Rise of the veggie snack pack: How marketers are selling fresh produce to kids

In the eternal battle to get kids to eat their vegetables, big produce companies have been paying increasing attention to first impressions, focusing on kid-friendly packaging and sizing to draw children and parents towards snack-ready fruits and vegetables.

Major produce players focus on marketing their crops to young consumers (and their parents)

Flavoured apple wedges are cross-promoted with cartoon characters from the kids TV show Paw Patrol at Freshline Foods of Mississauga, Ont. (Solomon Israel/CBC News)

In the eternal battle to get kids to eat their vegetables, marketers, researchers and health officials have tried vegetable superheroes, childhood cooking classes and even outright bribery.

But in recent years, produce companies have been paying increasing attention to first impressions and convenience, focusing on kid-friendly packaging and sizing to draw children and parents towards snack-ready fruits and vegetables.

North American produce companies are trying to make sure that the next generation of consumers learns to love their products, said Melissa De Leon, a reporter with produce industry news website AndNowUKnow.

"One of the big ways to do that is to have really fun packaging that makes them want to ask mom for a bag of peppers or a bag of carrots instead of candy or chips," said De Leon, who was attending the Canadian Produce Marketing Association's annual trade show in Toronto on Wednesday.

The push for kid-friendly packaging has intensified in the last five years or so, said De Leon.

It's not just about packaging, either, she said: produce companies have found that smaller-sized fruits and vegetables appeal to kids, and are marketed accordingly.

"They're intentionally sorting the produce that's smaller for kids so that it's easier for them to eat," De Leon said.

'Sweet, crunchy, easy to get'

​Those smaller sizes — "snack sizes," in produce industry parlance — are especially convenient for kids and parents who might not want to chop up fruits and vegetables before eating them, according to Emily Murracas, marketing co-ordinator at Mucci Farms in Kingsville, Ont.

"We've been doing the research, and trends show that really it's about healthy eating for kids, and the convenience factor," said Murracas.

Veggies to Go, from Mucci Farms of Kingsville, Ont., includes small peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. (Solomon Israel/CBC News)

​Mucci Farms' "Veggies to Go" product won a kid-friendly award from the Canadian Produce Marketing Association at the trade show. The product is a combination package of sweet grape tomatoes, small pointed peppers and miniature cucumbers, each in their own sealed compartment.

Greenhouse grower Pure Flavor of Leamington, Ont., offers a similar product aimed at kids, dubbed "Mini Munchies." Each package contains snack-sized tomatoes, cucumbers and mini-peppers, presented inside the mouth of a friendly-looking cartoon monster.

Pure Flavor president Jamie Moracci said he's tested the product with his own kids, with favourable results.

"My research says that they definitely like having things in smaller packages," said Moracci. "Sweet, crunchy, easy to get."

Mini Munchies snack packs are made by Leamington, Ont., produce company Pure Flavor. The colourful packages include snack-sized tomatoes, cucumbers and mini-peppers. (Solomon Israel/CBC News)

The snacking trend has resulted in a big change to the way produce companies do business, said Jeff Madu, director of sales at Windset Farms in Delta, B.C.

"Twenty years ago it was big fruit, big peppers and big tomatoes," he said. "And now we're seeing a lot more of the smaller items, a lot of the snacking-type single-serves or one-bite [products]."

TV-show tie-ins

Other fruit and vegetable companies are using co-branding strategies to entice kids and parents into the produce aisle.

Freshline Foods of Missisauga, Ont., premiered packages of pre-sliced apples at the CPMA trade show, branded with characters from the kids TV show Paw Patrol. The slices come in four varieties: green apple, red apple and grape- and peach-flavoured apple.

Pre-sliced apple wedges from Freshline Foods are branded with characters from the children's TV show Paw Patrol. (Solomon Israel/CBC News)

Freshline Foods vice-president Noel Brigido explained why his company chose to avoid snack-sized packaging for the sliced apples.

"We're trying to reduce waste," said Brigido.

"We're hoping that parents are going to put them in their fridge, [move] them from their original container, put them in kids' lunches. Kids can reach constantly into the fridge, grab them as a snack, eat them."

"[They're] not opening up little packages, throwing out packaging," he said, adding that some schools are trying to discourage children from bringing extra packaging in their lunches.

The pre-sliced apples are treated with a calcium ascorbate coating that keeps them fresh for about 20 days in the fridge, said Brigido.

No packaging required

Certain fruits don't need any special packaging to appeal to kids, according to one U.S. produce company. Cuties, a brand of easy-peel clementine oranges from California-based Sun Pacific, have been marketed specifically to children.

"Really, it lends itself to little hands," said Howard Nager, vice-president of business development at Sun Pacific. "It's a piece of fruit that you can actually give to a child, [and] they know how to peel it."

Sun Pacific's Cuties brand of clementine oranges have been marketed to children in the U.S. (Solomon Israel/CBC News)

In the U.S., Sun Pacific has partnered with McDonald's to offer Cuties as a snack option for kids' Happy Meals. The company has also run ads on TV-streaming service Hulu, as well as a Cuties-branded filter for popular photo-messaging app Snapchat.

Combining forces with nuts and cheese

​Some produce firms are venturing outside the realm of fruits and vegetables to appeal to kids. U.S. berry company Naturipe Farms is launching a combination package of berries, grapes, almonds and cheddar cheese in the U.S. this summer.

"It's basically designed to be a healthy snack or something that kids can have [in the] middle of the day, or even as part of a lunch," said Naturipe vice-president Brian Jenny, who said the product could appeal to adults as well.

Jenny described the snack packages as a healthy alternative to childrens' offerings from big consumer packaged goods companies, like Kraft's well-known Lunchables line.

"I think for kids, they're looking for fun stuff, they're looking for stuff that also has a taste," said Jenny.

"Putting mushrooms in there probably wouldn't have the same effect as putting blueberries in there."


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