CHICAGO -- Retailers who are sensitive to the fickle tastes of children find that high-profile, store-level, produce-education programs bear a lot of fruit.
These days, most children-focused programs contain more than the typical buy-more merchandising strategy. Nutrition is being touted as the primary message of fruit and vegetable promotions aimed at children, retailers told SN.
"Children are our future customers," said Ray Taglialatela, director of produce merchandising for Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa. "Generally, if children ask for fruit, their moms and dads will buy it."
Often, special times, such as 5 a Day Week or National Organic Harvest Month, are used as spring boards for these efforts. Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., conducts a coloring contest in conjunction with the 5 a Day Week. H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, hosts a similar program. During National Organic Harvest Month, San Francisco Bay-area Lucky Stores and Safeway units offer coloring books in their produce sections. More than 10,000 books were distributed.
Other retail operators promote produce to kids throughout the year, employing kid-sized carts, placing produce items in the "no candy" checkout and cross merchandising produce spin with other food items that kids love in other departments.
Genuardi's markets to children through its Kid's Club, where children under age 10 receive a membership card entitling them to one piece of fruit each month over a six-month period. The chain issues two card sets a year.
To further encourage children to savor the flavors of the produce department, Genuardi's aggressively mounts an unattended sampling program. "That way children can try new fruits and vegetables" without having to face strangers, said Taglialatela.
Reinforcing the program, Genuardi's offers free, storewide nutrition and educational tours to local elementary schools. According to Taglialatela, most of the tours are conducted in the fall, just after school starts and again just after the December holidays. Store managers lead the tour through each department, and department managers describe various items. In the produce department, attendees are enrolled in the Kid's Club, among other things.
Traverse City, Mich.-based Prevo's Family Markets also offers store tours throughout the nine-unit chain. These tours are structured around the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid, and include a take-home curriculum that teachers can incorporate into the classroom.
"We thought by focusing on the school system and children, who play a large role in determining where the family shops, we could drive the nutrition message home," said Mike Rodes, store director.
The children, accompanied by cartoon character pals Edie Wright and Brad Cherrypit, become "Pyramid Investigators" and are given clues as the tour winds through the store. The junior investigators gather game pieces from clue cards as the tour progresses and they try to solve the larger riddle pertaining to the food pyramid.
The tour includes a take-home informational packet that includes a letter to parents, a nutrition board game, stickers, a pyramid refrigerator magnet and an offer for a discounted Family Meal Deal, which consists of a rotisserie chicken, a prepackaged salad and a beverage. Additionally, the children are given a free Ticket to Adventure, entitling them to an apple, an orange and a banana during a future store visit.
"We used to do just store tours," said Rodes in explaining the expanded program. "We wanted to do something really educational. The kids are really excited about what they see. We get letters and hand-colored pictures that we put up in the stores and use in our newsletter."
While the game generates a lot of excitement, active sampling and demonstrations in each department fulfill a larger educational purpose, said Rodes. Foods like yogurt, pretzels, muffins and fruits and vegetables are sampled. The children are also shown how pineapples are cored and how meat is ground.
At the beginning of each school year, store managers send letters to local elementary schools inviting students to tour their nearest unit. On average, four tours per unit are given, according to Rodes.
Retailers are finding that growers can be a valuable resource in supplying not only specific products targeting children, but also support materials such as coloring books, signage and literature.
With their assistance, savvy operators are grouping together kid-oriented items along with other lunch-box favorites on the lower decks of refrigeration units, within easy view of children, similar to how the cereal aisle is merchandised.
Upon visiting a Northlake, Ill.-based Dominick's Finer Foods unit, SN found that the operator offers a bag of mixed lunch and snack fruits on dry racks. The wholesaler-supplied package includes six navel oranges, three Granny Smith apples and three Red Delicious apples. This item was merchandised among smaller sized apples. Pint-sized precut items are merchandised in the refrigerated case at hip level, adjacent to prepackaged salads.
Retailers, commodity groups and growers recently joined with the Wilmington, Del.-based Produce for Better Health Foundation to develop a program that takes the produce message directly to students via school food service.
This program, dubbed 5 a Day University Foodservice Training, provides information on produce selections, as well as storage and preparation, for school food-service personnel. According to Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the foundation, more than a million children and adults have been told about 5 a Day through these training sessions.
"We demo fruit and give training in major-market school districts on bringing home the 5 a Day message," said Kevin Bredesen, food-service marketing director for the Washington State Apple Commission, Odwalla, Wash., one of the participating groups. "We show food-service workers easy methods for using the fruit, what new varieties are available and to just get them more comfortable with fresh fruit and vegetables."
During the final week of October, food-service personnel in the Chicago Public School District combined their produce training with a retail promotion in Dominick's stores. Students received coupons that offered a mail-in rebate offer of $2 off a 5-pound bag of Washington state apples. More than 60,000 coupons were distributed through the first of December, said Bredesen.
Similar school food-service efforts, with retail tie-ins and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, have been mounted by Grimway Farms with Lucky Stores just prior to Thanksgiving in the Oakland, Calif., market. And, earlier this fall, the Watermelon Promotion Board and Albertson's units in Mesa, Ariz., teamed up for National 5 a Day Week. The Mesa program featured coupons distributed to students that were redeemable for as much as $4 worth of whole, sliced or cubed watermelon at Albertson's stores within the Mesa Unified School District. The coupons featured the 5 a Day logo, a reminder that Sept. 13 to 19 was National 5 a Day Week and a recipe. The program concluded in October.
According to industry sources, Albertson's moved 708,000 pounds of watermelon, a 50% increase over the same week a year prior.
The color, taste and texture of produce appeal to kids. Help customers encourage their children to eat fresh fruits and vegetables by making it interesting and fun.
Put carrot and celery sticks and other precut items on low shelves so children can see the offerings.
Group lunch-box favorites, smaller-sized fruit in the dry racks and precuts in the refrigerated case, so your total selection can be evaluated.
Cross merchandise dips with vegetables and fruits as a healthy snack alternative.
Remind customers of the 5 a Day goal of five servings of fruits and vegetables every day for good health.
Sampling can widen children's horizons. Parents appreciate the ability to test the acceptability of fruits and vegetables without having to invest in a purchase -- particularly with packaged precuts.