Getting Real About Candy And Obesity
By Brady Darvin,
Senior Director-Consumer Insights,
Strottman International Inc.
How can the candy industry best address today’s
growing obesity epidemic? Consider these insights from premium
promotions agency Strottman International, and take a look at some
real-world solutions to the “responsibility” question drawn
from outside the candy category.
One would have
to have been living in a cave for the past five years not to be aware of
the dramatically increasing rates of obesity in both children and adults
and the resulting media frenzy and consumer and government advocacy the
issue has spawned — especially when it come to kids.
But how concerned should candy manufacturers,
marketers and retailers be about this issue? How many times have you heard
the following arguments — or even suggested them yourself?
Candy is a treat, not a diet staple, and even
kids know this.
It’s up to parents to teach their kids
how much candy is OK to eat.
Confectioners have never tried to market their
products with the goal of misleading consumers, so there’s really
nothing they need to do differently.
Candy is never going to be looked upon as healthy, so
there’s no point in changing the marketing messages or tactics the
industry has used for decades.
The preceding statements sound reasonable, but they
reflect a flawed approach to the issue of obesity.
Candy makers have remained relatively silent and
passive about the obesity issue, continuing to believe that their industry
is not responsible for solving this growing public health problem.
It’s the same attitude that quick-service restaurants, packaged goods
marketers, and children’s entertainment providers had a few years
ago. The difference is that those industries have awakened from their
responsibility-free dreams and have become proactive, inspirational forces
of change (See sidebar, “How Quickly Things Change.”
Time to act
So what can the candy industry do? The answer is both
simple and complex, but it boils down to this: Make an effort to
communicate to consumers that your company is concerned about the growing
obesity epidemic, and offer parents and their kids tools to help them deal
with it. What kinds of tools should be offered? Consider the following
Make portion control easy and fun. Create smaller package sizes. Re-purpose Halloween-sized
“fun packs” for other channels and occasions. Develop more
novelty dispensers or in-pack premiums that encourage kids to eat more
slowly while leveraging the high perceived value of toy/novelty premiums to
maintain margins on individual SKUs.
In the United Kingdom, Cadbury recently launched
smaller, 100-calorie versions of some of its candy bars in conjunction with
its support of the British candy industry’s “Be
Treatwise” initiative to encourage healthier living (See http:
). The company is finding that consumers will pay a
premium to have portion control managed for them.
Leverage packaging and premiums to encourage activity. Innovative packages and in-pack or on-pack premiums
can be designed to encourage physical activity while at the same time
making products stand out on shelves and offering added value to consumers.
For example, instead of a fin-sealed bag, why not a hard plastic canister
with weighted ends designed to be kicked around a la the classic
“Kick the Can” game to encourage kids to get active?
Another option: Instead of a static, plastic or plush
cane-topper, how about creating a clickable exercise counter with a guide
to fun exercises? Even better, use a product’s inherent
characteristics to inspire premiums. For example, the design of bubble gum
in super-long strips lends itself perfectly to a tape-measure-like
dispenser with paper measuring tape that encourages kids to measure how far
they can jump.
Communicate messages that promote activity.
The simplest of all health messages for kids to understand
is one of “Energy in. Energy out.” Encourage kids to burn off
those calories from treats, and let moms know that you care about the
well-being of their children by promoting physical activity on packages and
in advertising. Such messages can be communicated overtly or subtly. For a
direct approach, consider taking advantage of free messaging guidelines
like those that Strottman helped develop for non-profit group The Ad
Council (see http:
//healthychildren.adcouncil.org), or from the National Confectioners
Association (see http://www.candyusa.org/media/hot/diet/default
.asp). For a
more subtle approach, consider how you might change or add to package or
store display graphics to show kids being active.
The responsibility question
What then does becoming more “responsible”
mean for confectioners? Becoming more responsible does not mean accepting
blame as the cause of the obesity epidemic. Instead, it means taking action
in order to become part of the solution.
To do that, it’s important to develop an
understanding of the kinds of wellness messages that resonate most with
kids and parents.
Extensive research by Strottman and The Ad Council has
demonstrated that the following approaches are key to successful wellness
Be direct. Place
messages directly into the context of food and/or exercise and activity.
Be clear. Messages
that are vague, indirect or leave anything to the imagination are confusing
and therefore miss the mark.
Be positive, not preachy. Positive
messages are those that moms and kids perceive as telling them not just
what to do, but how to do it. They are solution-oriented and communicate
the concepts of balance and moderation.
Negative messages are those that are perceived as
passive, vague, accusatory, condescending or scientific-sounding.
