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Fruit and Veggie Snacks Pave Way to Healthier America

As consumers increasingly turn to fruit and vegetable snacking as part of a healthy lifestyle, grocers have an opportunity to boost sales with a variety of convenient products like sliced apples, easy-peel citrus, and mini tomatoes and peppers.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, for one, has begun offering free fresh fruit to kids while they shop with their parents, who may peruse the grocery store chain’s expanded selection of fruit and vegetable snacks.

“In response to the growing popularity of convenience-oriented produce offerings, we have introduced ‘healthy snacking’ displays within the produce departments in a majority of our supermarket locations,” notes Jannah Jablonowski, Giant Eagle spokeswoman. “These displays make it easier for customers to shop value-added and convenience items, and they have resonated well with Giant Eagle customers. Offerings in the healthy snacking section are often promoted in-store with shelf tags.”

Snacking Surge

“Snacking trends are incredibly important to the produce industry,” asserts Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, of Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific. “According to Nielsen, fruit and vegetable snacks are the second-largest snack category.”

Nielsen’s “Share of Snacking Product Dollars Across the Store” report found that fruit and vegetable snacks represent 24.9 percent of the category, just behind salty snacks, at 25.1 percent.

“All signs point to produce snacking continuing to grow as consumers continue to lead busy, on-the-go lives, but are also more health-conscious,” says Nuevo-Celeste.

“Snacking is a trend that is here to stay — for so many reasons,” affirms Joan Wickham, director of communications for Sunkist Growers, in Valencia, Calif.

“In today’s busy lifestyle, consumers are looking for convenience,” continues Wickham. “More and more, people are eating smaller meals and snacks throughout the day instead of the traditional three meal parts. At the same time, consumers are also looking for ways to eat cleaner and healthier foods — fresh produce fits the bill for this.”

Sunkist is working to educate consumers about citrus snacking in general, and lesser-known varieties specifically. “Cara Cara oranges, as an example, pack a nutritious punch with 20 percent more vitamin C and nearly 30 percent more vitamin A than regular oranges,” explains Wickham. “What’s more, they are deliciously sweet and a pretty pink color due to the natural presence of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.”

Millennial Moms' Snack Attack

Health-conscious Millennials are driving growth in produce-based snacking. “Millennials are really important to brands and retailers, as they are now the largest adult demographic, and also make up 90 percent of new moms,” notes Nuevo-Celeste.

Sun Pacific’s marketing campaign for Cuties this season targets Millennial moms and their kids. The campaign focuses on digital channels where these mothers and their children engage. The company has updated Cuties’ Lil’ Zipper character for animated TV spots, created a video content series, and enhanced packaging and in-store merchandising design. The launch of a Cuties Snapchat lens, which featured Lil’ Zipper, saw nearly 70 million brand exposures in just 24 hours, more than four times Snapchat’s benchmark.

Encouraging kids and their families to try new fruits is another focus for Sun Pacific, which recently introduced Mighties Kiwi. The brand features a kid-friendly character, along with simple instructions on how to cut, scoop and eat a kiwi. Select packages offer the added convenience of a spife (spoon/knife combo).

Young Bucks

With industry branding efforts such as the “Sesame Street” eat brighter! campaign forged by Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association in 2013, and the cause marketing campaigns of organizations like Orlando, Fla.-based Produce for Kids, which has helped families and children eat healthfully and give back since 2002, youngsters are an increasingly important focus of the produce industry.

They also represent a tremendous market for growth in produce and produce-based snacks.

“Kids wield over $1.5 trillion dollars in purchasing influence over their parents and approximately 40 percent of all U.S. households have kids,” notes Sarah Cottrill, VP of sales and marketing for Richland Center, Wis.-based apple grower and processor Richland Hills Farms.

“When you break that down even further, research shows us that parents of kids actually eat healthier and make healthier snacking decisions to help their kids develop healthy habits early in life,” she adds.

