In a culture obsessed with healthy eating -- particularly for kids -- one major snack-maker is about to see if parents will put their money where their mouths are.
Bolthouse, the baby carrot kingpin recently purchased by Campbell's, on Monday will announce plans to broadly expand into everything from kids fruit snacks to kids smoothies. It will set up "healthy snacking" stations in the produce sections of major grocery store chains that bundle together these better-for-you kids products under the Bolthouse Farms Kids banner.
The new products -- and snacking stations -- will roll out nationally in mid-August. Grocery chains from Giant Eagle to A&P have agreed to have them; and Walmart and Safeway have agreed to test them.
Healthier snacking is a hugely growing industry -- expanding at about three times the rate of counterpart non-healthy snacks such as chips and cookies -- and Bolthouse hopes to cash in on that trend. While many other areas of the typical grocery store -- from the dairy aisle to the snack aisle -- now have kid-targeted stuff bundled together, the produce aisle has not risen to the times.
The catch: It has to interest kids four to 11 years old and their parents at the same time. These days it seems just about everyone's trying to make a buck off improved kid-specific food or beverage options, from Stonyfield's YoKids line of yogurt products to Honest Tea's line of Honest Kids beverages.
"Just telling kids to eat fruits and vegetables doesn't work," says Jeff Dunn, CEO of Bolthouse Farms and former president of Coca-Cola North America -- who was once responsible for all of Coke's business in the region. "Sometimes, it requires the same level of marketing they see in unhealthy options."
That means ultra-colorful packaging similar to bagged chips, clever designs like using animated characters on the bags, and some silliness, such as naming a smoothie "Peach Meets Mango."
But can this work on refrigerated produce? "A lot of foods we consume are about perception," says Beth Vallen, assistant professor of marketing at Fordham School of Business, who specializes in food marketing. "If this can be perceived as fun, maybe it can work."
What's more, putting it smack in the section of the supermarket that consumers perceive to be healthiest is ingenious, she says.
You just can't make this stuff up. Take a guy who used to run Coke. Mix in Campbell, a company famous for its canned soup. And what do you get? A brand trying to tweak the selling of better-for-you snacking.
Campbell bought Bolthouse two years ago, eager to move beyond consumer perception of Campbell as a company that mostly makes highly processed foods. This is particularly important to Millennial moms, says Dunn.
The new products include kid-sized smoothies, refrigerated fruit tubes (which also can be frozen) and kid-sized servings of flavored carrots (to be shaken with seasonings) dubbed "Carrot Meets Ranch" and "Carrot Meets Chili Lime."
The new kids line could evolve into a $100 million platform at Bolthouse, Dunn says, making it "our most important new product launch in a decade."
Dunn insists that his years at Coke, where he worked until 2004, give him ammunition -- and credibility. He knows how to capture the attention of young folks. He says the typical kid sees up to 100 "unhealthy" food ads for every "healthy" food ad.
The quickest way to solve the problem of kids not eating enough fruits and veggies, Dunn says, is the bring the same marketing savvy into the produce aisle that you see in the rest of the store.
Down the road, he hopes to add other veggies -- from celery to cherry tomatoes -- to his snack selection. And, at some point, perhaps organic versions, too.
But Dunn has one confession. The guy whose company sells more carrots than anyone admits to a personal junk food craving that simply can't be sold in the produce section -- caramel corn.