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BODY WATCH : Mushy Doesn't Do It for Consumers


In recent years, crunch has become the cornerstone of major advertising campaigns by produce growers and food manufacturers.

To sell apples, for instance, the Washington State Apple Commission used to focus on the health benefits of its fruit, spokesman Jim Thomas says. Then about four years ago, the emphasis shifted.

"We changed the message from 'Eat apples because they're good for you' to 'Eat apples because they're crunchy and juicy,' " he says.

Thus was born the apple commercial, aired regularly on radio and television, with people opening wide, then biting down. The closing line simply says: "Washington apples: They're as good as you've heard."

Apples shipped by the commission must meet a rigid "crunch standard." That means in pre-shipment sample testing, "There has to be at least 12 pounds of resistance before the apple is punctured," Thomas says.

Apple growers don't have a corner on crunch. Last year, the Nabisco Foods Group's Planters Division introduced Caribbean Crunch, a low-fat fruit and nut snack, and Sweet 'N Crunchy, peanuts coated with a sugar-and-butter crunch shell.

Quaker Oats talks about crunch appeal on the label of its Cinnamon Crunch rice cakes. And the company is now test marketing Crunch'ums, a fat-free puffed snack food, spokeswoman Laura Jackson says.

General Mills has just introduced Sun Crunchers, a cereal of corn flakes, whole wheat flakes and pieces of sunflower seeds, says spokeswoman Kathryn Newton. Two established cereals, Wheaties and Cheerios, have gotten crunchier with recent product improvements, she adds, with the Wheaties box now promising "Better taste, bigger crunch."

Chalk it all up to consumer demand, says Elizabeth Faullin, of Nabisco Foods Group. In a market-research survey conducted in mid-1993, Nabisco asked 150 adults--ages 18-65--what they look for when buying salty snacks. Crunchiness was outranked only by taste (No. 1) and price (No. 2).

In consumer surveys conducted by the Washington State Apple Commission, says Thomas, "Crunch has always come out on top."

Apple eaters associate the crunch sound with "positive images of eating apples in the past," Thomas says. And with that, he says, often comes relaxation. "People usually take a break while eating an apple."

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