It is said that in the early days following the European discovery of a primitive tribe, an English shoe company sent two separate salespeople to study the tribe and do a market analysis.
It is said that the first salesperson arrived, did a quick inspection and turned around and got back on the boat. He wrote a report on his assessment and announced that there was no point in staying as the tribesmen didn’t wear shoes.
The second salesperson arrived and quickly assessed the situation. He wrote a quick report and sent it on with the boat. His report said: “What a fantastic opportunity. Nobody here has any shoes. I’m staying and setting up our office. Send samples.”
Which is a good segue to the latest consumer research from Produce for Kids — because, depending on one’s attitude, it articulates either an extremely depressing state of affairs or a fantastic opportunity to boost consumption. Here is how Produce for Kids explains the results:
PRODUCE FOR KIDS® STUDY: ONLY 18 PERCENT OF KIDS ARE EATING THREE SERVINGS OF FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Consumers spend just $103 each year on fresh fruit, with bananas topping the list; creative marketing of fruits and vegetables can rebalance kids’ diets.
Only 18 percent of America’s children are eating three or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, according to a study commissioned by Produce for Kids® (PFK), an organization that promotes the benefits of healthy eating and supports worthy causes for children such as Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals and educational media content from PBS KIDS®. The survey identified the fresh fruits and vegetables that parents — usually moms — are buying each week and explored the factors that motivate kids to eat fresh produce.
According to the study, 38 percent of parents say their children eat two servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day, and 43 percent state that their children have one or less daily serving.
“The increased consumption of fruits and vegetables can help kids to achieve a healthy weight and improve their overall health,” said Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist and associate professor, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately 25 million children, or one-in-three kids, are overweight or are at risk of becoming overweight.
John Shuman, president of Produce for Kids, noted: “This survey highlights the extent of the challenge facing the produce and retail industries, but also offers hope: we can make healthy foods attractive to kids if we market them creatively.”
Bananas: the pick of the bunch
The study revealed that the most-purchased fruits — and the most popular with kids — are those that lend themselves to easy snacking. Bananas, purchased by 85 percent of households, rank number one, followed by apples (84 percent), grapes (75 percent), strawberries/berries (48 percent) and citrus fruits (34 percent). Potatoes are the top-ranked vegetable, purchased by 86 percent of households, followed by baby carrots (60 percent), tomatoes (54 percent), lettuce/salad (53 percent) and corn (44 percent).
The broccoli disconnect
The study also revealed that parents may be missing an opportunity to add more greenery to their kids’ meals: children voted broccoli among their top-three favorite vegetables, yet parents did not rank it in their top-five most-purchased items.
“Kids need to actually touch and taste fruits and vegetables so they can become interested and attached to them,” continued Ayoob. “Parents can encourage more trial through fun and family-bonding experiences at home involving produce.”
Two dollars per week spent on fruit — but cause for hope
The study showed that consumers make, on average, 27 shopping trips per year to buy fruit, spending $103 per year — or just $2 per week. They also make an average of 29 trips per year to purchase vegetables, spending $114.62.
Yet while the survey demonstrates that kids are not eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, there is reason for optimism: 49 percent of parents said that their children eat salad on a regular basis. Moreover, kids want their fresh fruits: 70 percent of respondents who purchase fruit do so because their kids ask for it.
The keys to marketing success: more dips, more fun and more guidance
Parents said that they purchase fresh-cut fruit and vegetables because these products enable kids to help themselves, are convenient, and offer a healthy alternative to other, less nutritious snacks.
The addition of dips and dressings may increase the appeal of fresh produce to kids: two-thirds of respondents said their children eat fresh fruits and vegetables with dips. Ranch dressing was cited as the favorite accompaniment for vegetables, while caramel dip, peanut butter and cream cheese were most popular with fruits. Underscoring the potential of complementary products, expenditure on dips increased 5.1 percent year-on-year between 2006 and 2007.
Creative promotions also help to increase the appeal of fresh produce, according to the survey. Eighty-five percent of respondents suggested that kids would respond to an interactive in-store game that educates their children about the benefits of a healthy diet, with a coloring or activity book the most popular suggestion (34 percent), followed by an online game with popular cartoon characters (26 percent).
Parents also said that in-store demos featuring healthy, kid-friendly recipes, health-oriented kids’ clubs, and sweepstakes drawings would most influence them to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, fifty-five percent said that they would welcome information in the produce department about fun, kid-friendly recipes that families could make together, while 46 percent said that they would appreciate tips on how to encourage picky eaters to eat more vegetables.
