With the spotlight shining on healthy eating and childhood obesity, food marketers say there’s never been a better time to promote fresh fruits and vegetables to kids.

“There are so many different things happening, from the federal government down to grassroots organizations, this is really the time to continue doing things that are working well as well as plug into other programs,” said Cristie Mather, director of communications for Pear Bureau Northwest, Milwaukie, Ore.

For pear promoters, that includes partnering with the Produce for Better Health Foundation on the half a plate of produce initiative, and strengthening its partnership with the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids program.

In October, the bureau plans to set up sampling stations at YMCAs throughout the country. It’s also revamping the popular “fun and games” section on its USA Pears website.

Power of Disney

With children influencing more than $50 billion in retail purchases each year, partnering with powerful brands such as Disney is another winning strategy for growers who’ve become Disney licensees since Jan. 1.

“Working with Disney directly under the new program is more work,” said Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, Wash., “but it means we have direct access to key Disney people to help us create programs we think will help drive our products at the store level.”

Representing the Disney brand also forces companies to become more actively involved with retailers in selling and merchandising to kids, said Tim Dayka, managing member of Dayka & Hackett LLC, a fruit grower-shipper in Reedley, Calif., who’s promoted fresh grapes with Disney for the past three years.

“For a supplier like ourselves, it opens up a new opportunity to target not only a very important demographic, children, but the retailer receives tremendous benefits from increased sales and picks up a significant amount of business,” Dayka said.

Power of moms

Making fruits and vegetables interesting and relevant to kids is also a way to help moms, Riggan said.

Moms are now the focus of the Orlando, Fla.-based Produce for Kids organization, said marketing manager Amanda Keefer.

“The word ‘healthy’ isn’t a positive word in most kids’ vocabularies, but the produce industry is providing lots of kid-friendly products that are great for the lunch box, and our Ideal Meal recipes make it easier for moms to cook healthier dishes at home,” Keefer said.

The National Mango Board is also focusing on moms after discovering that, while more and more kids are falling in love with mangoes, many parents are intimidated by the unfamiliar fruit.

“Can you imagine if somebody said they don’t know how to cut a watermelon or an apple?” said Wendy McManus, marketing director of the Orlando-based organization.

“We’d think that’s crazy because we grew up with them,” McManus said.

“Teaching moms how to ripen and cut up mangoes is where the real movement is for us.”

Power of social media

Like most industry groups, the mango board is also harnessing social media to spread its message.

While visiting six “underdeveloped” Hometown grocery markets this summer, from St. Louis to Hartford., Conn., the board invited more than a dozen local mom bloggers at each stop to a mango lunch and kid-friendly cooking demonstration.

“The power bloggers get once they build up their audience and the level of trust with their reader is much higher than the level of trust when you read a magazine or newspaper,” McManus said.

“People really feel that connection, the sense that this blogger is like me.”

Tony Freytag, national marketing director for Crunch Pak, Cashmere, Wash., said introducing his company and its apple slices to bloggers has been a phenomenal success.

“It’s a wonderful way to get the word out that we have healthy snacks for families,” Freytag said.

Teens and tweens are among Stemilt Growers’ Facebook friends, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of the Wenatchee, Wash., company.

“We talk about new recipes and what’s happening in the orchard, whether it’s pictures of the fruit being picked, a pair of kestrel falcons scaring the birds away or a bin of beautiful fresh apricots,” Pepperl said.

“A few people wrote in to say they couldn’t wait to taste them,” he said.