Don’t miss a trick with kids

Natasha Gavin

Natasha Gavin is a fussy-eating expert and founder of I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum! She also recently launched her own brand of Top Trumps, to teach children the values of healthy eating while they play

It’s always great to hear about different companies, associations and producers promoting fresh produce to children.

As an example, at the high-volume end of the marketplace, Tesco recently launched its Eat Happy project aimed at school children discovering fresh produce in their stores. Big brands are often criticised in these instances for self promotion, but as far as I’m concerned if it achieves the objective of ‘marketing’ fruit and vegetables to children as fun, then that over-rides any benefit that Tesco will get out of it.

Both in-store and online, most of the leading retail chains have something in place that is aimed at encouraging kids to eat healthily – although this is of course balanced pretty evenly with the encouragement to buy some of the less healthy elements of the grocery range. I don’t think we can blame them for that necessarily, even if it would be nice to see the balance sway a bit further towards nutritional value.

In my view though, too many independent stores and greengrocers are missing a trick, and perhaps failing to boost sales and enhance their chances of competing with the large chains, not least by largely ignoring the potential of pester power.

For example, colourful fruit and veg bunting, posters and produce displayed at children’s eye level would all act only to engage them in the product offer.

Whole Foods Market offers a free item of fruit to young children at its entrance – why couldn’t smaller grocers nick that idea and place a basket of washed fruit by their till for children to help themselves. As long as that fruit is child-friendly and of high quality, this could boost sales either immediately or on their next visit to the shop – take it from me, children have excellent memories!

I encourage my local grocer (I live in Ealing, West London) to have fresh produce colouring sheets hanging from the till for children to take away, and fresh produce games (like the Top Trumps cards) and other food related board games available for children to play with whilst their parents shop. There may sometimes be a shortage of space for that, but most shops can spare a small area to please their shoppers of tomorrow, surely.

Recipes behind the till with ideas of how to use in-season veggies are clearly designed first and foremost to prompt a parent to try something new. But an older child who reads them while in the store might well start a discussion with a parent. ”Mum, what is okra? Can I see it?” and so on… This should not only be encouraged, but built into the customer service – it’s your chance to show your knowledge and expertise and entice shoppers back for more.

My local grocer also gets my 6-year old to ‘tidy up’ the apples and pears, putting them back in their little holes. OK, he has me on his side and I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there who would not react with delight if their children were asked to do some chores with the cores, but it’s another example of getting kids involved. That’s invariably when they learn the most and it’s the stuff they remember as they grow older.

The fresh produce industry may not be able to make extravagant ‘health claims’ as such, but I also think that is an excuse for a lack of creativity. No-one is going to argue that eating a ‘rainbow of fruit and veg’ is good for you, that fibre in leafy veg helps you poo or that Vitamin C and A in orange carrots and citrus fruit will help fight off the colds all of our kids have been battling over the last few months.

As so many of the people at the City Food Lecture in London last month seemed to agree, we all have a responsibility to do more to sell the most natural produce on earth to children if we are to combat rising childhood obesity and make future generations healthier, rather than consumers of huge amounts of processed food.

There is no other way.



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