Bakers Journal

(Un)Natural Child Girth

November 6, 2007
By Michelle Brisebois

“Honey, are we killing our kids?” with the good life . . .

It’s been said that reality-based TV shows are popular because they tap into some universal consumer issue.  Survivor works because we’re all concerned about our economic, emotional and physical survival.  “The Apprentice” targets our competitive nature.  If this theory is true, then what can we surmise from the new TLC (The Learning Channel) show titled, Honey, I’m Killing the Kids?

This family weight-loss makeover show utilizes a series of computer generated, fast-forwarded photos to simulate how obese children might look at age 40 if they continued on this path. The grown-up versions on the screen are gargantuan, with multiple chins and decaying teeth. Most of the parents on the show are horrified enough to leap into action and change their child’s eating habits.  Many of us can relate, and it’s scary stuff.  With up to one-third of Canada’s children classified as overweight, parents are desperate to find healthy foods their kids won’t turn their noses up at.  When it comes to targeting healthy foods to kids – how do we satisfy their sweet tooth without mismanaging their weight in the process?

Obesity rates for Canadian children have doubled in the last 25 years, earning this cohort the nickname, “Generation XXL”. In 1978/79, three per cent of children, aged two to 17, were obese. By 2004, eight per cent, or an estimated 500,000 children, were obese (Statistics Canada).  Breakfast For Learning is a non-profit, volunteer agency dedicated to starting school nourishment programs.  The group conducted a study on childhood nutrition, and found that Canada scores a C’ when it comes to making sure our kids are eating healthy foods. The survey found that many children are not eating the daily recommended servings of vegetables and fruit, whole grains and milk products. It also found that as younger children hit their teens, their eating habits worsen.

The food industry is quite savvy about targeting kids, who then pester their parents into buying tasty, calorie-laden foods.  A Stanford University research study found that one 30-second commercial can influence the brand choices of children as young as two. Repeated exposures to ads are even more effective. Very young children don’t have the processing skills to tell the difference between a commercial and the regular TV program. And children under eight don’t comprehend that advertising’s purpose is to convince people to buy things.  By advertising to children and teens, family purchasing can be modified, and eating habits developed in childhood often continue into adulthood, so food businesses can impact a person’s buying patterns long term. These tactics all seem a bit subversive and evil, but if we employ them to promote healthy items, it’s a good thing.

It appears that children choose foods based on taste, smell, colour, packaging design, graphics, product name, containers that are easy to open or hold, influences from peers or older children, and advertising.  Try to include eye-catching artwork on packaging. Cartoons often make children take a second look, and placement of products on food shelves (at a kid’s eye level), or making the foods appear more fun and exciting, will definitely get the desired attention from your smaller customers. Contests or giveaways are often popular with kids.  Nestle recently launched Kit Kat and Aero singles with a youth-oriented interactive website, offering a shopping spree at a shoe store and faux horoscopes.  Nestle has wisely tapped into an opportunity the bakery industry could benefit from – portion control.

These new chocolate bars clock in at around a mere 100 calories. It’s important for kids to have treats, and equally important for them to understand that the treats don’t have to be “bubba sized.”  Market mini-muffins and muffin tops. Bite-sized doughnut holes, rolled in flavoured drink crystals, will add some whimsy to the menu. Make it sugar-free drink crystals, and you’ll be saving their waistlines and their teeth. Children will grab any opportunity to have control over their own lives, and manipulating their food taps into this opportunity nicely. Try building a little self-mastery into the kids’ menu by allowing them to sprinkle their own toppings on a doughnut. A little whipped topping will make the perfect dip for sliced fruit – sell it in small plastic containers, and label it as fruit dip. Many Canadian school feeders are promoting whole-wheat and whole grain bread products. The challenge for many parents is that their kids prefer the cake-like texture of white bread, and wouldn’t dream of eating a crusty, whole-grain bread. A nice, moist, whole-wheat bread can provide a great, transitional product for kids to work their way towards whole grains. Savoury baked goods, such as cheese scones and muffins, can strike a nice balance between taste and nutrition. Frozen roll dough, flattened and topped with tomato sauce and cheese (called pizza buns), are a perfect quick lunch for home or to take to school. Parents love to find easy, tasty healthy solutions, especially for lunch pails going to school where peanut butter sandwiches are unwelcome guests because of allergens. If you have the space in your bakery, consider creating a special “kids’ zone”, where all of the children’s healthy options can be merchandised. Initiate a robust sampling program, so parents and kids can try them together while they’re in your bakery. A small flyer listing your products for kids can be popped into shopping bags of those making other purchases. 

The health of our society’s children is a shared responsibility. Parents, governments, and the food industry must all do their part to help kids develop sustainable eating habits that support them, and don’t endanger their health.  After all, it takes a village to feed a child, as well as to raise one.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing  professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at:

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