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Best Friends Forever


With nearly one in three children in America either overweight or obese, the need to turn kids and their families on to a more active lifestyle that’s rich in fresh fruits and vegetables remains profound.

For the past several years, the produce business, from growers to retailers to industry organizations, has worked to end the obesity epidemic with a collective surge of creativity it hopes will mean a healthier future for the nation.

Campaigns like “Eat Brighter!” from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Sesame Workshop and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), along with a slew of new products, are making fruits and vegetables more fun and kid-friendly than ever. Programs that encourage children to grab more fruits and veggies on the go are also making their mark at supermarkets around the country.

“I believe, as an industry, we feel a sense of duty in regards to fighting childhood obesity,” says Cathy Burns, president of Newark, Del.-based PMA, who is “thrilled” that Sesame Workshop and PHA have extended the Eat Brighter program partnership through 2018, and into Mexico, meaning that produce marketers who sell product in that country can now use images of the program’s “Sesame Street” characters in their marketing strategies.

Today, Eat Brighter boasts 110 participants, 39 of which are suppliers. PMA’s research team, which has been collecting sales data from suppliers, retailers and promotional boards since the beginning of the year, initially reported that participants, on average, were seeing a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in sales over last year. More recent data find participants reporting a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in sales.

“It’s consumer recognition of the Eat Brighter movement like this that can really drive positive responses to the program,” asserts Burns of the campaign, which first launched in March 2013.

While the Eat Brighter initiative appeals to the nation’s youngest consumers and their families, PMA is also a founding supporter of another PHA-led program called FNV (Fruits and Vegetables), which uses aggressive advertising and catchy marketing to promote fruit and vegetable consumption to teens and their families. On a related note, the FNV launch video produced by comedy television and Internet network Funny or Die, starring First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird and comedian Billy Eichner, has been nominated for an Emmy.’

‘Sparking Evolution’

Two years into Eat Brighter and six months into FNV, Burns admits that these marketing campaigns aren’t about overnight successes, but rather aim to spark a dietary evolution.

“As far as progress is concerned, this is a journey we’ll be embarking on for a long time to come. But that doesn’t mean that many of the tools and tactics we’re taking now — including using smart marketing to engage children at a young age and make them lifelong consumers — isn’t working,” asserts Burns.

“In fact, we’re confident that it will aid consumption statistics, but it’s just one tool,” she continues. “Through a combined effort, a tenacious dedication and doing what we do best — producing healthy, delicious product — we’re in a great position to help make change.”

Going Long

Chelan Fresh Marketing, a Chelan, Wash.-based marketer of fresh cherries, apples and pears, is one of the 39 suppliers participating in the Eat Brighter program. This summer marks Chelan’s first selling Eat Brighter cherries. The company will expand the program to include 3-pound bags of apples and pears featuring “Sesame Street” characters this fall.

To capture the attention of older kids, Chelan is participating in Fuel Up to Play 60, a program founded by the National Dairy Council and the NFL, in collaboration with the USDA, which encourages students to choose good-for-you foods and be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Participating students can win such prizes as an NFL player visit or Super Bowl tickets.

Additionally, in coordination with the 50th Super Bowl, Chelan will offer this January and February 3- and 5-pound bags of apples and pears that feature the Fuel Up campaign.

“Kids see the program in school, and our hope is that when they see the apples in the store, they tug on Mom’s arm and say, ‘That’s one of the fuel foods I’m supposed to eat,’” says Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan.

“Our marketing program is about influencing the tastes of emerging consumers,” adds Riggan. “Our hope is they’ll be so used to eating fruits and vegetables that when they have their own money, they’ll buy an apple or a cup of cherries instead of a bag of chips.”

Back to School with Produce

Dedicated to educating families on the benefits of healthy eating, providing simple meal solutions and raising money for children’s nonprofit organizations, Orlando, Fla.-based Produce for Kids (PFK) recently wrapped its 13th Annual Healthy Eating Campaign. Since 2002, the campaign has raised $5 million for children’s charities.

This year, PFK teamed with 35 produce companies and seven retailers nationwide to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by offering in-store and online meal solutions, recipes and tips for families looking to embrace healthier eating habits.

In addition to the in-store POS, online marketing and social media support, PFK conducted 258 demo events at participating supermarkets, where shoppers could sample healthy, kid-friendly recipes featuring products from the campaign’s sponsors.

“Obviously, demos increase sales,” says PFK VP Trish James. “They are a big tool to give retailers a sales bump in the fruits and vegetables they are promoting.”

Power Lunch

With back-to-school solutions top of mind for many parents this time of year, PFK is launching a trio of programs designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption this fall.

“We have a very busy fall planned and will be executing three programs to get families ready for back to school: Our digital Power Your Lunchbox Pledge program, our fall flagship campaign at Publix and Meijer, and our Produce for Kids’ Club at Tops Markets,” notes James.

The Power Your Lunchbox program invites families to make a pledge to pack healthier lunches at, a site that offers recipes, coupons and healthy lunch tips. For every pledge, PFK donates $1 to Feeding America. The program runs Aug. 3 through mid-September.

“Our digital program, Power Your Lunchbox Pledge, allows us and our sponsors to talk directly to families during one of the busiest times of the year, offering them advice and ideas to fill lunchboxes with produce,” asserts James.

PFK’s fall flagship campaign, which launched earlier this month and runs until October, features “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” the beloved children’s book by Eric Carle. In-store demos, kid-friendly recipes and guest appearances by the very hungry caterpillar of the story are all part of the campaign. “It’s a great way to engage the consumer in the produce department,” observes James.

