A number of produce suppliers and retailers, including Springdale, Ark.-based Harps Food Stores, are involved with Produce for Kids, the 16-year-old year-old program created to entice youngsters to consume more fruits and vegetables, says Trish James, vice president. ( Courtesy Produce For Kids )

Retailers and distributors who have supported kids-oriented programs like Produce for Kids and the Produce Marketing Association’s Eat Brighter! initiative say the programs can help lift sales while encouraging kids to eat healthy.

This will be the second year that Springdale, Ark.-based Harps Food Stores has been involved with Produce for Kids, said Mike Roberts, director of produce operations for the chain of 90 stores in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas.

“We were looking for ways to help kids eat healthier and engage them and parents more into healthy eating,” Roberts said.

Harps set up point-of-sale material throughout the produce department along with selfie cardboard cutouts in multiple locations that kids and parents can take a picture of to win money in an Instagram Harps promotion.

Produce for Kids “really helps kids and parents make smarter, healthier eating habits that should stay with them and help them become healthier adults,” Roberts said.

The company has received strong vendor support, which has strengthened some already good relationships, he said.

Harps is supplied by Associated Wholesale Grocers’ Springfield (Mo.) Division, which also is a supporter of Produce for Kids.

Gary Townsley, produce operations/sales manager for AWG, said he was contacted by a representative from Produce for Kids in 2016.

“Working with our (Produce for Kids) representative, we were able to set up a year-round program,” he said.

The program is supplier-funded, he added.

“It does not cost our retail members anything.”

During its first year in 2017, AWG was able to secure sponsorships from 11 year-round suppliers.

“Our retail members agree to support the (Produce for Kids) suppliers’ products in their ad program each week,” Townsley said.

They also place Produce for Kids posters in the produce departments and put Produce for Kids danglers on ad item displays.

Most stores also offer a free fruit item for kids who visit the stores, and they conduct store tours for kids’ organizations and schools, he said.

In December, after promoting participating PFK suppliers’ products all year, AWG member retail groups were able to donate almost $11,000 to local food banks on behalf of PFK and its stores.

After the successful 2017 program, six additional suppliers asked to be part of the 2018 program, and all 11 of the existing suppliers signed up again, Townsley said.

Suppliers and retailers also have had success with the Eat Brighter! initiative from Sesame Workshop, the Produce Marketing Association and Partnership for a Healthier America.

The programs allows suppliers and retailers to license certain Sesame Street characters for a discounted fee.

Atlanta-based Wayfield Foods is one of those retailers.

“There’s a stronger interest for the kids to come into the produce department now by having the characters on the wall and on the ceiling,” Greg Edenfield, vice president, said in a video prepared by PMA.

“They’re drawn into the produce, and they want to be where the characters are,” he said.

Young shoppers are familiar with the characters and they can identify with them, said Tina Everhart, community outreach director.

“The kids love this,” she said.

The program is important because, as kids get older, “the good eating habits will follow them,” said store manager Nathaniel McClinic.

Festival Foods, a family-owned company based in De Pere, Wis., also has joined the Eat Brighter! movement.

Stores feature signs strategically placed throughout the produce department along with coloring and activity pages in the “Tot Spot” section — a free, supervised play area for children.

“The whole goal is, if you’re shopping with your kids, that they do see the Sesame Street characters on the signs and product packages and get excited about fruits and vegetables,” Lauren Lindsley, a Festival Foods registered dietitian, said in “Eat Brighter! with Your Friends at Festival Foods!,” an official company blog.