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    Get ’Em While They’re Young

    Hoping to influence future eating patterns, retailers and manufacturers strive to get better-for-you items into kids? midday meals.

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ

    It?s not exactly health food, but there?s something different about the five-SKU cookie line that recently debuted exclusively at Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market in time for the back-to-school season.

    The Certified USDA Organic, Verified Non-GMO cookies, available in such indulgent varieties as Vanilla Cupcake and Chocolate Layer Cake, will be available at ?many other retailers? in 2015, asserts Liane Weintraub, co-founder and CEO of Hicksville, N.Y.-based Tasty Brand.

    ?Our new Sandwich Crème Cookies are both classic and modern at the same time,? Weintraub explained at the July launch. ?The nostalgic flavors take you back to a cherished time. The organic attributes and absence of artificial ingredients are what today?s consumers want for their families.? Weintraub and company co-founder Shannan Swanson spent more than a year developing the line?s ?classic American bake-shop flavors,? all but one of which are vegan, in close collaboration with Dwight Richmond, Whole Foods? global grocery purchasing coordinator.

    For his part, Richmond admitted, ?Sandwich crème cookies are an American classic, but they haven?t always been the cleanest in terms of ingredients.? Tasty Brand, however, had come up with a product ?that our shoppers can enjoy and feel good about sharing with the whole family,? he said.

    To promote the cookies, Tasty Brand teamed with the La Farge, Wis.-based Organic Valley cooperative of dairy farmers to hold ?milk-and-cookies? demos throughout August at the chain?s stores nationwide. A subsequent campaign, running Oct. 15?28, featured the cookies at two packages for $6, and a major promotion, also at Whole Foods, is planned for the entire month of January, according to Weintraub.

    ?Generally, we promote heavily during key ?lunchbox? times of year ? back-to-school (August/September), Non-GMO Awareness Month and Halloween (October), winter back-to-school (January), and Gluten-free Awareness Month (May),? she notes of her company, which also makes similarly ?clean? fruit snacks and lower-sugar, bite-size star-shaped vanilla and chocolate chip cookies in portion-controlled 100-calorie packs.

    Along with Whole Foods, Mrs. Green?s Natural Markets, a banner of Irvington, N.Y.-based Natural Markets Food Group, has been championing better-for-you lunchbox solutions through such venues as its in-store dietitians? blog posts and events like the Back to School Family Health Fair, which featured vendors sampling their nutritious products, in addition to ?giveaways, food & fun,? at the chain?s West Windsor, N.J., store.

    Natural/organic food stores are certainly in the vanguard of offering more healthful options for kids to bring to school, with the ultimate aim of creating a new generation of more nutritionally aware eaters ? research such as the long-term ?Nestlé Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study,? published in 2011, suggests that children?s eating habits develop early in life and are heavily influenced by family members ? but the trend has spread to more mainstream operators, as evidenced by the fact that Miami-based Ginnybakes, one of the companies contacted for this article, has placed its better-for-you cookies, bars and bake mixes in Costco, Target, Publix and Stop & Shop, among other grocers.

    Starting From Scratch

    Among manufacturers of kid-oriented items, a primary consideration is the ingredients, which not only need to be healthful, but also yummy, to satisfy both young consumers and their concerned parents.

    For some, that means taking things personally. ?My family is my inspiration in all aspects of my business,? observes Ginny Simon, founder and CEO of Ginnybakes, whose recently introduced product line of bite-sized Ginnyminis comes in lunchbox-friendly snack packs. ?When I first began tinkering with Ginnybakes recipes, I thought, ?What would I want to serve to my kids?? I searched for high-quality, organic ingredients in order to develop delicious, gourmet treats and snacks. As all Ginnybakes products are gluten-free, made with only premium, whole-food ingredients and no artificial preservatives, they?re a mindful indulgence the whole family can enjoy.?

    Simon adds that the company is working on additional flavors for Ginnyminis, which are currently available in chocolate chip oatmeal bliss, butter crisp love and chocolate chip love varieties.

    ?Finding treats that are not only delicious and nutritious, but [also] what kids will eat, is a balance that we?ve struck with our cookies and bars,? asserts Jerri Graham, founder of Westport, Conn.-based Nothin? But Foods, whose offerings include premium snack bars and a 1.4-ounce 2-pack of granola cookies in Cherry Cranberry Almond and Chocolate Coconut Almond flavors, both made from ?a few real ingredients, tastefully combined.? The company?s non-GMO products are also free of gluten, eggs, wheat and butter.