Finally, the philanthropic organization will extend its Produce for Kids’ Club program, which launched earlier this year at Quincy, Ill.-based Niemann Foods’ County Market banner. The transaction-based loyalty program encourages consumers to purchase participating produce items, offering registered users a kids’ card good for a free piece of fruit each month. This fall, the program will also be available at Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC.

Supermarket Solutions

What can supermarkets do to increase produce sales during the back-to-school occasion?

“You need to think about solutions for customers where they are today,” advises James. “What are they struggling with? Build a merchandising strategy around that.” She points to a merchandising display case like the one created by PFK for a recent trade show, which featured all of the components for a delicious, produce-rich and nutritious meal.

When it comes to healthier snacking, Crispy Green, the Fairfield, N.J.-based maker of Crispy Fruit all-natural freeze-dried fruit snacks, has introduced a pack of six 0.36-ounce Crispy Fruit bags in seven varieties: Apples, Mangoes, Asian Pears, Bananas, Cantaloupes, Pineapples and Tangerine.

Although Crispy Fruit is 100 percent pure, freeze-dried fruit with no added sugar, “kids feel like they’re munching on a chip,” says company spokeswoman Cherie Boldt.

Crispy Green, a PFK sponsor, is also Kid Kritics Approved. The Kid Kritics seal indicates better food choices that taste good. To gain approval, a product is blind taste-tested by a panel of kids, whose responses must be 70 percent positive.

“We like to position our product as the perfect complement to fresh fruit,” notes Boldt. “Fresh fruit isn’t always the most convenient snack for soccer practice or the backseat of the car. With Crispy Fruit, it’s all fruit, non-GMO certified, kosher and easy to eat on the go.”

Last month, Pero Family Farms, another PFK sponsor, expanded its retail fresh grab-and-go snack category items with 2.25-ounce Mini Sweet Pepper Snack Rings with Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip and 2.25-ounce Green Bean Snack Snips with Greek Yogurt Ranch Dip. Both items contain 45 calories or fewer.

Recognizing that families need kid-friendly solutions for nutritious and flavorful main courses and side dishes, Delray, Fla.-based Pero is expanding its lineup with an Italian Green Bean Seasoning product this month.

“The idea of the seasoning was driven by Pero Family Farms’ desire to help families, Millennial shoppers and children alike find an easier way to enhance the flavor and save time while preparing fresh green beans,” explains Nick Bergstrom, chief sales officer.

To that end, Pero joined forces with Malibu, Calif.-based seasoning company Amazing Taste to offer consumers of all ages a quick, easy, low-sodium and healthful way to enjoy fresh green beans without added fat.

“With our co-branded packaging, consumers will be able to connect and have transparency with both brands in a new and exciting way within the produce department,” asserts Bergstrom.

Catering to Kids in the Kitchen

Colorful packaging, fresh flavors, and even the shape of value-added fruits and veggies can entice kids to try something new.

Mann Packing, of Salinas, Calif., has introduced Mann’s Culinary Cuts, a line of fresh-cut vegetables in distinctive shapes, including Sweet Potato Ribbons and Butternut Squash Zigzags. The vegetables are washed and ready to cook. They’re also versatile, lending nutrition and fun to salads, stir-fries, soups and casseroles.

“I’m a mom, and I know it can be a battle to get kids to eat their vegetables,” acknowledges company CEO Lorri Koster. “We made Culinary Cuts for parents who want to make healthy eating fun, but also for the everyday home cook who’s looking for some creativity to spark tonight’s dinner.”

Each package contains four to five 1-cup servings and can be prepared in four minutes or less in the microwave, or sautéed or steamed on the stovetop. Detailed cooking instructions are included on each package, as well as recipes and usage ideas.

‘Spear’ Change

Meanwhile, Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., in Coral Gables, Fla., aims to make munching on fresh pineapple and watermelon easier than ever with its Del Monte Fresh Cut Spear Multipacks, available in two varieties: the Del Monte Gold Fresh Pineapple Spear Multipack, which includes five individually wrapped 2.7-ounce extra-sweet pineapple spears, and the Del Monte Fresh Watermelon Spear Multipack, featuring five individually wrapped 2.7-ounce firm-flesh watermelon spears.

The spears come in an easy-open bag for on-the-go consumers, and are 100 percent fresh, with no additives or preservatives.

“We also have an extensive fresh-cut line that includes snack-sized fruit-and-vegetable combinations,” notes Dionysios Christou, VP marketing at Del Monte Fresh. Additional lunchbox-friendly items from the company include yogurt parfait cups with fresh fruit at the bottom, as well as 2-ounce Del Monte Fresh Guac.

Beyond developing fresh and fun fruit and veggie products, Del Monte Fresh reaches kids through its involvement in programs and organizations that promote produce consumption among children, including the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the United Fresh Produce Association’s Salad Bar in Every School campaign.

“Introducing fresh fruits and vegetables to children at an early age is critical in developing long-term healthy eating habits,” asserts Christou. “There are many ways to make eating fruits and vegetables fun for kids, for example, involving them in kid-friendly recipes. It is also important to offer kids a variety of great-tasting options, as it is a useful strategy in expanding fruit and vegetable intake.”

“I believe, as an industry, we feel a sense of duty in regards to fighting childhood obesity.”
—Cathy Burns, Produce Marketing Association

“Our marketing program is about influencing the tastes of emerging consumers.”
—Mac Riggan, Chelan Fresh Marketing

“Our digital program, Power Your Lunchbox Pledge, allows us and our sponsors to talk directly to families during one of the busiest times of the year, offering them advice and ideas to fill lunchboxes with produce.”
—Trish James, Produce for Kids

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