At Strottman, we frequently talk to consumers directly
through our proprietary consumer panels of “Kid Engineers” and
“Gatekeeper” moms. Recently, Strottman talked to some groups of
moms about the controversy surrounding food marketing targeted at kids in
general, as well as their feelings towards candy specifically.
Not surprisingly, all of the moms admitted to
frequently using candy and other sweet treats as a form of bribery and
Another big concern for moms when it comes to candy is
their fear of being negatively judged by other moms.
In general, the Gen X-aged moms with whom
Strottman talked clearly felt that the overwhelming majority of the burden
of ensuring that their kids are eating healthfully lay on themselves as
parents, but they also said they would enthusiastically welcome any help
marketers and retailers could give them.
Anyone who has been following media coverage of youth
obesity trends the last few years may find this mea culpa attitude from
moms surprising. Advocacy groups such as the Center for Science in the
Public Interest, government officials like Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, and
even scientific bodies like the American Psychological Association place
blame squarely on food marketers, calling for strict limitations on food
advertising and other marketing efforts directed at kids.
Learning from experience
What lessons and conclusions should candy makers take
away from the actions other categories are taking to address current
Old paradigms regarding what product categories can
inspire healthy behavior have been shattered. Industries that a few years
ago seemed stereotyped as only contributing to the cause of obesity are now
demonstrating that they can be part of the solution.
Contrary to what the most vocal anti-kids’
marketing advocates are saying, parents want to take responsibility for
their kids’ wellness themselves, but they also want help from
Brands such as McDonald’s, Kraft and Nickelodeon
have stepped up, taken a stand and begun positioning themselves as
responsible corporate citizens. In contrast, candy makers, marketers, and
retailers that have not yet proactively taken steps to find their role in
helping to combat the growing obesity epidemic are setting themselves up to
be the next target of overzealous government officials and advocacy groups.
But even more importantly, the confections industry is missing a great
opportunity to introduce a whole new sub-category of better-for-you
confections through portion-controlled packaging and labeling, in-pack
premiums or novelties that encourage physical activity, and responsible
messages that communicate in a simple way the importance of balancing
occasional sweet treats with an overall healthy diet and lifestyle.
About the Author
Brady Darvin is the Senior Director of Consumer
Insights for Strottman International, Inc., which specializes in youth- and
family-targeted custom premium promotions. He has provided consumer and
industry insights to clients such as Arby’s, Chick-fil-A, Quiznos,
The Ad Council, Best Buy, Sprint, and Disney. Mr. Darvin has been
acknowledged as an expert in the field of how the childhood obesity
epidemic is changing the way foods and beverages are marketed to kids. He
may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|How Quickly Things Change
|| Today’s Realities
|Fast food isn’t healthy, and everyone knows it. It’s not as if McDonald’s is going to become an advocate for healthy eating and exercise, or that fast food is ever going to be healthy. After all, it’s fast food, what do people expect?
In June 2004, McDonald’s introduced Apple Dippers as an alternative to fries in Happy Meals, and in May 2005 they introduced an entire advertising and promotional campaign with the tagline, “It’s what I eat and what I do,” that centered around exercise, a balanced diet and healthy choices.
The result? McDonald’s stock price is up more than 130 percent since its low point three years ago. It is now the nation’s largest purchaser of apples, and in some regions like Southern California, almost 20 percent of Happy Meals are sold with apples instead of fries.
|Kids watch a lot of cartoons on television and play a lot of video games. The fact is that networks like Nickelodeon are just not ever going to say, “Hey kids, turn off the TV and go out and play.” Kids just don’t jump around in front of the TV — they sit and they watch, and if we want them to exercise, the TV just has to be turned off.
In the summer of 2003, Nickelodeon did the unthinkable: It told kids to turn off the television and go outside and play! The campaign, called “Let’s Just Play,” climaxed in October 2004 when Nick blacked out its own network for an entire afternoon and sponsored over 650 outdoor events in communities nationwide.
The “Let’s Just Play” program just completed its third year, and Nick plans to continue it.
Nutrition Facts panels on packaged goods provide consumers with all the information they need to determine if the food is healthy and to advise on proper serving sizes.
In July 2004 Kraft Foods debuted a new Nabisco line called 100 Calorie Packs. Each box contained separate miniature bags of kids’ (and adults’) favorite cookie and cracker brands in 100-calorie portions. The cost per ounce was double or even triple that of multiple-serving packages. Critics were quick to predict the demise of the line, saying consumers wouldn’t pay such a premium just for pre-sized portions.
In its first full year on the market, the 100 Calorie Packs line had sales of $107 million. In the U.K. early this year, Cadbury became the first confectioner to introduce and promote 100 calorie portions.