Sales of Disney-branded fruits and vegetables have tripled over
the past year, with more than 3.1 billion servings sold in North
America since 2006, Disney Consumer Products announced this week.
The company declined to disclose the exact dollar amount, and broad
statistics on kid-friendly produce sales are hard to come by. But
there is growing anecdotal evidence that the tactic of marketing
fruits and veggies like fun snacks is taking hold.
Disney's newest licensing deal is with Ventura, Calif.-based
Freska Produce International, which next year will launch mangos in
packaging branded with Disney characters. Meanwhile, retail chains
like Target and Walmart are striking
distribution deals on everything from olives packed in snack cups
to freeze-dried fruit.
The notion of kid-targeted fruity snacks is as old as Fruit
Roll-Ups, which debuted in 1983. But these days, more parents are
seeking snacks that are "as close to the whole fruit or vegetable
as possible," said Phil Lempert, a food-industry analyst. The
demand for wholesome snacks comes as food marketers face pressure
to stop advertising unhealthy foods to children. General Mills late
last year agreed to remove images of strawberries from its
strawberry-flavored Roll-Ups as part of a legal settlement with
Center for Science in the Public Interest, which argued the company
was "misleading consumers about the nutritional and health
qualities of its fruit snacks."
Marketers are still finding ways to sweeten and spice up fruits
and veggies. One of Disney's newest licensed products are Monsters
University-branded "Flavorz," which are sliced apples infused with
blue-raspberry flavor made by Washington-based Crunch Pak.
Minnesota-based Reichel Foods has added new varieties to its
"Dippin Stix" brand, including packs of celery sticks with peanut
butter and raisins marketed as "Ants on a Log." Campbell Soup
Co.-owned Bolthouse Farms -- whose tactics have included rebranding
carrots as "Scarrots" -- is pushing a new product called
"ShakeDowns," which are baby carrots accompanied with packs of
chili lime and ranch seasoning.
Do marketers risk crossing the line into junk food territory?
"That's a legitimate question," said Nancy Childs, a food-marketing
professor at St. Joseph's University. "A lot of these products are
going part way to lure the kid in," she said. "But you've still got
a better choice" than traditional snacks.