    A similar focus on health can be seen among high-visibility brands as well. Los Angeles-based Snack it Forward LLC is rolling out nationally the Sunkist Fruit 2.0 line of 100 percent freeze-dried fruit, which is fat- and -gluten free, with no added sugar or colors. The line?s vibrant packaging holds Fuji Apple, Banana, Strawberry or Red Seedless Grape slices.

    According to Snack It Forward?s Nick Desai. ?Sunkist Fruit 2.0 is a focused product line with the goal in mind of offering a high-velocity, low-SKU intensive program to enhance retailer produce offerings in a time when consumers are seeking convenient and new better-for-you snack options.?

    Likewise, Kellogg Co.?s current crop of portable snacks includes Nutri-Grain Fruit and Oat Harvest Bars, a soft-baked blend of whole grains and oats with a sweet filling, available in Country Strawberry and Blueberry Bliss varieties. The bars contain 5 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.

    Crowd Control

    Once a company has developed a family-focused better-for-you item, it must decide on appropriate placement. Melissa?s Clean Snax, which the Los Angeles-based specialty produce company?s director of public relations, Robert Schueller, describes as ?healthy, granola-like? bite-sized snack foods [made] with chia seeds and flaxseeds, two known superfood items, [and] sweetened with honey,? are featured in produce departments, although the product line is shelf-stable for six months. This merchandising strategy serves to play up the section?s healthy halo for consumers.

    When Clean Snax debuted in August, Melissa?s ?promoted [it] as a back-to-school/at-work healthy snack item this fall for kids and parents alike,? he says. ?We have focused [our] efforts ? in natural food retailers, and retailers seeking gluten-free snacks.? The promotional push included informational signage.

    For Nothin? But, front and center (store) is where it?s at. ?Placing our products near the checkout, and also alongside traditional wheat-, butter- and egg-based cookies, makes them stand out even more from the crowd,? says Graham, who also believes ?that the best way to get people to love our products is to sample them out at every opportunity. When children sample our cookies at stores, they often make the initial buying decision when they taste it. The final decision takes place when their parents read the ingredients and know that this is one treat they don?t have to worry about.?

    Gimmick-free Zone

    Making sure kids get a healthy start in life by introducing them to nutritious foods early on is a trend that?s here to stay ? and could also pay off in superior school performance: A 2009 University of Alberta study of 5,000 children found that those who ate an adequate amount of fruit, vegetables, protein and fiber, with less calorie intake from fat, did better on literacy tests than those who ate foods high in salt and saturated fat.

    ?As more parents and children begin to read the labels of the foods they eat, there will be a change in the products available,? predicts Graham. ?People will stop accepting products loaded with preservatives as they become more aware of the long-term impact these sorts of products will have on the overall health of their children and themselves. [Items] that are free of preservatives, and are naturally delicious treats that don?t rely on gimmicks or fake ingredients, will be the future of shelf-stable, lunchbox-friendly products.?

    ?When I first began tinkering with recipes, I thought, ?What would I want to serve to my kids???
    ?Ginny Simon, Ginnybakes

    ?Finding treats that are not only delicious and nutritious, but [also] what kids will eat, is a balance that we?ve struck with our cookies and bars.?
    ?Jerri Graham, Nothin? But Foods

    ?People will stop accepting products loaded with preservatives as they become more aware of the long-term impact these sorts of products will have on the overall health of their children and themselves.?
    ?Jerri Graham, Nothin? But Foods

    By Bridget Goldschmidt, EnsembleIQ
    • About Bridget Goldschmidt In addition to serving as Progressive Grocer’s Managing Editor, Bridget writes many print and digital features encompassing a range of grocery and fresh categories across the store. Bridget also enjoys on-site reporting assignments at such key industry events as the New York Fancy Food Show and the International Boston Seafood Show, in addition to visiting stores for PG’s prestigious Store of the Month feature. In her years with the magazine, she has developed into a knowledgeable voice on grocery industry trends, sought by such distinguished publications as The New York Times. Follow her at www.twitter.com/BGoldschmidtPG.

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