Plenty of fine organizations drive home the message of promoting fresh produce. Especially of late are efforts aimed at getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Give thought to filling school lunch boxes

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

This exists even at high-level government agencies, but it actually started a long time ago and a lot closer to home.

It’s like the old bit about two kinds of mothers who send their kids off to school. One mother leans out the front door and yells, “Come back! You forgot your books!” The other kind of mother hollers, “Come back! You forgot your LUNCH!”

My own, dear sweet ma was one of the “lunch” moms. Her motto: “School is important, but you can’t think on an empty stomach.”

As school once again gets back into full swing it’s time for produce marketers to focus on what gets stuffed into those lunch bags.

Fortunately, for whatever most of the nutrition fads and food documentaries are worth, fresh produce usually comes out smelling like a rose. Going back a few years, the drill in early September was to scale down stone fruit merchandising to tighten space allocations and start changing table displays over to fall merchandising.

That was a mistake then, and it’s a mistake to jump the gun now. We still have weeks to go with summer fare.

Part of that thinking is volume. The daily rush now is limited to evenings and weekends. Mostly because the “sprouts” — as my old buddy Larry used to call children — are back at school. In fact, the only “school” merchandising most produce managers used to do was to pump up the banana orders, thinking that was the fruit to stuff in those Scooby-Doo lunch boxes. We’ve come a long way since then. Here are a few examples what to push for the brown-baggers:

Vegetables: Build a display in the refrigerated case, highlighting easy-to-pack items such as celery and the multitude of cut carrots (sticks, coins, mini); value-added, pre-packaged sliced peppers; snap peas; cucumbers; cherry tomatoes; broccoli and cauliflower florets — all with or without little packs of dressings for dipping.

Fruits: Most any fruit works, but small sizes serve especially well for junior’s Snoopy-adorned lunch pail. Besides favorites of apples, stone fruit, bananas, pears and citrus, value-added has long-since cut into the lunch line with pre-sliced or pre-peeled fruit. Some fruit scores especially big with kids, such as cherries or grapes.

Flanking these displays with racks of today’s popular lunch boxes from your friendly general-merchandise manager will certainly help spark sales and promote the main idea of what to pack in those boxes.

My favorite lunch box from the old school days? Three Stooges. With bananas — hands down. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Have any ideas about back-to-school promotions for produce? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.