WARWICK, RI - Kids First held its inaugural Northeast Regional Healthy School Foods Marketplace at the end of January. The first-of-its-kind event in the nation attracted 38 suppliers of nutritious and "kid-friendly" foods and beverages to the Radisson Airport Hotel in Warwick, RI.
Suppliers of healthy foods from all parts of the country took part, and this breadth of coverage in turn attracted school foodservice professionals, school administrators and vending operators from throughout New England and other areas, too. Showgoers reported finding the trip worthwhile because of the new products they discovered to meet the demand for vending menus of higher perceived nutritional value in schools today.
Exhibitors showcased only healthy foods that meet the Nutrition Guidelines developed by Kids First, the RI Healthy Schools Coalition, Massachusetts Action for Healthy Kids, or Connecticut's Team Nutrition.
"Although we invited over 1,200 buyers for schools and childcare institutions throughout New England and expected as many as 300 to attend, Mother Nature had other plans. We were hit with a terrible snowstorm that lasted all day on the 26th, just three days after the blizzard of 2005," commented Dorothy Brayley, Kids First executive director. "Our comprehensive plan to solve, in just one event, the distribution problem that exists in getting healthier foods into our schools was challenged when only 60 or so buyers braved the storm and were able to come to the event.
"Thank you to all who were able to make it," she said, "and a special thank you to all the vendors who ended up stranded in Rhode Island longer than they had intended! And thank you to Johnson & Wales University, who graciously offered the use of the Radisson Ballroom for this innovative inaugural event."
Despite the storm, all was not lost, as those who were able to attend left with bags full of samples to bring back to their school systems. Influential showgoers in attendance came from Rhode Island's Narragansett, West Warwick, Coventry, Scituate, East Greenwich, Cranston, Pawtucket, and North Smithfield school districts, Brown University, Rhode Island childcare programs and several Connecticut and Massachusetts districts.
"Some even promised to share products and information with neighboring school systems," Brayley reported. "And' Kids First will share all information about products and vendors with anyone who asks. Just give us a call or e-mail us and we will be happy to help you. And one more thing, we hope to organize a second Healthy School Foods Marketplace very soon. Stay tuned!"
VENDING TIMES toured the exhibits and found myriad products ideal for vending and foodservice. Sunkist Growers Inc. unveiled its new line of "Sunkist Fun Fruit," 100% fresh, ready-to-eat fruit in single-serve bags. The better-for-you, kid-friendly product line is packaged with whimsical graphics that feature photographs of kids consuming the fresh produce, with an emphasis on the fun factor. "Sunkist Fun Fruit" varieties include 3.5-oz. "Orange Smiles," 2.8-oz. "Apple Grins," 2-oz. "Grape Giggles," 2.7-oz. "Pineapple Pals" and 1.3-oz. "Carrot Kidders." The new snack line offers a 14-day refrigerated shelf life.
Emerging as a brand of choice as it rapidly builds recognition in the healthy snacking category, Stacy's Pita Chip Co. offered samples of its latest product rollout, 1-oz. "Soy Thin Crisps" with a Buttery Caramel flavor profile. "Soy Thin Crisps" are also available in Sweet BBQ and White Cheddar varieties. Stacy's flagship product is its "Pita Chips," available in single-serve 1.5-oz. bags in Parmesan Garlic Herb, Pesto & Sundried Tomato, Texarkana Hot and Simply Naked flavors. Stacy's baked "Pita Chips" contain 60% less fat than fried chips.
Van Holten's "Pickle-In-A-Pouch," in a convenient new stand-up package that promotes its "low-carb" appeal, offers a healthy salty snack alternative that is shelf stable for two years, and can thus be vended from a conventional snack vending machine. The pickles are available in Sour, Dill, Kosher, Hot, Hot Mama (Hot & Spicy), Little Pepe (Pepino Picante), Garlic Gus (Zesty Garlic) and Big Papa (Hearty Dill) varieties, each packed 12 per case.
Goddess Granola representatives were on hand at the Healthy School Foods Marketplace to provide the details on "Goddess Granola" in convenient 1.75-oz. resealable single-serve bags. The granola is offered in three varieties: Genuine, containing organic rolled oats, whole and sliced almonds, pecans, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, maple syrup, canola oil and spices; Ginger, with the same ingredients plus Australian unsulfured crystallized ginger; and Just For Kids!, which is the same formulation as Genuine, minus the almonds and with the addition of non-dairy chocolate chips.
Al's Beverage Co. combines the frosty appeal of a frozen slush beverage with the added attraction of 100% pure fruit juice, enriched with vitamins C and D and calcium, and no added sugars. Available for sampling during the show, "Orchard Frost Slush" comes in a variety of flavors: Blue Raspberry, Fruit Punch, Strawberry-Banana-Kiwi, Orange, Cherry and Peach/Mango. The slush base is shelf-stable. Al's Beverage Co. offers promotional programs to support operators in their sales efforts.
