‘Eat your greens’ hasn’t traditionally been a very popular phrase with kids. But as healthy lifestyle messages settle into a front-seat position in the mainstream consciousness, kids are discovering that healthy doesn’t always have to taste bad. And as the rumblings of legislated regulation get louder, packaged goods companies and licensors alike are looking for ways to make healthy foods more palatable to their youngest consumers.
But would kids really reach for a healthy snack first? It’s getting to that point, says Rachel Gellar, chief strategic officer of kids marketing agency The Geppetto Group. In an effort to help its clients understand how kids feel about healthy eating, the New York-based company surveyed 675 kids ages eight to 10 last fall. Geppetto’s study found that 73% of kids like healthy food, and 55% feel that there are lots of healthy foods that taste good.
Gellar believes that the high-profile nature of the child obesity scare and the abundance of rhetoric surrounding this issue is helping to make kids more aware of their health – and that represents a marketing opportunity that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Licensors have always been present in the kids food category, but in response to the shift in social ethos, many are abandoning their candy and junk food lines in favor of more nutritious product niches.
But the trick is finding a way to get the healthy message out to two groups that want to hear different things. ‘The way we talk to parents about healthy food is exactly the opposite of the way we should talk to kids,’ says Gellar. Marketers typically communicate reduced sugar, reduced fat and low carbs as positive attributes to adults. ‘But those messages are a death knell for kids because whenever you say ‘less’ or ‘reduced’ to children, they also hear less taste and less fun. A food that’s reduced in fat is often crispier and crunchier, and that’s a positive way of looking at a product that has less. Take Triscuits, for example – you can say less fat to adults, but to kids, you say they’re extra crispy.’
Cartoon Network will be working hard to appeal to both parents and kids with the rollout of its second Wacky Days of Summer promotion this month, in partnership with Albertsons grocery stores and 14 different fruit and vegetable suppliers including Dole, Del Monte, Oppenheimer and Grimway. Characters from Cartoon’s classic animation channel Boomerang (such as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound) will help liven up the produce departments of more than 1,800 Albertsons stores via POP displays, balloons, posters, pennants and activity and recipe booklets.
The initiative is a perfect fit for Boomerang, says Cartoon Network VP of trade marketing Tom Alexander, because being in such a large grocery chain means extensive off-channel exposure on a national level, and fruits and vegetables mesh nicely with Boomerang’s efforts to position itself as a wholesome, family-oriented brand. ‘Healthy eating starts with the parents, who get excited about this promo because it features characters they remember from their younger days,’ he says. And predisposed to like anything branded with cartoon characters, whether they be old or new, kids should pick up on that excitement and associate it with the tooned-up produce.
This year’s promo builds on an initial summer 2003 effort that involved The Watermelon Board, Del Monte and Sunkist at about 1,600 Albertsons locations. This year, Cartoon has signed up 11 more suppliers and expanded into 200 additional stores.
Cartoon’s marketing team also added an on-line element to the promo blueprint this year in the form of a minisite on www.cartoonnetwork.com featuring produce-themed recipes, activities, fun facts about fruits and vegetables, and information about how to subscribe to the channel. The net is also donating the same promotional materials and activity books created for the Albertsons campaign to 12,000 pediatrician’s offices and 10,000 daycares through the Nemours Foundation.
Icelandic company LazyTown has launched several dual-targeting initiatives tied to its flagship TV series of the same name. For the past nine years, the company has worked with Iceland’s largest financial institution, KB Bank, to run the LazyTown Economy. Kids who invest money in a savings account are given LazyTown money that can be used to buy branded water and healthy foods including produce, dairy products, bread and cereal at participating grocers. The money can also be put towards activities such as swimming and public transit. The initiative, which runs through the summer, has seen its participation levels grow at a rate of about 60% each year since its inception in 1995, says LazyTown executive VP Ágúst Freyr Ingason.
The company expanded its pro-health effort last fall, when it mailed out 20,000 copies of an activity book sponsored by its food partners. Kids used the Energy Book’s sticker system to record what they ate or drank for 30 days, the idea being to help kids and parents get a sense of how their diets could be improved. At the end of the month, parents would reward their kids for meeting dietary goals. Kids could also log onto a website and enter their point values to compete as a city against other cities.
Ingason says about 33% of four- to six-year-olds in Iceland logged on for the promo, and the company hopes to repeat it this fall. ‘The key to this is letting kids figure it out for themselves, and keeping it fun and entertaining,’ he says.
LazyTown is headed State-side this year, with 40 episodes of the TV show set to debut on Nickelodeon in August. Once the brand is established, Ingason hopes to roll out similar national marketing programs in the U.S.
New York licensing agent United Media has gone the organic route in its food partnerships, particularly for preschool properties Peter Rabbit and Arthur. Peter Rabbit currently helps to sell a line of Buxton’s organic veggies in quantities and packages designed specifically for kids under five. Launched last year in Waitrose supermarkets in the U.K., the line’s distribution was expanded in February to include Sainsbury’s and Tesco, and senior VP of domestic licensing Joshua Kislevitz says there are plans to bring it to the U.S. next year.
Meanwhile, Arthur is enjoying a stint as the on-pack spokestoon for Annie’s Homegrown Macaroni and Cheddar and Certified Organic Arthur Loops canned pasta, as well as Nestle’s Juicy Juice 100% fruit juice line. In July, Arthur will appear on Momentus Solutions’ Healthy Moments vitamin strips – a variation on the popular breath-freshening strips that dissolve on the tongue.
Michael Schiller, VP of sales for Healthy Moments, says finding a character that resonates with both kids and moms is key, because while moms are still the purchasers, getting kids to want something that’s perceived as good for them is still a challenge. ‘We have to make it something kids want to do, versus something moms want them to do – so the message has to be ‘these are vitamins, but you’re going to have fun taking them,’ he says. Healthy Moments is actively looking for more characters with positive messages to pad its licensing program, with the potential to expand these partnerships into cross-promotions with QSR programs or home videos.
Laura Kuykendall, VP of marketing for Annie’s Homegrown, says Annie’s looks for bright, colorful characters and packaging to draw kids in, as well as using language that’s easily understood by kids in its nutritional information lists.
The mac & cheese and cereal SKUs both have Arthur-centric stories on their outer packaging that are continued either inside the box or on-line at www.annies.com. The site also features a dedicated Arthur page with activities, a book club and nutritional info. The stories are about being good to the environment and your body by choosing healthy options (i.e. non-processed foods like real cheese). Since its introduction in late 2002, the Arthur mac & cheese has become Annie’s third best-seller behind its shells and white cheddar and shells and Wisconsin cheddar, and unit sales were up 132% at the end of the 2003 fiscal year. Kuykendall says Annie’s is now looking for licenses that will appeal to an older six to teen demo.