I love the expression, “the elephant in the room.” It’s a wonderful idiom that dramatically explains a subject no one is willing to talk about. Although I’m not sure the topic of children and confections applies — there has been plenty of commentary about hyperactive kids and artificial colors, obesity and candy consumption, candy being sold by schools as a fundraiser — those discussions have typically taken a cautious, defensive stance.
Naturally, as editor of the leading global B-to-B confectionery publication, it’s obvious where I stand: children and candy go hand-in-hand. But this bias, if you want to call it that, stems from common sense, not self-service.
As a father of two children — they’re both young adults now, 33 and 30 — I, together with my wife, understood that allowing our children to consume candy was part of life. Candy was never regarded as part of their diet, but neither was it demonized. Candy was as much a part of growing up as doing one’s homework.
At a Sweet Insights presentation on chocolate given by the National Confectioners Association several months ago in Chicago, Larry Wilson, v.p. of customer relations, pointed out that confectionery consumption represents only 2.8% of the calories of a child’s diet.
As Wilson emphasized, countries such as Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Norway and Sweden, all have a higher rate of per capita consumption than the United States. At the same time, they also have much lower obesity rates.
Yes, folks, exercise and a balanced diet — no great surprise, here — do play a role in whether children become obese or not. Ensuring that they have plenty of both is an ongoing educational and motivational process.
And that leads me to another subject: educating our children about confections. This is an area whereby the industry should be taking a more active role. When one considers all the elements involved in producing confections, from sourcing and processing to packaging and distribution, there’s are a slew of teachable moments available to the industry.
Let’s focus in on chocolate, which is a truly mysterious and magical ingredient that lends itself to exploration and discussion. Consider the fact that cacao is only grown in areas 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Right there is a lesson plan combining geography, agronomy, history, meteorology and sociology to name just a few subject areas. The processing of cocoa, which also lends itself to hands-on demonstrations, unveils the intricacies of other sciences, biology, chemistry, physics and more.
In this month’s news section, you’ll read about a program the Hershey Co. initiated involving schools in Hershey, Pa. and in Assin Faso, Ghana. The Hershey Learn to Grow: Ghana Distance Learning Program allows about 80 elementary students to learn together based on a curriculum developed by teachers in Hershey and Ghana.
Thanks to a connection made possible by high-definition telepresence video technology from Cisco, 11- and 12-year-old students in Assin Fosu — a rural town in Ghana’s Central Region — participate in a life-like virtual classroom program with fourth-grade students at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey.
Students from both countries connect every two weeks and go through six structured lesson plans over the course of three months. They look at factors that impact daily life in each country — from climate and weather to understanding local geography — and also learn about how cocoa connects their respective local economies.
The Ghanaian students will share information about cocoa farming and learn how cocoa, the key ingredient to chocolate, is grown and where it originates.
Meanwhile, the U.S. students and teachers will share information about how the cocoa grown in Ghana is transformed into delicious chocolate products.
Most importanlty, the students in Ghana will get to taste chocolate bars made in Hershey, Pa., with many trying chocolate for the first time. So how wonderful and cool is that?
Now, not everyone can implement such a wonderful cross-cultural exchange, although perhaps that should be the goal. Nonetheless, I can picture kids learning about chocolate, as well as hard candies and gummies, as part of a wonderful educational curriculum.
Am I being a bit outlandish you ask? Are my reading glasses a bit too rosy? Perhaps, but it’s better being positive about this industry’s role with children than being simply reactionary. It’s time to address the naysayers with a bit of pluck.