SEATTLE — Children are pushing produce sales at PCC Natural Markets here, through a Free Fruit for Kids program.
Every child who visits one of the chain's eight stores can choose a free single serving of fruit or a vegetable. Fruit is the most popular, especially berries, but about 20% of the time the children choose vegetables, especially carrots, avocados and tomatoes.
“This program gets kids to try something new,” said PCC spokeswoman Diana Crane. “And it makes kids want to come to PCC for the freebies, because it makes them feel like a shopper.”
It also lets children try new and interesting produce that their parents wouldn't buy otherwise, said Nathan Koepp, produce coordinator in PCC's Kirkland, Wash., location.
And through another program, Kid Picks, the youngsters can vote on fruit and vegetables, stating (with a grumpy or a happy face stamp) whether they like them or not.
Any items that receive a positive response through Kid Picks, from two-thirds or more of the kid voters, get a special prominent orange Kid Picks sticker in the store to help parents search for something new for their own boys and girls.
This program expands to other items in the store, too, but at least one produce item is typically included in the lineup, as well as deli salads, which include the stores' produce.
So far, around 1,600 products have earned a thumbs-up from the diminutive judges since the program began — 58.2% of all those tried. At least 30 kids (school-age children up to age 12) vote on any given product.
Items that are selected are highlighted on PCC's website on a monthly basis, with a link to show a full list of products that kids have voted for in the past. February picks ranged from R.W. Knudsen's organic orange-carrot juice to organic bake-dried Fuji apple chips.
“The foods kids like are surprising to us all the time,” said Sara Walsh, PCC's community relations manager. One unexpected favorite, for example, was anchovies stuffed with capers, she said. Conversely, the children often don't like foods specifically geared toward them.
In the produce department, Kid Picks stickers are placed at a child's-eye level.
“PCC's produce departments are like treasure hunts for our kid shoppers, introducing them to more than 300 different fruits and vegetables,” said Joe Hardiman, produce merchandiser for PCC. “Veteran samplers ask to shop at PCC where they feel special, and our store staff enjoy answering questions about unfamiliar items and interacting with their younger customers.”
To vote on the produce (and other items), children attend taste tests, which are held in the Kid Picks Mobile, a brightly-colored truck stationed at different locations such as schools, churches and community events for reserved tastings within King County, which includes downtown Seattle. The events are also occasionally held in store parking lots. Around 90 events are held annually.
PCC employees select the foods to be sampled, although event hosts can request specific items. PCC asks for a minimum of 30 child tasters per event, and each lasts between two and four hours.
“The [Free Fruit for Kids and Kid Picks] programs make trying new foods, or preparations of familiar ones, fun for kids, and parents feel assured that when they purchase a product that has earned a colorful Kid Picks tag, it won't go to waste,” said Walsh.
The programs also educate both children and their parents, she added. “The cool part is that through Kid Picks, the children have ownership of the produce.”