(Photo courtesy Pure Hothouse Foods)

Grower-shippers hope to be a resource for parents as the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has forced many people to work from home with their kids out of school.

“Parents are in survival mode, most juggling the stress of workplace disruption/uncertainty as well as homeschool education,” said Lori Taylor, founder and CEO of The Produce Moms and an ambassador for Crunch Pak, along with other produce brands.

“Simplicity and straightforwardness is critical. How is your website and social media presence a solution to the at-home cook and the millions of exhausted, stressed-out parents that are trying to maintain morale at home during COVID-19? 

“Our followers have asked us for at-home activity and e-learning sheets, new content to inspire children to eat fruits and vegetables, information on how to store fresh produce at home, and simple meal ideas that yield the least amount of dirty dishes, like sheet pan dinners and casseroles,” Taylor said.

Nichole Towell, senior director of marketing at Duda Farm Fresh Foods, suggested limited-ingredient recipes, meal plans, cooking videos, downloadable shopping lists and coloring sheets as ways the industry can help families during this public health crisis.

“Parents are looking for information on snacking as well as ways to keep kids entertained while they are home from school,” Towell said. “For snacking recipes, they are looking for ways to utilize pantry staples and also keep produce fresher for longer. Any information on how to best clean, store and use produce items with longer shelf life is beneficial to more parents at this time.”

Chris Veillon, chief marketing officer for Pure Hothouse Foods, also noted that ease is key.

“There is a staggering amount of people throughout North America who have immediately embraced a greater consumption of ready-made meals, with spikes in meal kit deliveries,” Veillon said. “Simple, easy-to-make, one-pan-type options are key to getting people active in the kitchen.

“Providing relevant and engaging content is key to connecting with people,” Veillon said. “While most telecommunication companies have suspended data limits for cell phones and internet access, we are seeing a spike in website and social media traffic. We are very aware of the types of content that we are posting to not only promote the brand but to engage on how to live healthy lifestyles.”

Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh, noted that, along with seeking ways to keep children busy and productive, parents will be on the lookout for items that are healthy and don’t create a big sugar rush — which makes apples and produce overall an ideal solution.

Marissa Khan, marketing manager for the National Mango Board, and Dan Davis, director of business development for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, were among numerous produce professionals who mentioned the opportunity to get kids involved in meal preparation.

Jim Grabowski, director of marketing for Well-Pict Berries, described the benefits of that approach as two-fold.

“It does double duty — gets a meal on the table and keeps their ‘assistant chefs’ entertained,” Grabowski said. “We’re going to be highlighting our Junior Chef recipes across all social media platforms. I’m hoping it will help out a lot of parents.”

With that same goal in mind, Dole has created an At-Home Parents Resource Page on its website that includes produce-themed crossword puzzles, coloring pages, recipes and more.

“Our customers are telling us they want more information they can use during this time, so I think it becomes the role of all of us in this supply chain to respond in service for the greater good,” Goldfield said.

Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager for Stemilt Growers, described a similar approach based on feedback from the brand’s followers.

“We are sharing simple snack ideas and have also created a Pinterest board titled Fruity School Projects to help incorporate our fruits into at-home learning,” Shales said. “It’s a great time to educate consumers about our foods and help them teach their family how to prepare them in simple ways.”

Morgan Maitoza, marketing manager for California Giant Berry Farms, said the company is seeing a surge in interest in very easy recipes, ideally with 5-10 ingredients.

“Our database of followers are also increasingly responsive and engaged with content pertaining to our farmers — grower stories, field and crop photos and the desire to feel connected to the many heroes in our country that are providing accessibility of fresh, healthy products for families to consume,” Maitoza said.

Danelle Huber, marketing specialist for CMI Orchards, said that recipes, food-related science projects and healthy snacking tips are go-to ways to connect with consumers at this time and that people have been getting creative on their own as well.

“We’ve even had a consumer come up with workouts using apples and bags of apples as the weights,” Huber said. “The silver lining with this situation is that kids and parents seem to be spending more time together in the kitchen, which provides a huge opportunity for educating families on the health benefits of apples (and healthy eating in general).”

While social media posts and blog posts are often designed to give people a vision to which they might aspire, social media posts right now should be designed to give people ideas easy to execute, said Trish James, vice president of Produce for Kids.

“Skip the fancy dishes with lots of ingredients,” James said. “Although they tend to look beautiful on social media, they aren’t helping families get three meals on the table each day.”

Along with looking for resources to make more meals at home and keep their kids busy, parents are turning to industry experts for reassurance on the safety of produce.

“Most of the questions we are fielding through our social channels are related to food safety,” said Emily Murracas, director of marketing for Mucci Farms. “We continue to reassure the public that our food safety standards remain to be amongst our highest priorities and all of our products are grown, harvested, packed and shipped with premium care.

“Despite the circumstances, we remind consumers that fresh fruits and vegetables contribute positively to health and wellness and, of course, a strong immune system,” Murracas said.

Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit, also noted requests from consumers about details on food safety.

“Parents are most interested in food safety at all levels, from seed to table,” Sinks said. “With the recent recalls and the current virus issues, parents want to feel that their food is safe for their children and want to know the steps that are taken to ensure this is happening.”

Grabowski also noted the importance of addressing any concerns about safety during this time.

“The key right now is to share a consistent, but not overwhelming, amount of information with your followers,” Grabowski said. “Share the items and advice that would be missing if you weren’t contributing your expertise. Provide information about fresh produce: growing, handling, transport. Let people know they don’t have to be afraid to eat the types of foods that will keep them healthy.”


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