As another school year begins this fall, retailers are stepping up their efforts to simplify healthy eating for kids, providing recipe ideas, encouraging family shopping and offering convenient lunch snacks.
Produce For Kids, the Orlando, Fla.-based non-profit that develops programs geared toward encouraging children to eat more fruits and vegetables, has been busy lately fulfilling requests from retailers to provide healthy recipes.
“Produce For Kids has an advisory board made up of five registered dietitians, and we asked one of them to put together tips for a healthy lunch,” said PFK spokeswoman Kari Volyn. “All of the research — and we do research with the Perishables Group — shows that moms are looking for information when they're shopping. They want solutions. Basically, they want to feed their families healthy foods.”
A study conducted by The Perishables Group found that only 18% of parents said their children eat the recommended three or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, indicating that more than 80% of those surveyed realize that there is a lot of room for improvement in their child's diet.
Volyn said that lunch continues to be one of those meals where busy parents are looking for quick and healthy options that their kids will enjoy. Some of the retailers PFK works with, such as Giant Food Stores, Carlisle, Pa., have asked PFK if it could come up with more healthy eating tips for kids, noting that they get a lot of requests from parents for this type of information.
Similarly, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., asked PFK to help with some healthy recipes for their new kids' cooking clubs, something that PFK also helped Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets with last fall.
And other retailers have been encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption with their own unique programs. PCC Natural Markets, Seattle, regularly highlights products from its “PCC Kid Picks” program. To obtain a Kid Picks label, a product needs the approval of at least two-thirds of its kid “judges,” making the Kid Picks label a reliable indicator that kids are likely to enjoy a particular food, according to the retailer's website. These foods are flagged with bright orange tags bearing the Kid Picks logo.
“We've made it easy for parents to shop for kid-approved products — more than 1,500 of them — on our website,” PCC spokeswoman Diana Crane told SN.
“They can search the PCC Kid Picks database, click ‘add’ and create a PCC shopping list. Year-round, we promote reasons to shop for kids/families at PCC.”
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., is also highlighting on its website various kid- and parent-friendly options, tips, snacks, a “smarter sandwich” chart and other suggestions, such as ways to stretch shoppers' budgets for three dinners from one Club Pack purchase.
Focusing on the benefits for both kids and parents can be beneficial, said Shelly Balanko, vice president of ethnographic research at the Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
“I think retailers can convey that it's about caring and nurturing, not just their kids, but also themselves,” Balanko told SN, “because sometimes it's really about not having to put the extra time and effort into it. It's like a convenient option is good for both your kids and you. I think that might resonate with moms.”
Balanko added that while it can be more economical to buy bulk, wash and cut everything themselves, moms and families might be more time-crunched during the school year, making precut packages of fruits and vegetables worth the convenience.
“I think we'll probably see a lift and start hearing about a lift in prepared and packaged produce as kids return to school and moms have to live to a little stricter of a schedule,” Balanko said.
Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said she thinks preferences for bulk or fresh-cut vary by customer, and depend mostly on what each customer places value on.
“In a tough economic climate, we expect to see shoppers doing both: looking for the convenience of prepacked items, but also saving money and buying in bulk,” Brous told SN, adding that prepacked items do well in Publix stores, especially during back-to-school shopping.
“It really depends on the customer and the value placed on their time. Buying in bulk saves money, but costs time.”
Through continued supplier involvement, PFK is also seeing that value-added convenient produce packs are in demand, despite the economy.
“Stemilt with their sweet apple and pear slices; same thing Crunch Pak, who does sliced apples; Mann Packing, who does value-added; Grimway with the baby carrots and dip — I can't tell you what their sales are, but I can tell you that they're still supporting the program and coming on board with the program as suppliers, so that seems to indicate to me that those continue to do well with moms,” Volyn of PFK said.
Associated Food Stores has “seen a huge explosion in cut vegetables,” said Leigh Vaughn, director of produce for the Salt Lake City-based retailer.
Vaughn has also taken note of ready-to-go grapes.
“We had a conference for our retailers in June, and we actually invited one of our vendor partners to come in and show off a new product, ready-to-go grapes — they're four packs and already stemmed in their little cup, it'd be perfect to fill into a lunch box,” Vaughn told SN.
“We can market these four-packs of grapes for about $4. So it's about $1 for a cup of grapes, but they're already ready to go — just pop them open and eat them. I think they were a big hit at the show with the retailers, and we're looking at bringing those in so we can market them to the lunch crowd.”
Some Publix stores also offer healthy pack lunches for kids, which may contain a 100% juice box, grapes, an apple, yogurt and more, Brous said, adding there is also a vegetable option.
PCC also tries to make shopping family-friendly by letting kids choose a free serving of fruit or veggies to eat while their parents shop.
But there are still issues that retailers could address to help encourage kids to try more fruits and vegetables. Vaughn, for example, said he thinks produce departments could potentially do a better job at merchandising for kids.
“Grocery [departments] can market better to children than in produce [departments], because they can put things down at kid's-eye level. I think we need to do a better job of that,” he said. “Pretty much everything in produce is waist to shoulder high, so kids don't see as much as I think they need to.”