EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Jabari Perry’s mom handed him a clementine from a bin in the produce section of English Creek ShopRite on Thursday.
The 6-year-old Pleasantville boy put it back and grabbed a banana, something that bothered neither his mother nor store officials one bit.
Jabari got the banana through a free fruit program at 29 ShopRite supermarkets — including eight in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties — owned by Union County-based Village ShopRites.
Under the program, children ages 12 and younger get a free banana or clementine while shopping with a parent or guardian. Company officials said the program aims to encourage youngsters to enjoy healthy snacks and is part of ShopRite’s effort to provide health and wellness offerings to its customers.
“We know that childhood obesity is a big concern in our communities, and we want to do our part to encourage healthy choices and healthy snacking,” Village ShopRite owner Ali Sumas said.
Jabari’s mother, Vikki, said she didn’t know about the program until she went to the ShopRite on Thursday. She said giving youths free fruit is a great idea, and not only because it’s healthy.
“It helps us figure out what kind of fruit they’ll eat,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know until they try one.”
The free fruit program began a year ago on a trial basis at the ShopRite in Somers Point, said Amanda Fischer, director of business relations for Village ShopRite. The program proved so successful that it was implemented recently at ShopRites in Absecon, Hammonton, Egg Harbor and Galloway townships in Atlantic County, Rio Grande and Marmora in Cape May County, and on East Landis Avenue in Vineland, she said.
“The response to our pilot program was phenomenal and inspired us to launch this program across all of our stores,” Sumas said. “Parents appreciate that teaching children to develop good eating habits at an early age is extremely important.”
Al Schiavo, who manages the English Creek ShopRite, said he’s gotten good comments from parents about the program, which is so successful that he often has to restock the banana and clementine bins daily.
Fisher said the program originated from customer requests that the ShopRites provide something for children, many of whom get hungry when they accompany parents on food-shopping trips.
Village ShopRite did a cost analysis for the program and eventually decided that the “rewards greatly outweigh the cost of the program,” Fischer said.
The fruits are available in the stores’ produce aisles, and the program is overseen by each store’s registered in-store dietitian. The 29 stores are located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Fischer said Village ShopRite participates in ShopRite’s overall program to help families eat healthier foods.
Village ShopRite takes its program into local schools, holding events such as vegetable challenges to see how many vegetables students can eat in a week, she said. Fruit and vegetable trays are offered as prizes, she said.
ShopRite also works with parents to help them with affordable solutions to the problem of eating healthier foods, something that can be expensive, Fischer said.