(Aug. 31) If there ever was an opportunity and time to peddle produce to kids, it’s now.

The convergence of awareness of childhood obesity and the updated dietary guidelines make marketing to the vulnerable minds of youth an important enterprise.

Fortunately, there are so many models of success, printed materials and ready-made programs that you can devise a decent plan without having to reinvent the wheel.

PACKAGE DEALS

Among the packaged programs you can tie into is one called “Stir it Up: Eat Right, be Active.” It was developed by marketing company Consumer Effects, Sacramento, Calif., and is designed for medium-size retailers in noncompeting markets.

The program allows children to win points for their school to buy playground equipment. Points are earned by purchasing product from sponsoring suppliers at the participating store. In a tie-in with Catalina Marketing, St. Petersburg, Fla., the cash register keeps track of the points of the purchase on the sales receipt. For every sponsored item purchased, the child gets one entry for the school, says Stacey Larson, Consumer Effects’ president.

One program goal is to help children make more healthful snack choices, so the sponsored items from each department in the store fit in the snack category, she says.

Raley’s Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif., participated in the program for six weeks beginning in January and had seven produce partners. Consumer response was so positive, the chain of 125 stores plans to do the promotion again in the fall, Larson says.

In addition to point-of-sale materials available for retailers, the program features school curriculum, she says.

“Produce for Kids,” another program for retailers now in its third year, was developed by Shuman Produce Inc., Vidalia, Ga., to unite the produce industry to benefit kids and support the Children’s Miracle Network, which represents 170 children’s hospitals around the country. The program allows the retailer to select a 30-day period, usually in May or June, in which its produce sponsors donate a designated amount of profits from the sale of their product in that store to the local children’s hospital.

TAP INTO RESOURCES

Investigate what two of the biggest produce resources offer to help you market to children. The Produce for Better Health Foundation, Wilmington, Del., and Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, Calif., have ongoing programs, which they regularly update.

Working with Dole, PBH just completed the third year of its “There’s a Rainbow on My Plate” program. “This year it’s grown to approximately 6,000 stores coast to coast, which is at least a 50 percent increase over last year,” says Bryant Wynes, PBH’s director of retail marketing.

In addition to the graphic shipper unit that holds Crayola crayons and an activity book, which is free to children who buy the crayons, the program includes “There’s a Rainbow on my Plate” curriculum mailed to elementary schools in the participating store’s market area.

Wynes notices increased interest in anything that markets nutrition to children. “As a result, we want to be prepared to assist our members … working to develop various different programs,” he says.

PBH began one of its largest kids’ marketing endeavors with Wal-Mart Supercenter, Bentonville, Ark., last year in a series of kid events called “Retail-tainment.” It’s a one-Saturday event in each of the 1,700 stores’ produce department that allows kids the opportunity to sample produce and other healthful items from sponsor suppliers. In addition, children receive a comic/activity book produced for Wal-Mart through PBH.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

With all the materials available, it’s easy to create a kids’ marketing program unique to your area.

The elementary schools around the 34 Fresh Encounter stores with headquarters in Findlay, Ohio, are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pilot program allowing students to receive produce for free in the schools.

Working with the nutritionist in one of the schools, produce director Rick Robinson developed a program in which he visited every classroom during a five-week period this year and gave half-hour presentations. Using materials from Dole, Robinson explained the role of phytochemicals found in produce, conducted pineapple samplings and chose five students who each wore a Dole T-shirt and hat to participate in apple variety taste tests. Robinson handed out coupons for $2 worth of free produce (80 percent of the coupons were redeemed) and bags of fruit with a Dole coloring book to take home.

Robinson also organized an evening presentation that drew 200 kids featuring Hope Taft, Ohio’s first lady, promoting family meal night. After Taft spoke, some of the children helped make a fruit salad that they all sampled. Each child received a coupon and some fruit. “We had quite the crowd,” Robinson says. It was promoted on the radio and received television news coverage.

Clemen’s Markets, Kulpsville, Pa., also makes a splash in one of the elementary schools in its 20-store market area. Marnie Sherno, director of consumer health education, put together five interactive lessons to teach second- and third-graders and pulled information from many sources, including PBH, she says.

The lessons discussed topics including the nutrients in produce, why a wide variety of color is important and how plants produce fruits and vegetables. Sherno also uses the classes as an opportunity to promote the chain’s kids’ club, which offers a different piece of fruit each month free to member children.