Children’s health in sharper focus

Open Farm Sunday
Open Farm Sunday aims to connect children with food

Children’s health is coming under increasing scrutiny with several supermarkets taking decisive action and government-backed campaigns also tackling the issue. Has there ever been a better time for the fresh produce industry to raise its profile with parents?

It’s a clear signal there’s a major change in consumer thinking when Tesco announces, against a background of financial woes, that it will clear till areas of confectionery.

Following on from removing such items from checkouts in its larger stores in 1994, the supermarket recently ordered the same action to be taken in Metro and Express outlets.

Customers prompted the move, after parents claimed putting temptation in front of children was undermining efforts to get them to make healthy choices. Instead the stores will stock ‘healthy’ snacks, including dried and fresh fruit.

And in January the Public Health England’s Change4Life campaign launched a sugar swap promotion encouraging parents to give alternatives to products such as ice cream and muffins to their children.

English Apples and Pears

The fresh produce industry can build upon the media coverage such initiatives generate, says Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples and Pears (EAP).

January has seen a £250,000 advertising drive by English Apples and Pears, with a re-launch of its website and space taken in national consumer magazines targeting mothers aged between 25 and 44, with the strapline ‘Love English Apples’.

Barlow says that due to European Union restrictions on health claims for food, the industry has to rely upon research studies carried out by reputable bodies and universities to raise awareness of the goodness of top fruit.

However, the industry wants to get across to families and children that apples are an excellent alternative to confectionary in terms of taste and range. “It’s very important to persuade mothers to offer apples to their children, as it has been shown that eating habits formed at an early age can follow a child through their life into adulthood,” adds Barlow.

“We want children to see eating apples as a fun experience, with great taste and a range to discover.”

EAP has been mindful to create a visually appealing website, which includes competitions for children.

The confectionary market has ploughed millions over the years into research on how to engage children in their products, and now, as English Apples and Pears is showing, fresh produce companies and organisations can benefit from these same tools.

Weetabuddies

Another good example of how these techniques are being used to promote fresh produce is the new Weetabix campaign, which aims to persuade parents to ditch the sugar-laced competition by challenging children to get creative with a range of fresh fruit toppings.

Also launched this month, Weetabuddies is a range of cartoon characters that encourage children to customise their breakfast, and send in pictures of their designs for a competition to win Weetabuddies kits.

“We wanted to create a multi-channel campaign, in which the different elements would work together to get kids excited by the choice of a nutritious breakfast,” says a Weetabix spokeswoman.

“With this in mind, the website was created to support the on pack promotion and in store activity that we are undertaking. While we haven’t done any online specific research, from looking at other brands both within the cereal sector and those out of category, we feel that a combination of an easy competition mechanic and the right mix of engaging content, will not only engage mums and children with the Weetabuddies campaign, but will also show them that Weetabix is a breakfast full of endless possibilities.

“By successfully getting kids involved and inspired to create their own Weetabuddy creations, we also hope that they will be encouraged to make healthier choices at breakfast as many of the toppings used to create the Weetabuddy characters are fruit based in an effort to help increase children’s fruit intake.”

Although Weetabix is not working directly with fresh fruit producers, supermarkets such as Asda are labeling fruits that work well with the cereal as part of the campaign, helping not only sales of the produce but also raising awareness of the products with families.

The good news is that of the 27,000 schoolchildren surveyed by the British Nutrition Foundation, 77% of primary school children and 88% of secondary school pupils know that people should consume five or more portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Yet on the flipside, the majority of those pupils fall short of that quota, and this is where the government is hoping schools can step in to help young people increase their consumption.

It also provides the fresh produce industry with opportunities to assist with that education process.

The Brassica Association

The Brassica Growers’ Association has been running a successful online campaign called Love Your Greens for the past two years and works closely with FACE (Farm And Countryside Education), an organisation that visits schools and offers teachers downloadable resources on food and nutrition. It has also launched a ‘Tuck In’ recipe competition.

“This activity aims to inspire a new generation of Brassica chefs, encouraging children and young people to cook from scratch and create healthy, balanced meals,” says a campaign spokesman.

“As well as boasting a range of health attributes, Brassica vegetables are also incredibly versatile, and the competition judges will be seeking out the best original, creative and healthy recipes.”

With so much activity taking place to reach out and change children’s perceptions of fruit and vegetables, the produce industry and its associates are at last recognising the opportunity to help sharpen the tastebuds of future customers.

Open Farm Sunday

The Brassica Association is not the only organisation that’s aiming to get children closer to the growing process in the hope they learn to love fresh food. 

The Open Farm Sundays organised by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) are well known, but it also arranges Open Farm School Days

Throughout June, farms across the country will be inviting local schools to visit to help educate pupils in food production.

Annabel Shackleton, Open Farm Sunday manager explains more: “LEAF’s vision is to continue to grow the reach and impact of Open Farm Sunday and Open Farm School Days so that more school children can visit a farm and discover what sustainable farming is all about.

“Ultimately we want to create an opportunity whereby everyone has the chance to visit a farm and discover the vital work of British farmers in growing our food and enhancing the countryside, so that they fully value farming and the food they eat.”

With so much activity taking place to reach out and change children’s perceptions of fruit and vegetables, now is a great time to get involved and help shape the tastes of future customers.

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