Naturipe V.P. earns Foodservice Achievement Award(UPDATED COVERAGE, July 26) MONTEREY, Calif. — When it comes to finding new markets for berries, Robert Verloop of Naturipe Farms LLC is just getting started.

“Prepackaged, washed and ready to eat produce is something a lot of people are thinking about as useful,” he said. “This category will continue to grow a lot in the next several years. You’ll see more opportunities for fruit snacking, and inclusion of fruit in a variety of menu applications.”

His own efforts in the snack-sized category have earned Verloop — executive vice president of marketing for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms — The Packer’s 2012 Foodservice Achievement Award.

Naturipe supplied 1.25-ounce blueberry packs to McDonald’s for a seasonal blueberry banana nut oatmeal promotion launched in May. It’s expected to end Aug. 3.

“He’s been praised as someone who thinks from the end-user backward, not from the producer forward,” Greg Johnson, editor of The Packer, said as he presented the award to Verloop July 22 at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference in Monterey.

Snack-sized blueberry packs have been in retail over the past year, Verloop said, but are in the process of rolling out in a broader distribution there.

“We have to learn what the salty, sugary snacks have been doing for many years,” he said. “It’s getting the right portion sizes within reach when the consumer wants it. Coke’s strategy was to be within arm’s reach of desire. The desire is there on the part of consumers. Snack food should not be defined just by being sugary or salty.”

Apples, carrots, snap peas and others are examples of snack and merchandising opportunities elsewhere in produce, he said.

Verloop began his career on the production side of agriculture, but went on to enjoy marketing success at the California Avocado Commission in the early 1990s and later at Sunkist Growers. The “Take a Stand” lemonade promotion he developed at Sunkist continues today, almost 10 years after it started.

“The award is a huge honor,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with tremendous mentors and teams of people at the commission, Sunkist and Naturipe who really allowed for creativity and innovation.”

The prewashed, specially packed and sized blueberries are the result of a partnership between Munger Farms, Chile-based Hortifrut and Michigan Blueberry Growers Association.

“Our growers developed this whole concept without my input,” Verloop said. “Munger Farms out of Delano had the innovation and put millions of dollars behind development. We have to find new ways of creating pathways to the consumer. This award belongs to a lot of other people.”

It was The Packer’s 11th annual award. Last year’s winner, Tina Fitzgerald, director of produce and corporate responsibility for Independent Purchasing Cooperative, was similarly honored for bringing more fresh produce, notably avocados, to quick-serve menus — at Subway.