Cartoon characters cautioned
Half of parents said that cartoon characters on packaging — a staple of produce marketing — would not affect their purchase decision, and 27 percent said that they “probably” or “definitely” would not buy produce featuring them. All eight kid-friendly baby carrot and sliced apple products featuring cartoon characters that were examined in the survey showed sales increases when first introduced — likely because of a high level of promotion — then longer term declines. Indeed, these items showed sales dollar declines ranging from 8 percent to 67 percent year-on-year from 2006 to 2007.
However, the targeted and responsible use of cartoon characters can play a positive role in the promotion of fruits and vegetables. The proportion of parents who said they would buy produce items with cartoon characters on the packaging rose from 21 percent to 28 percent if those characters were promoting healthy eating. Of parents with children aged nine and under, 30 percent said that they would buy characters featuring characters on the packaging. Cartoon characters from Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS KIDS were considered most attractive to parents.
About the study
The Perishables Group, an independent consulting firm specializing in the fresh food business, conducted the study on behalf of four sponsors: Dole, National Mango Board, Paramount Citrus and T. Marzetti. This comprehensive study combined multiple research tools including Nielsen point-of-sale scan data; Spectra consumer lifestyle analysis; an online survey of 1,000 parents, primarily moms and 500 shopper intercepts of mothers and children.
About Produce for Kids
Produce for Kids®promotes healthy lifestyles for children by educating kids and parents about the benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables while also supporting worthy children’s causes. Since its creation in 2002 by Shuman Produce Inc., Produce for Kids has raised more than $1.2 million for local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Produce for Kids also partners with PBS KIDS® to educate parents on healthy eating and raise funds for PBS. For additional information on Produce for Kids, visit www.produceforkids.org.
We have often saluted the Produce for Kids effort, including pieces such as Kudos To All Involved In Produce For Kids and Produce For Kids Hits Big time With PBS Kids Alliance . We also have explored issues such as the use of cartoon characters to market produce to kids, with pieces that including these:
Our pages have also been filled with countless articles on the Produce for Better Health Foundation, including Pundit’s Mailbag — ‘More Matters’ Can Be A Rallying Cry For The Industry, which featured an important letter from Paul Klutes of C.H. Robinson Worldwide.
We have seen what state-based public health programs can do with our interview with Sue Foerster here. And we have gone overseas and studied the Food Dudes program carefully with these pieces:
We have discussed United’s efforts to push the snack program in schools through an interview with Lorelei DiSogra here.
The Pundit and Bryan Silbermann of PMA have also discussed childhood produce consumption in the context of relevant PMA consumer research in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which you can read here and here.
We even made the Jr. Pundit Primo, aka William, the king of the lunchroom so he could influence the situation.
Yet, despite all this and much more attention to this issue, it is easy to despair.
Kids don’t eat enough produce. And things such as cartoon marketing, which many thought held out real prospects for building consumption, seem to have little long-term effect.
Although there are some sweet spots in the survey — a fantastic opportunity to promote fresh broccoli, for example — the solutions to some of the problems, though not surprising, aren’t exactly health-oriented either.
When Wendy’s decided to discontinue its fresh-cut fruit salad, we wrote a column in Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS that said this was a mistake. Our suggestion? Just as McDonald’s sells its fresh-cut apple slices with caramel, Wendy’s should have added a chocolate dip and sales would boom.
We were reminded of this advice when we read that dips are an excellent way to entice children to consume more fresh produce. Getting kids to eat more fruit by dipping it in caramel, chocolate, peanut butter or cream cheese still can be a step forward in healthful eating if it can take the place of junk food. This is especially true if a little ranch dressing is sufficient bait to entice children to eat vegetables.
The PFK survey touches on a few things that the industry might do to boost consumption, including kid-friendly recipes, information on how to encourage picky eaters to eat fruits and vegetables and interactive in-store and on-line games.
This can only help, but much of it has been tried and seems unlikely to provide dramatic boosts in consumption.
One silver lining from a health and an industry perspective is that the survey only covered fresh product. This is rare. Most of the studies done incorporate all forms of produce, so this research will add significantly to the stock of industry knowledge.
There are no quick fixes. Problems of childhood obesity certainly are influenced by dietary changes but, we suspect, technological and social changes from children playing Gameboys rather than delivering papers, or parents insisting children play indoors instead of playing outside when Mom is at work probably influence the situation more.
A seemingly unrelated change — say the development of central air conditioning and the subsequent move of population to the sunbelt, or a move from cities where one walks to suburbs where one drives — may affect the caloric expenditure of children, and adults, in substantial ways.
The problem is vexing and the solutions elusive, but this much is certain: Our ability to help the children of America is limited by our ability to understand the problem.
Research is an important element in finding a workable plan, so Produce for Kids gets one more notch on the belt. Already helping the Children’s Miracle Network do good work, it now also begins a research component that will help us help children in ways yet unknown and unpredicted.
Kudos to all involved.