A healthy resolve
By Molly Zimnoch
Each New Year consumers focus on healthy eating. Retailers would be wise to capitalize on this trend by recommitting to the produce department. The holiday binge has come and gone. Consumers have traded in their wish lists for lists of things they would like to change in the new year. Some choose to abandon bad habits or pursue a goal, but more often than not, consumers are looking to improve their health after weeks of seasonal indulgence. Regardless of how long consumers’ maintain their resolutions, the renewed focus on healthy eating is a valuable opportunity that retailers cannot afford to miss. The last several years have brought about a major shift in how people eat. The prevalence of disease and obesity has spawned awareness among consumers and inspired them to reevaluate their diet as well as examine the best ways to improve upon it. “People are getting a handle on weight gain in this country,” says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group and author of the global information company’s Eating Patterns in America report. “We may not be losing weight, but we’ve stopped gaining weight. You get a sense that the obesity trend has stabilized.” The NPD Group’s eating trends research show that more than 30% of adults are obese, but that number has stabilized in the last few years. Much of that can be attributed to smaller meals and healthier snacking in between meals, say industry observers. According to the Hartman Group, consumers eat 2.3 snacks per day on average, with more than half (57%) saying that is very important or important for their snacks to be healthy. “One of the main things we can do to help consumers stick to a healthier lifestyle is to position fruits and vegetables as the ultimate between-meal snacking solution,” says Bil Goldfield, director of communications for Dole Fresh Fruit, based in Westlake Village, Calif. A different NPD Group report, Snacking in America, found that not only is fresh fruit the top snack food consumed in the U.S., but also one of the fastest growing. According to the report, fruit holds the top snack position because it is eaten throughout the day, resulting in more snack occasions than other snack foods. The report also found that fresh fruit was consumed as a snack in 10 more snack occasions a year than chocolate, the next top snack food, and 25 more occasions a year than potato chips, the third most popular snack food. NPD’s research found that consumption of snack-oriented foods is motivated by different needs, including health and weight, hunger satiety, on-the-go/convenience, routine/habit, cravings and a treat/reward. Fruit ranked number one in five of the six categories. “Fruit is the number one snack and dessert in the U.S. and now makes up 6% of end dishes we consume,” says Harry Balzer. “The movement toward more fruit over the last decade is a movement toward the need for natural. Fruit is generally not processed and requires less preparation than many other foods.” Growers are keenly aware of the trend toward fruit and are developing marketing to support it. Last year, Rainier Fruit Co., based in Selah, Wash., created point-of-sale material for its apples around the slogan, “Perfect by nature. Portable by design.” Company officials say its purpose is to communicate to consumers that apples are high in fiber, making them very filling while promoting weight loss, as well as portable and portion controlled. The slogan can be seen on Rainier’s poly bags, mesh headers, display cartons and more. “Apples fit very well into consumers New Year’s resolutions and are a good item for retailers to incorporate into their January promotions,” says Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier. “A lot of times consumers are looking for menu items, and its simple for retailers to focus on ease of preparation and incorporation into one’s diet.” While health concerns play a role in consumers’ diets, the cost of food and the need for convenient preparation are also major drivers in food selections, say observers. Dole plans to enter the New Year with a reenergized partnership with the frozen dessert maker Yonanas. Goldfield says Dole Bananas fit well into retailers and consumers push for healthier eating in the New Year. “They are the perfect on-the-go snack as each is individually portioned and wrapped, and doesn’t require refrigeration,” he says. He adds that Dole research indicates 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 checkout. “This second display can specifically target bananas as a grab-and-go snack option,” he says. Another way retailers are connecting with shoppers is through registered dieticians. Chelan Fresh Marketing created its Registered Dietitian’s Toolkit to promote its products within that relationship. “The Toolkit is full of great content that helps relate the relevancy of our products (apples, cherries and pears) to consumers and how that consumer can utilize our products to better their health, lose weight and improve overall health and wellness,” says Mac Riggan, director of marketing for the Chelan, Wash.-based company. Shifting the focus Beginning January 1, consumers are not just concerned with how much they are eating, but what they are eating and just how beneficial it is to them. Nutrition is front-of-mind with consumers more than ever before, and growers, shippers and retailers place extra emphasis on the topic as consumers strive to eat better in the New Year. “We make every attempt to work with retailers to give them the in-store marketing and merchandising tools they need to focus on healthy snacking and eating,” says Goldfield. “I think this is especially important during the winter months when there is traditionally less of a focus on nutrition, health and wellness, especially after consumers settle into their post-holiday routine.” Focusing on why consumers should choose certain products to maintain their diet, in addition to how they can do so financially, is crucial, observers say. The U.S. Potato Board recognizes January as an opportunity to emphasize the nutritional benefits of potatoes. “We talk about it all year but the fact that potatoes are the highest, low-cost source of potassium, a good source of vitamin C and low in calories all plays well into this time of year and consumers’ renewed focus on nutrition,” says Bill Ladhoff, retail programs consultant for the Denver, Colo.-based organization. “The message on all our print and digital advertising shifts to that after the holidays.” Throughout December, the Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. offers coupons as an incentive to eat fresh fruits and vegetables during the holiday season—and beyond. “We utilize our social media outlets to encourage healthy eating during a time that truly focuses on hearty meals,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president marketing for the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company. The coupons are designed to provide consumers with an immediate incentive to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. “The future will not be about pushing more calories. It will about offering and promoting a wellness initiative,” says Riggan. Dipping into indulgence Sanders Candy’s new Orchard Collection targets consumers looking to make healthier choices even when snacking on sweets. When compared to leading market place brands its Fruit & Snack Dips, which are part of the new collection, offer better ingredients and healthier inclusions, company officials say. “There is a large segment of consumers making heath conscious decisions and even if they can make a healthier option when it comes to their indulgence, they’re going to choose something that has better ingredients. That’s what this product is bringing to the marketplace,” says Tiffany Van Hemm, account executive for the Clinton, Mich.-based company. Available in three flavors: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Classic Caramel, the dips come in a variety of microwave-safe containers. Sander’s will offer a 15-ounce family-size tub, ideal for fruit platters and entertaining, as well as 2-ounce single-serve cups which will be sold in six-count carry cases and 36-count club packs. The 2-ounce cups will also be available individually and can be merchandised along salad bars and the front end for a grab-and-go option. Shelf advertising, promotions and sampling programs will be at the core of Sander’s launch strategy for this product. The company plans to promote the 2-ounce cups as a portion-controlled treat for consumer’s striving to stick to their New Years Resolutions. “Consider it a healthier option for your indulgence,” says Brian Jefferson, chairman and CEO of Morley’s, parent company of Sanders.