According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 5 school-aged kids are obese. This fact, combined with the war against sugar that’s raging in the headlines, stands to make a serious impact on grocery store business, which is probably why a number of supermarket chains are starting a Free Fruit for Kids program. The concept is simple: Stores offers free fruit for children under 12, provided in baskets in the produce section, most commonly found at the store’s entrance. Originating at Kroger stores in Ohio in 2015, “Free Fruit 4 Kids” has become popular with kids and parents alike, so much so that a chain of ShopRite stores in New Jersey implemented the program at the end of 2016.
My toddler can’t pass the fruit section without grabbing something and I know I’m not alone. For older kids who often food shop with parents after school, the Free Fruit for Kids program is a godsend. It also helps teach children healthy eating habits while drawing their attention away from junk food that lines the center aisles of the store. It’s also brilliant for the store itself. Instead of throwing out ripe produce that isn’t purchased, they simply give it away and it becomes a financial write-off.
While the program has gone over quite well in America, parents in Australia are complaining. When a grocery chain down under decided to proffer baskets of free apples and bananas, parents declared it “unhygenic“:
But customers have raised concerns that kids often have dirty hands and encouraging them to touch and eat fruit in-store could spread worms or other infectious disease.
“It’s unhygienic,” Kathy, a customer in Surry Hills, Sydney, told news.com.au. “Parents should be responsible for feeding their kids, having foods there unmonitored is a bad idea.”
On a Reddit thread on the free fruit scheme, Svedka posted, “Seriously though, that’s how you get worms”, while another user added, “Cue fruit peels left in strange places around the store, and kids with pear-juice hands touching things.”
It was not clear whether or not anyone on the Reddit thread suggested that parents have some hand sanitizer or a tissue in their pockets to clean their children’s hands, or clean up after them for that matter. Then again, what would an Internet chat forum be without someone raining on the parade of even the most innocent and well-intentioned idea?
As a mother who has had to wipe more than her fair share of plums on her shirt before handing them over to her excited toddler (see the Wall Street Journal on letting your kids eat a little dirt once in a while), I couldn’t be more thrilled with the idea of a grocery store offering my kid a free fruit snack. It encourages healthy eating while keeping him pleasantly distracted so I can get the often tedious job of food shopping done in record time. Plus, it keeps fruit in hand instead of in the trash can, making it a win-win for everyone involved. As for those picky parents with hygiene fears, hand soap and paper towels are in aisle twelve.