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Supermarket Programs Producing Healthier Kids

With concerns about childhood obesity continuing, retailers are doing their best to push produce on little people. Packages of fruits and veggies adorned with cartoon characters are piling up in many stores. Certain chains are going to greater lengths to convince kids to consume more of nature's bounty. Some have created entertaining taste-testing games. Others host quarterly in-store sampling programs

With concerns about childhood obesity continuing, retailers are doing their best to push produce on little people. Packages of fruits and veggies adorned with cartoon characters are piling up in many stores.

Certain chains are going to greater lengths to convince kids to consume more of nature's bounty. Some have created entertaining taste-testing games. Others host quarterly in-store sampling programs that are as enticing to parents as they are to children.

Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, has teamed up with the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) to increase kids' interest in such healthful items.

The group's “Fruit and Veggies — More Matters” campaign encourages kids to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, said Schnucks spokeswoman Lori Willis.

Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee is spokeswoman for the promotion.

“In our produce departments, in coordination with PBH, we offer our younger customers a four-page color handout featuring Ms. Joyner-Kersee,” said Willis. “The handout includes Jackie's tips for eating and working out, as well as other great nutritional information.”

The retailer uses a number of POP materials — signs, bag rolls, stickers and labels — touting “Fruit and Veggies — More Matters” icons in its stores. The PBH program is also advertised in circulars and the media as part of the effort to create a cohesive campaign.

Along with these in-depth offerings, Schnucks holds an array of sampling events. Most focus on exotic fruits and vegetables. The aim, said Willis, is to introduce children to new flavors with the ancillary benefit of educating moms and dads on the wide selection available at the chain's stores.

Four times a year, Schnucks also opens “Produce University,” a program created and run in cooperation with specialty produce supplier Frieda's Produce, Los Angeles.

“Produce University is an eight-hour open house held at each of our 103 stores,” explained Willis. “For our summer session this year, we featured items such as Asian pears, French-kissed melons, mini sweet peppers and Star Spangled spuds.”

Upcoming Produce University sessions will highlight other seasonally available produce like specialty potatoes in the fall and unique citrus fruits in the winter, she added.

Supermarkets are in a great position to capitalize on the concept of marketing to kids, said Jill Le Brasseur, spokeswoman, Produce for Better Health, Wilmington, Del. Numerous activities can engage young consumers while they're in the store.

“We just sent out packets to our licensed retailers, containing activities that parents can do with their children in the retail environment,” said Le Brasseur. “One game has parents and kids searching the store to find a list of fruits and vegetables in different departments, like corn in fresh produce, corn in the freezer aisles and canned on shelves.”

Participating supermarkets are encouraged to offer prizes to patrons who check off each healthful item — an apple or banana would be the perfect reward, she added.

PBH makes character-laden shelf talkers available to its licensed retailers. The signs are adorned with the group's animated Fruit and Veggie Champions and can easily be scattered throughout produce, frozen foods and the Center Store to help shoppers find all of the items on the find-the-food game list.

Marketing to kids can be a touchy topic, especially when using cartoon characters to catch their attention. When pushing produce, the mind-set is different, industry experts told SN.

“If characters can help kids get into healthier eating habits, the strategy will be very well received,” said Marty Brochstein, senior vice president of industry relations and information, Licensing Industry Merchandiser's Association, New York. “Safeway has its Warner Bros. products and Kroger has Disney, and both lines have done remarkably well.”

Kroger's line of Disney products extends throughout a variety of categories and includes an assortment of snack-sized, presliced fruits and vegetables. Safeway's Warner Bros. items — new this year — feature Looney Tunes characters like Sylvester and Tweety and run the gamut from breakfast foods and snacks to portable meals and beverages.

Dubbed “Eating Right Kids,” the new line currently includes more than 100 products that are being promoted as helping moms select better-for-you foods for their children.

Engaging Activities

Church Brothers Produce, Salinas, Calif., also uses characters to market its fruits and vegetables to children. The company is the exclusive supplier of Disney Garden Vegetables, a line of more than 30 fruits and vegetables adorned with Disney well-knowns like Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Pluto.

“We are more than just characters, though. Our packaging also shows children how to make healthy eating a real and relevant part of their lives,” said Katy Blowers, director of marketing for the company. “Our Romaine Hearts, for example, have Mickey and Minnie Mouse on the packaging along with a recipe for Autumn Bliss Salad.”

Most Church Brothers products bear informational tidbits, too. The company's bags of carrots state that “eating one serving of carrots will give a person enough energy to play volleyball for 10 minutes,” she added.

Other Disney-branded characters on its produce include Cars, Winnie the Pooh and pals and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Many supermarkets have realized that to have a true impact on children, they need to make promotions exciting. This means engaging them in activities that are unique, fun and memorable.

Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., has gotten creative with its kids' marketing campaign. One of the interactive games employed in the produce department mimics a popular television show.

“We have a very successful in-store activity called ‘Fear Factor,’” said Sean Walsh, the chain's director of produce and floral. “It is based on getting kids to try different fruits and vegetables, and rewarding them with prizes when they do.”

Spartan has sold some produce with Disney-licensed characters on packages in the past. The chain has even tried spinach packs adorned with Popeye and other fruits and vegetables decorated with SpongeBob and Dora decals. These items have sold well, but not enough to warrant carrying them long-term, said Walsh.

“We have tried these types of promotions but have not seen the characters transfer to more trial for the products,” he explained.

Choosing inventory can be tricky, according to Ted Taft, managing director, Meridian Consulting Group, Westport, Conn. He believes that marketing to kids involves addressing moms as well and suggests that retailers try promoting convenient, portion-sized produce for school lunches.

“Pre-portioned, single-serve snacks like carrot sticks are great because they can be thrown into a lunch box, and kids like anything bite-sized,” he said.

Church Brothers has two varieties of Lunchbox Clamshells with prepared vegetables. Each container has five individual bagged servings of carrots or celery, just enough for a full week at school. Disney's sliced snacks are also ideal for school lunches, said Taft.

Hands-on activities are perfect for piquing the interest of young consumers, but even moms and dads enjoy interactive events. Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, is capitalizing on the concept.

The retailer offers free store tours to youth groups, Cub Scouts and other organizations throughout the year. During the tours, guests are taught about proper eating habits, and the food pyramid is emphasized. The tours also entail brief cooking classes.

“We allow kids to core a pineapple, make a fruit salad, and we incorporate other fun cooking activities from time to time,” said Eric Anderson, co-president for the chain. “Many of the chaperones tell us that they learned as much as the kids.”

Fresh Encounter carries Disney-laden fruits and veggies from Caito Foods, Indianapolis. Unlike Spartan Stores, Anderson reports that the characters seem to boost sales of produce at the chain's stores. He also believes that produce is one category that warrants whatever means necessary to increase consumption among consumers of all ages.