Fruit Is In Top 3 UK Kids’ Snacks

Parental Guidance Suggested

By Jim Prevor, Editor-in-Chief, Produce Business

It is important to survey consumers because it gives us great insight into their thought process, but it does not necessarily provide insight into behavior. In this case, surveying parents about their children’s snacking habits inherently creates a bias in response because most parents want to be perceived as good parents. Since it is widely known that produce is a healthier snack than other options, asking parents what their children snack on is not a neutral question. It is virtually identical to asking the parent if they are good parents or not.

Put another way, one can ask a parent, “When your child eats ice cream, does he prefer vanilla or chocolate?” Researchers would probably get a reasonably accurate response because the answer carries no moral weight. On the other hand, asking about children’s snacking habits can be perceived by the research subjects as such: “Are you one of the lazy, negligent parents who allows your children to eat all kinds of junk, or are you one of the parents who love their children enough to enforce healthy standards and ensure fruits and vegetables are the most common snack?”

It would be fascinating to see this type of research tied in with actual purchase data, such as receipts from supermarkets, so we can get an idea of how much parental opinion translates into food purchase data. It would be even more interesting to go a step further and study actual consumption among children; after all, parents often purchase fruits and vegetables and children pass them by.

Despite the positive interest in increasing produce consumption, Kirsty Nolan, an analyst for Canadean, also points to important obstacles. She mentions interest in processed foods because they offer extended shelf-life, and she points out that “product must taste good in order for it to be successful.” Providing consistent taste can be a problem for the fresh produce industry. Many fruit items are inconsistent in taste, and many vegetables — especially the bitter green vegetables thought to be most important in promoting health — are often unappealing to children.

With the fresh-cut explosion, the produce industry made great strides in offering the more convenient product. However, fresh product inherently is not as convenient to store as, say, frozen product is to have ready to make a smoothie, and many vegetables are really cooking ingredients.

It is interesting that the researchers place great emphasis on marketing items as one of the recommended “5 A Day.” When the “5 A Day” program was just getting started in California back in the late 80s and early 90s, Barney McClure, who was the president at the San Francisco, CA-based ad agency, McClure and Tjerandsen — and an important marketer for the produce industry — praised the program for exactly that specificity. He said, up to that time, everyone knew that produce was good for you but never had a specific guide as to behavior.

With “5 A Day,” McClure thought there was a chance to really change behavior because the guidance was now so specific. Though the U.K. stuck with the “5 A Day” concept, the U.S., abandoned the concept back in 2007 to adopt a more conceptual slogan, Fruit & Veggies: More Matters. So the specification of a given serving may not carry the same impact here in the states as it does in the UK.

Of course, the big question may be to what degree marketing matters in selling produce for kids. Certainly, a good slogan or perhaps a Sesame Street character as promoted in the new Eat Brighter! program can gain some initial attention and even trial. But if the fundamentals of the produce don’t appeal to the children, and they don’t eat it, what are the odds of getting repeat purchases?

It makes one think that to really have a big impact on public health, we actually need to have efforts to condition taste buds so that little children get used to eating kale or spinach. In other words, maybe the whole notion that we are supposed to get children to love everything has to be challenged. Maybe the adults have to tell children what is good for them, and then insist they eat it.

It is not marketing, it is parenting, and maybe the public-policy approach should be to persuade parents that they need to step up and take responsibility for their children’s diet. Serious parents, insisting children eat healthfully, might boost consumption more than any marketing campaign.