Addressing booming demand for healthier grab-and-go beverages in schools, Organic Valley introduced Strawberry and Vanilla as new flavor additions to its line of 11-fl.oz. lactose-free, single-serve milks, which are also available in Regular and Chocolate. The low-fat, flavored, organic milk contains no refined sugar, and 40% less sugar than leading competitors. The milk is vitamin fortified; it is formulated to optimize calcium absorption. Organic Valley's award-winning, cow-spotted package design features a convenient resealable top. The company also offers schools 8-fl.oz. gable-top cartons in organic low-fat white and chocolate versions, produced without antibiotics, synthetic hormones or pesticides.
Cabot Creamery, a leading New England dairy, highlighted its yogurt line as a convenient and healthful snack or meal during the healthy food event. The 8-oz. yogurt is available in nine flavors: Vanilla, Strawberry, Lemon, Peach, Very Berry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Berry Banana and Black Cherry. Rich in vitamins A, C, D and E, Cabot yogurt is a good source of calcium, potassium and protein and reportedly provides more vitamins, but fewer calories, sugar and carbohydrates than many leading brands. Cabot also turned the spotlight on its wide array of 50% and 75% "light" cheese products, and its kid-friendly single-serve string cheese.
Another regional dairy, Garelick Farms, took the opportunity to promote its line of single-serve milks and juices during the event. The 10-fl.oz. lineup includes Whole Milk, Low-Fat Milk, Fat-Free Skim Milk, Chocolate Milk, Coffee Milk and Apple and Orange Juice, all in plastic containers ideal for school environments. The company also offers ice cream, cheese products, yogurt, butter and margarine, among other products.
Naturally Fresh exhibited its extensive lineup of dressings, syrups, dips and sauces in convenient portion cups. Items such as "Greek Vinaigrette," "Bleu Cheese" dressing and dip, "Sweet & Sour Sauce" and "Cream Cheese Fruit Dip" are just a few examples of the many healthfully prepared condiments foodservice and vending providers can offer to enhance their menu offerings.
SNACK BARS FOR EVERYONE
Healthy food and beverage broker Pro Team Food Brokers of New England highlighted several better-for-you items at the product exhibition. In the spotlight was Nature's Path's new "EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Bars," which are low in fat and sodium, gluten-free and offered in three kid-pleasing varieties: Chocolate (Koala), Peanut Butter (Panda) and Berry (Cheetah), featured in vibrant packaging intended to capture the attention of young consumers.
The brokerage also unveiled "Horizon Organic" milk in shelf-stable aseptic pouches. The 8-fl.oz. organic, reduced-fat milk is offered in flavored Orange Cream, Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry and 2% white milk, and fortified with vitamins A and D. It is produced without administering growth hormones, antibiotics or pesticides. Also available is "Horizon Organic" juice in single-serve, aseptic boxes. The 100% juice line includes Apple, Grape and Fruit Punch in 6.75-fl.oz. packaging featuring kid-friendly graphics.
J.M. Smucker Co. spotlighted its "R.W. Knudson" brand of juices and spritzers during the healthy foods exhibition. Its line of 8-fl.oz. organic aseptic juice boxes includes Apple, Razzleberry and Natural Lemonade flavors, and its 11-fl.-oz. "Spritzers" (an effervescent alternative to soda sweetened and flavored exclusively with fruit juice) includes Boysenberry, Orange, Passionfruit, Mango, Fandango, Mandarin Lime, Tangerine and Black Cherry.
Front and center at the U.S. Mills exhibit was "Uncle Sam's" cereal bars. The 1.75-oz. bars are low in fat, high in soy protein, vitamins A, C and E, rich in folic acid, a good source of calcium and iron. They are available in Apple Berry and Oatmeal Raisin varieties. U.S. Mills has been producing wellness-oriented cereal products since 1908.
New to Our Family Farm's lineup at the show was 1-oz. "Captain's Catch Baked Cheese Crackers," a wholesome snack cracker in unique sea-life shapes, made with organic wheat and real cheddar cheese and without hydrogenated oils. Our Family Farm's mission is to provide consumers with healthy products they enjoy, to benefit charities focused on the needs of children.
The Switch Beverage Co. took the opportunity presented by the Rhode Island event to spread the word about its 100% juice carbonated beverages in school-friendly, 12-fl.oz. aluminum cans. "The Switch" is available in Apricot Peach, Black Cherry, Grape, Lemonade, Orange Tangerine, Watermelon Strawberry and new Tropical Punch flavors, and contains no added sugar, corn syrup, artificial flavors or preservatives. The beverages provide more than 100% RDA of vitamin C.
Barbara's Bakery is expanding healthy meal replacement options with its "Puffins Cereal and Milk Bars." Available in Strawberry Yogurt, Blueberry Yogurt, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and French Toast varieties, the bars provide the nutritional equivalent of a bowl of cereal and a glass of milk, and are low in fat, a good source of fiber and protein, trans fat-free, and packed with 21 essential vitamins and minerals.