This past fall, Richland Hills, which had been primarily a foodservice supplier, rolled out branded packaging for its apple slices in Wisconsin and other Midwest states. “We grow our apples here, and it allows us to take advantage of less food miles and creating a direct connection with our consumers,” explains Cottrill.

Richland Hills offers seasonal favorites like Honeycrisp apple slices, and plans to add sliced pears and grapes to its product mix in the coming years. The company is currently working on planting commercial volumes of both fruits so it can continue to offer a local product.

“The produce industry has a huge role to play in snacking trends when it comes to kids,” asserts Nuevo-Celeste, of Sun Pacific, which is partnering with McDonald’s for the third year to offer Cuties in Happy Meals and as an à la carte option.

“It’s really important that the produce industry look at how to make fruits and veggies even more appealing to kids — especially as snacks, since kids tend to need and want to eat between meals,” she says. “It’s important for the success of our business, but it’s also the right thing to do to help ensure the health of future generations.”

Packaging that attracts the attention of kids and their parents is critical to success in the produce-based snack category. Sunkist offers kid-friendly fruit in fun, colorful packaging through its Lil Snappers product line, a partnership with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt.

“We offer the varieties that kids love — sweet seedless mandarins, tangy Minneola tangelos, vibrantly sweet Cara Caras, and classic Navel and Valencia oranges as part of this brand,”notes Wickham. Sunkist and Stemilt also offer a pink bag that combines Pink Lady apples and Cara Cara oranges.

Crunchy Cravings

Produce-based snack suppliers are now competing with salty snacks and sweet treats for a share of snack time in America. Nick Desai, of fruit and vegetable-focused Snack it Forward and World Peas, notes that while consumers say they want to eat healthier, “Lays and Doritos are growing at 5 percent a year.”

Los Angeles-based Snack it Forward, which has licensed the Sunkist mark for its trail mixes since 2013, is enticing consumers to get more produce in their diets with better-for-you snacks that offer the experience and crunch of traditional chips. The company recently introduced Sunkist True Fruit Clusters in four varieties. The Clusters, which start shipping this month, represent “a new take on the whole freeze-dried world,” says Desai.

“They have a different texture and offer a different eating experience than traditional freeze dried profile snacks,” he notes. “They’re bite-size and crunchy, not chewy and gummy.” Each bag contains five fruit servings, with no additives.

In the pulse- and bean-based snacking realm, World Peas will introduce Cheddar Fava Crisps and Chipotle Fava Crisps next month. “We’re using a larger, higher-quality fava bean that tastes more like a potato,” Desai says.

According to Desai, inconsistent product placement represents one of the biggest challenges to sales of produce-based snacks. “Depending on the store, consumers might find these products in four different places,” he observes.

What’s more, if these snacks are merchandised alongside traditional snacks in center store, they can’t begin to compete on price per pound, Desai adds.

“Consumers want natural, clean ingredients, but there’s a cost to that,” he admits. “The merchandising locations for these snacks are important to let customers know that they can always come to the same place to find this class of snack.”

Desai points to Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer Walmart, which has had success creating a section featuring the Sunkist/Snack it Forward line in the produce department.

Fyffes North America Inc. is also seeking a share of the crunchy produce-based snack market. “The [produce-based snacking] trend is certainly in its early-to-mid stages and has room for growth and continuation,” says Carolina Coulson, product manager—snacks—tropical division for Fyffes, in Coral Gables, Fla.

This year, Fyffes designed and launched a variety pack composed of its top-three-selling flavors of Fyffes Plantain Chips. The pack offers six individual 1-ounce bags.

“Our plantain chips are healthy snacks that are GMO-, gluten- and cholesterol- free, with no additives, preservatives or trans fats,” notes Coulson. “Our chips should be strategically placed to optimize sales, and the best place is out of the chip aisle and near other healthy items like fresh-pressed juices, produce or other healthy snacking options.”

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