- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Eat more fruits and vegetables. Mom says it. Uncle Sam, too. Yet people still do not get enough, and the government just doubled the recommended amount.

Trying to entice shoppers, produce companies are putting freshly sliced fruit into fun packages for children and packing carrot and celery sticks to fit in a car cup holder. Some of the new lines are on display at the Food Marketing Institute show, the supermarket industry’s annual convention.

Sunkist’s Fun Fruits are sliced oranges, apples or pineapples, or red grapes with no stems, available in half-cup serving packages that have pictures of children on them. The products will be in supermarkets this year; Sunkist is working on a version for grown-ups.

“The kids love them. They open them up just like they would a package of potato chips, but there’s no fat in them, and it’s all healthy,” said Rick Harris, general manager of Sunkist’s value-added division. “Everyone’s talking about superfoods. This is like the supersnack food.”

Younger children have trouble peeling or eating whole fruit by themselves, said Helen Mont-Ferguson, the nutrition director for Boston’s public schools, one of the many school districts that have tried Fun Fruits to avoid the monumental task for cafeteria staff to peel and cut enough fruit.

“In our central kitchen, it took two days for us to section enough oranges for 18,000 kids,” she said.

Many adults and children are looking for the convenience of having a sliced, washed, ready-to-eat snack. That is why grab-and-go containers — soups or other foods — have become so popular.

Consumer research shows that the average person eats 1.8 cups of fruits and vegetables a day, according to the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation. That total is less than half the amount recommended in the government’s new food pyramid, which says the average person should consume about 5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.

But produce does not stay fresh long and is not as cheap to prepare and package as other foods. Apples, cherries and strawberries are still hand-picked, and labor can account for half the cost of fruit.

A big part of the challenge is that produce is not widely available where some are most likely to buy it — in a fast-food restaurant or vending machine.

“It’s more than just peeling an orange — it’s having it there when you’re hungry at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and forgot to bring anything from home,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, a dietitian and president of the foundation.

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