All Articles Food Food Retail How food companies are helping kids make healthier choices

How food companies are helping kids make healthier choices

4 min read

Food Retail

Even as the debate goes on in Washington about whether schools should have more flexibility in incorporating federal school nutrition standards, nobody is arguing against the need for programs and partnerships that give kids the tools they need to eat better. Food companies including Chobani and Bolthouse Farms have partnered on efforts to win kids over to healthier snacks, companies like Revolution Foods are winning tech-world backers for their healthy school lunches and chefs and restaurants are making bigger moves to get kids eating more nutritious foods.

Fresh produce and juice maker Bolthouse Farms has been an active partner in the Produce Marketing Association’s program that will allow fresh fruit and vegetable marketers to use popular Sesame Street characters in their efforts to reach pre-schoolers with a healthy eating message. Marketing and Innovation Chief Todd Putman chaired a 12-member PMA task force to set up the Sesame Street program. Sesame Street has the highest rate of shared viewership between moms and preschoolers, according to research from Sesame Workshop, and studies have shown that the popular characters have the ability to influence both groups when it comes to healthier eating.

The produce industry is a diverse mix of major international players and really small growers and producers, so it was important to get all the voices to the table when hammering out the rules of the program. Now, companies are in the process of getting approval for their marketing programs, and the first campaigns are likely to start breaking this summer and fall, Putman said.

The Sesame Street characters are important because they’re so well known to both the kids and their moms, who are the main target of Bolthouse Farms’ fresh produce marketing efforts. The company doesn’t advertise during programs aimed at young children, and the use of Big Bird or Elmo won’t change that, Putman said, but the fact that both moms and kids know and love the characters will make it easier to reach both groups.

The change comes as fresh fruit and vegetable producers that in the past have largely focused on filling existing demand are shifting gears, using programs like the Sesame Street partnership to create new demand and spur ideas for additional demand-generating efforts in the future, Putman said.

The results of the partnership will be seen mostly at the retail level, while other players are more focused on boosting nutrition in schools.

Chobani teamed last year with the Agriculture Department on a pilot project to put its Greek yogurt on the K-12 school lunch menus as a protein option in four states, and this school year the program will expand to eight more states. In the first year of the program, schools in New York, Idaho, Arizona and Tennessee served more than 200,000 pounds of Chobani Greek yogurt to their students. The program makes it more affordable for participating schools to offer Greek yogurt, which has twice as much protein as regular strained yogurt, Chobani said.

In addition to serving the yogurt as a standalone protein option, using it as a dip for can help boost consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, the company said.

Also on the school dining side, a company called Revolution Foods won $30 million in new funding from Revolution Growth, a venture capital firm led by AOL co-founder Steve Case, TechCrunch reported Thursday. The company began eight years ago by a couple of moms looking to provide healthy, affordable school lunches, and today, the company serves a million meals a week to students at 1,000 schools in 50 districts. The breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks are chock-full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and are made with natural ingredients and without artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup.

Food makers aren’t the only ones promoting healthier eating for kids. As part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, restaurant chefs around the country have teamed with schools in their area to promote better eating habits. And the National Restaurant Association’s has gotten restaurants to focus on creating healthier kids menus.

Can food companies’ marketing efforts help encourage healthier eating habits in children? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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