Schwan's has taken a universal kids' menu favorite , pizza , and enhanced it nutritionally to be lower in fat and sodium while delivering high fiber. The result is Schwan's new line of "Smart Pizza" in numerous varieties including classic round, thick crust and French bread pizza, with pepperoni and sausage as topping options. Broker Cotton, Cotton & Hill showcased the new Schwan's offerings, along with Apple & Eve's wide range of healthful, kid-friendly beverages, including new "Apple & Eve Water Fruits" purified water with real fruit juice, fortified with vitamins and minerals. Packaged in 10-fl.oz. PET bottles, they're available in Fruit Punch Flip, Citrus Splash, Watermelon Wave and Berry Breakers flavors. Apple & Eve also offers 10-oz., resealable, clear PET bottles of 100% juice in Apple Juice, Fruit Punch and Berry Medley varieties, as well as its 6.75-fl.oz. aseptic "Power Pouch," featuring 100% juice in Fruit Punch and White Grape Strawberry varieties with eye-catching graphics.
Full-service vending company New England Ice Cream exhibited at the healthy foods event to inform school administrators about its ability to meet the demand for healthier vending options in schools. The company offers the growing Frito-Lay healthy vending portfolio of products and its own wellness-oriented planogram featuring yogurts, cheeses, fruit snacks and nuts.
With demand for its product reaching new heights, Kar Nut exhibited its extensive lineup of nuts and trail mixes, ranging from 1-oz. Shelled Pistachios and 2-oz. Hot 'N Spicy Peanuts, to 2.25-oz. All Energy Trail Mix and In-Shell Sunflower Seeds, with more than a dozen choices in all.
Northeast Vending Solutions showcased a range of healthy snacks from a variety of suppliers, including Dole's vendible "Fruit Bowls" in Tropical Fruit, Pineapple Tidbits and Peaches in Strawberry Gel varieties, accompanied by a fork for convenient away-from-home consumption.
Izze Beverage Co. provided showgoers with samples of its healthy alternative to conventional soft drinks. "Izze Sparkling Juice" is available in 8-fl.oz. cans and 12-fl.oz. glass bottles in Sparkling Raspberry, Sparkling Grapefruit, Sparkling Clementine, Sparkling Lemon, Sparkling Pear and Sparkling Blueberry. The beverage line is made with 100% pure fruit juice and sparkling water, with no added preservatives, sugar, caffeine or artificial ingredients.
Tropicana Products highlighted its 100% Juices in kid-size, easy-grip 10-fl.oz. resealable plastic bottles, which provide a full day's supply of vitamin C and are offered in a variety of fruit flavors including 100% Orange Juice, 100% Apple Juice, Cranberry Juice Cocktail and Ruby Red Grapefruit Cocktail.
A fast-growing supplier of healthy snack alternatives, Late July Organic Snacks introduced organic, trans fat-free 1-oz. "Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers" and "Cheddar Cheese Sandwich Crackers," with no trans fats, corn syrup or toxic pesticides. The sandwich crackers join its well-received organic Cheddar Cheese Bites snack crackers.
Eliminating the risks associated with peanut allergies in the school setting, The SoyNut Butter Co. introduced its individually-wrapped 9-oz. "IM Healthy SoyNut Butter with Pretzel Sticks." Soy nut butter is similar in taste and texture to peanut butter, but contains 50% less saturated fat and is free of trans fats.
Patriot Snacks showcased several lines of healthy chips from a variety of companies. Highlights included Robert's American Gourmet's 1-oz. "Pirate's Booty" rice and corn puffs and "Fruity Booty" fruit-flavored puffs, which is establishing a loyal following in vending. Other items of interest included "Terra" gourmet potato chips, including an exotic mix of taro, sweet potato, yucca, parsnip and ruby taro, and Genisoy's "Soy Crisps," which blend soy and rice in a low-fat, delicately baked snack. Another healthful product showing was Classic Foods' "Kettle Krisps" baked potato chips, with only 1.5 grams of fat per serving.
Honey Acres introduced showgoers to its "Hi-Honey Energy Fruit Bar for Athletes." The 1.25-oz. bars, available in Apricot and Raspberry, provide quick energy, rapid glucose recovery, high carbohydrate-to-calorie ratio and are fortified with vitamins C and B. Honey, the main ingredient, is a natural fructose-glucose carbohydrate mixture with a mix of protein, vitamins and minerals believed to offer performance benefits offered by many beverages commonly used by athletes.
For more information on Kids First's Nutrition Guidelines for Vending and A La Carte Snack Foods, and its list of more than 550 approved products, call (401) 751-4503 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The non-profit organization, focused on improving the nutritional and physical well-being of Rhode Island school children, maintains a website at www.kidsfirstri.org.