(May 5) A United Kingdom-based non-profit has a solution for that smooshed banana in your child’s lunch bag.

Paige Allen, a mother of two, created FruityFaces inflatable fruit carriers in 2004 after frustrations with sending fruit with her children’s lunches only to find out it went uneaten because it was bruised or smashed.

FruityFaces, launched in 2006, are inflatable carriers that clip on to a child’s back pack or belt loop. There are several different shapes and sizes that can accommodate just about any fruit, from peaches to bananas.

Allen said it wasn’t easy getting the product off the ground. The company first had to find a manufacturer that could make food-safe plastic.

Bringing the product to market with no advertising or marketing budget also was a challenge, she said.

“We have been successful through word-of-mouth and editorial coverage due to the unique nature of the product,” she said.

The fanfare the product is getting has ensured its early success.

Since it was introduced in 2006, FruityFaces has been a finalist several industry awards, including “Innovative Product of the Year,” the “Community Impact Award” for promoting healthy eating at the 2006 Start Up Business awards. Allen also was chosen as a finalist for Ernst & Young’s 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year.

FruityFaces currently are available through Web sites, mail order catalogues, independent retailers, health and government organizations and school fundraisers in the U.K., Continental Europe and Australia, Allen said. They retail for about $8 each.

This summer, the company hopes to be available in major retailers in the United Kingdom in time for back-to-school season.

Other markets also are on Allen’s radar.

“The U.S. and Canada have similar challenges to eat fruit and obesity issues that a FruityFace can partly address,” Allen said. “Our customer surveys prove that children eat more fruit when they own a FruityFace. It’s a simple but fun solution to a major problem.”

FruityFaces is a nonprofit organization. All proceeds are donated to charity.

The company has done some promotions with fruit companies in the United Kingdom and is open to the possibility in other markets.

“We are looking for partners to sell into the U.S. market and are excited about this opportunity,” Allen said.