Dole Food Co.’s recipe for ‘Chicken Stuffed Roz Heads’ ties in to the Pixar film ‘Monsters Inc.’ and the company’s campaign to help kids overcome their fear of ‘scary fruits and vegetables.’
( Courtesy Dole Food Co. )

Long-standing components of produce marketing campaigns targeted to kids and parents have taken on a new relevance as a back-to-school season unlike any other approaches.

Demand for easy meal recipes and snack ideas has been high as families continue to eat more at home. 

“As kids return to school this fall in some way, parents will be returning to schedules that are not only active, but hectic to an extent,” said Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Leamington, Ontario-based Pure Hothouse Foods

“We hear of school districts weighing the options of modified learning heading into the new school year: virtual learning 100% of the time, split in-class and virtual learning, or 100% in-class time. 

“What won’t change is the active lives kids live 365. This means they need healthy fuel to power through the day,” Veillon said. 

With that in mind, Pure Hothouse Foods will be highlighting its snack-sized vegetables by creating channel-specific content and then geofencing it in the regions where the company has the highest sales concentration to drive consumers to retail, Veillon said. The company also has a new landing page dedicated to snacking.

Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Berries, said his company is also emphasizing healthy snacking opportunities.

“Since we are approaching the school year with many schools not reopening yet, we have provided recipes and ideas for meal planning that help keep the kids on a routine for lunch and give parents some time for their own productivity during their work-from-home schedules,” Grabowski said.

Dan Davis, director of business development for Yakima, Wash.-based Starr Ranch Growers, said offering self-care ideas for parents is another opportunity to assist families.

“We’re all obviously focused on the kids and how we best provide them with what they need, but we know that parents need to take care of themselves and remember to do that,” Davis said. 

“That’s so often lost in the process as parents give freely of themselves as they effort to keep life as normal as possible for their littles.”


Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Food Co., said most of the company’s retail customers “are continuing with their in-store marketing plans for back-to-school ... under the assumption that kids and their parents will want — and need — this seasonal fresh start, even if just virtual.

“The messaging may change a bit, but the focus on convenience and simple nutrition for busy, multi-generational families will continue,” Goldfield said.

Danelle Huber, marketing specialist for Wenatchee, Wash.-based CMI Orchards, said some of the company’s retail customers are planning back-to-school promotions similar to what they have done in previous years, and others who are not, but CMI will still make back-to-school a focus of its outreach efforts.

“Kids will still be doing school in some way, shape or form, so we feel it’s important to try to keep things feeling as normal as possible and still have a back-to-school element to our promotions,” Huber said.

Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh, noted that the convenience and safety of packaged products have come to the forefront amid the pandemic. He mentioned that, since March, there haven’t been any messages to the company’s website complaining about the use of plastic.

“Safety is trumping sustainability,” Riggan said.

He also noted that photos of packaged products work better than photos of bulk product for retailers handling higher volumes of online orders.

“When you want to highlight something on a website, it’s a lot easier to feature a package that’s got some good branding on it than it is just a random apple — because let’s face it, if I put a jonagold on a screen, you don’t know if that’s a gala or a jonagold or maybe a braeburn,” Riggan said, noting many bicolor apples look similar.

Online outreach

Kyla Oberman, director of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Berry Farms, said the company is planning to deliver a school-themed promotion in September. 

In a time of reduced traffic in stores and quicker trips, online outreach is critical, she noted.

“The challenge is to keep up our digital communication efforts to both our trade and consumer audiences and be seen as a go-to resource for recipes, coupons and overall health and wellness inspiration,” Oberman said. 

“Berries have always been a great foundation to a healthy lifestyle; we see this year as a great opportunity to build upon that.”

Trish James, chief marketing officer of Reidsville, Ga.-based Shuman Farms and vice president of Produce for Kids, also noted the importance of digital elements to marketing efforts. One recent example is a Facebook Live cooking class the organization held to support its Publix campaign.

She said the group’s seventh annual Power Your Lunchbox digital campaign, which launched Aug. 3, will look different than in previous years.

“The program will join forces with seven produce brands to help families set up a routine for nutritious lunches no matter where they are enjoying them this year, at school or at home,” James said. “We’ve reworked our typical back-to-school messaging and content, developed new lunchbox inspiration, and pulled together resources around distance learning and mental health to better serve families.”

Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, also mentioned that key resources for parents during this time frame will be those that showcase healthy snacking in an approachable way.

“As a parent myself and looking at all-online schooling for the start of our year, I can say with confidence that parents are looking for ways to keep snacking healthy but simple,” Shales said. 

“Parents simply can’t have much added to their plates right now but are likely going to be feeding kids more meals at home this fall than they normally would if kids were in school physically. That means they will need simple snack ideas or tips from produce suppliers for proper storage or preparation of fruits and veggies.”

Health focus

Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co., said he has seen increased messaging around affordability and around food as medicine.

“We all know eating at home can be healthier, but we often fall victim to the convenience of having someone else prepare it for us,” Sinks said. 

“With people taking a more active interest in their health, fresh produce has seen a boost, and we are sending that message through our social media channels.”

Christina Ward, director of global brand marketing for Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers, noted that while messaging around the health benefits of vitamin C has always been part of the company’s marketing approach, that area is of increased interest now.

“In a recent study, over 60% of citrus shoppers said vitamin C was the reason why they purchased more citrus now than before March,” Ward said. 

“Immune-boosting foods continue to be top-of-mind for consumers everywhere. While we’ve always messaged around the health benefits and vitamin C values of citrus, we’ve expanded our nutrition education program to underscore the importance of these well-known attributes.”

CMI has been focused on providing health-focused content for families, including ideas around more movement.

“I think if produce companies keep providing ways to continue to eat healthy with yummy recipes for chefs of all levels, families will continue to cook and eat healthy at home,” Huber said. “Activity challenges, family walks or outings, getting outside and being active isn’t only good for your health physically, but for mental health, too.” 


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