Welch’s to Intro Packaged-Fruit Line

NEW YORK Best known as a leading producer of grape juice and other fruit beverages, Welch’s is delving for the first time into branded packaged fresh fruits: It is now testing single-serve fresh green and red grapes with an extended shelf life of 12-17 days.

The chilled seedless grapes on stems are packaged in 5 ounce clear plastic containers that claim to maintain freshness and fit conveniently into car cupholders. Testing is at select retailers in Florida, including Wal-Mart and Albertsons, in the refrigerated bagged produce section, priced around $1.69-1.79.

A national rollout is planned for January with an integrated marketing campaign via WPP Group agency JWT in New York. The client in recent years has spent $25-30 million on ads, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Company executives compare the single-serve grapes to other packaging innovations, most notably pre-washed bagged salads and the emerging “cupholder cuisine” plethora of products like Campbell’s Soup-at-Hand and Pepperidge Farm’s Whims Cookies.

“Two years ago we started to percolate on how to make fruit fit into people’s lifestyles,” said Paul Klutes, product manager for new ventures at the Concord, Mass.-based client. “How could we get them to pack fruit into their kids’ lunchboxes or their attache cases.”

Grapes are the start of a bigger strategy that will ultimately reflect Welch’s diverse fruit equity in its berry juices. Up next: Strawberries.

“Everyone in the company is on board. It represents a huge growth opportunity,” said Klutes. They hope to distribute product at retailers, in c-stores, vending machines and food-service venues, Klutes said.

Klutes is in talks with a Florida school district and several school vending companies. “Here’s a way to get kids to eat their fruits; to snack healthy when moms are so concerned about their kids’ health,” he said.