to overcoming the obesity epidemic in kids.”

Education along with secondary displays also helps sales. Research conducted by the Dole Nutrition Institute shows that a robust and properly merchandised banana display is most effective at stimulating banana sales when it is supported by a secondary display in the front of the store or at the check-out, which targets bananas as a grab-and-go snack item.

Even without secondary displays, many brands speak to parents through their packaging by clearly highlighting the nutritional value. Grimmway Farms highlights the natural health benefits of carrots on the front of the packaging, providing “complete transparency” to shoppers, says Borda.

However the biggest winners are the ones that design their packaging to appeal to both parents and kids, say observers. Take Oneonta Starr Ranch Grower’s and its apple and pear snaQ program. The Wenatchee, Wash.-based company created “cool” characters, exclusively for the brand to entice kids while emphasizing healthy eating can be fun.

SummerRollsFrom house to school

Eating healthy is not just about the kids. Most parents have hectic schedules, especially as “back-to-school” approaches. They need to get kids to and from school, extracurricular activities and social events, all while balancing their own work hours. Doing so can lead to parents losing sight of their lifestyle goals as well. “Today’s lifestyles are very busy and everyone is on the go, so a healthy snack is very important for the whole family,” says Jill Morrison, graphic designer for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.

Fresherized Foods, the maker of Wholly Guacamole, has made the entire family their focus this back-to-school season. Along with the launch of its new minis—a remake of the guacamole 100-calorie packs now packaged in a peel-and-dip format—the Saginaw, Texas-based company has declared themselves the “official sponsor of lunch,” says Tracey Altman, vice president of marketing and product development. Wholly’s OMGuac Lunch campaign launching this month is all about “two ways to do lunch with one ingredient”—guacamole minis.

Research shows that two things happen when back-to-school season hits, says Altman. “One, mom gets more structured in her grocery list, and two, she changes her own lunch. That makes this a big opportunity to get her to try new things,” she says.

The campaign will provide moms with complimentary recipe ideas for kids and her. “Using turkey as an ingredient, it might be a turkey and guacamole roll-up with a pretzel stick, and for mom a Cobb salad,” Altman adds.

Talking about salads, Ready Pac is growing is Bistro Bowl line, which is advertised as being “both adult- and kid-friendly.” Company officials say an organic-certified line extension includes four new recipes. “They are great for pantry loading,” says Tristan Simpson, senior director of marketing and corporate communications for Ready Pac. “The wide variety of flavors and convenient packaging—bowl and fork included—makes it a healthy and easy meal solution for busy families.”

Kids snacking habits are of particular interest to the company. “Snacking occasions are increasing across all age groups. For parents it is vital to find ways to incorporate healthy snacking habits that kids will learn to perpetuate on their own accord. Otherwise they risk contributing to the slippery slope that is the childhood obesity epidemic,” Simpson adds.

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