Selling carrots like junk food

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Thursday, 28 October 2010.
Tagged: eating mindfully, fast food, healthy snacks, hunger, junk food, snacks, take-away

Selling carrots like junk food

Should everyday vegetables like carrots or broccoli be marketed the same way as fries? Do vegies need to be 'fun' if we want our kids to swallow them? Or should they just eat what they're given? It's a tricky issue for parents and food educators.

 

Baby carrot campaign

In 2010, carrot growers in the US took baby carrots to a new level with a US$25 million ad campaign to market them like chips and fast food. With the tag line "Baby carrots: eat 'em like junk food", the campaign promoted mini-packs of small carrots as a healthy alternative to salty packet snack foods sold via vending machines. There were billboards with the message "The original orange doodles", an iphone app powered by the sound of people munching on carrots, a video game plus a Youtube video.

Nigella says make kids work, don't make it fun

UK celebrity chef, domestic goddess and mother of two, Nigella Lawson, weighed in saying that she believed parents are under too much pressure to behave like children's TV presenters in the kitchen. Today's parents, she suggested, mistakenly believed that they had to make cooking "all fun and recreational".

In contrast, her own upbringing was based on the notion of kids learning to help out with the 'boring kitchen chores' from an early age to get a meal on the table each night. "There was a different view of childhood then - we were expected to be useful to our parents," she remarked.

Many parents – raised on the old-fashioned principle that kids should eat what's put in front on them - find this whole attitude of making food 'fun' as impractical and unnecessary. Why do modern kids have to have everyday fare 'transformed' before they'll bother to eat it? Who has time to cut out star-shaped potato pieces or makes a 'face' from various bits of vegetables?

Pros

As a parent (and we had one of THE fussiest eaters ever born), I love any attempt to make carrots, spinach or Brussels sprouts (or any of those 'yuck' foods) fun for kids. After all, years of dinner-time battles - cajoling, nagging, bribing and disguising vegies in other foods - hasn't worked! Think how much easier it is when the parental 'push' becomes a child-driven 'pull'.

As a nutritionist, it makes my job of getting people to eat better easier. A snack-pack of carrots looks fun, portable, share-able, non-messy and easy for little hands to eat – as are French fries. I know we're converting a basic (think boring) food into something that fits the fast food way of eating. But the trade-off is that it gets a healthy low-kilojoule high-fibre no-added-salt option to a whole new eager audience.

Cons

I know I'll be paying more for snack packs of baby carrots than for ordinary carrots but I think it's worth it.

And you don't need to start putting your child's vegies into Macca's packets to get them eating more (although this tactic boosts children's consumption of basic foods six-fold due to the power of advertising, according to US research).

One study, by US food researcher Professor Brian Wansink, showed that simply giving vegies a cute name was enough to get kids chowing down. Children eat twice as much broccoli when it's called 'Gregory Green' or "Little trees" instead of being called just 'broccoli'. Green beans look a whole lot more attractive as 'Mister Bean' or 'Shrek food'. Check out my tips for Taming fussy eaters and cutting dinner time stress.

"Giving a food a fun name makes kids think it will be more fun to eat. And it seems to keep working – even the next day," says Wansink. Seems the carrot people have taken this finding one stage further. Let's see how well they sell after 12 months!

The bottom line:

Packaging healthy food in a way that competes against fast food gets my vote. Yes it does have its detractions but I bet we'll see more carrots being consumed than ever before - and that's a good thing.