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Manufacturers should help parents make healthy choices

By Sarah Hills , 01-Oct-2008

Food manufacturers need to work with retailers to make it easier for parents to choose more nutritious food and tackle childhood obesity, according to a new study.

Parents want retailers to help them find healthy selections for their families, so retailers should collaborate with manufacturers to “optimize availability of healthy assortments”, the IRI (Information Resources, Inc) report said.

However, aggressive ‘healthy’ branding and labeling is not the answer as it leads to in-store confusion, according to the study called “Healthy Kids Report II: Implementing the Better-for-You Standard”.

Instead retailers should arm parents with the information they need to select products that provide children with “better-for-you” healthy meals, beverages and snacks.

The report urges retailers to tap into the emerging market of health-focused parents, suggesting measures such as clearly segmenting better-for-you products from mainstream products.

Sean Seitzinger, senior vice president, IRI Center for Retail Innovation, said that a focused effort on the part of CPG (consumer packaged goods) retailers and manufacturers would benefit all.

He added: “As an industry, CPG manufacturers and retailers working together can lighten the load for parents, affect healthy change for kids, and bump up their bottom lines all by simply making it easier to make healthy choices.

“In the end, we believe education, cooperation, and collaboration will begin to turn the tide and produce positive results for all.”

IRI said information gathered from multiple sources, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that 21 percent of US children aged 6 to 17 are currently identified as overweight. By 2020 that number is projected to jump to nearly one third of all US children.

One of the main three factors that the report identifies as being at the heart of childhood obesity is mass marketing of food-related messaging.

It said: “The average 8-12 year-old sees 7,600 TV ads per year promoting various food items, such as candy, snacks, and fast food. Only one in 50 is deemed to be for healthy products.”

The other two factors were less physical activity, coupled with more sedentary entertainment such as video games.

Self regulation

Last month Dannon became the 15th company to sign up to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative in the US. The scheme was launched in 2006 by the Council of Better Business Bureaus Initiative to see if self-regulation could do more to address concerns about child-directed food and drink advertising and childhood obesity.

However, self regulation to ensure products marketed towards children meet nutritional standards was again called into question as recent analysis by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the overwhelming majority of foods the Nickelodeon channel marketed were nutritionally poor.

In 2005 Nickelodeon told the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it would use its characters to promote spinach, oranges, and other health foods. But advertisements for those foods are now totally absent from the company’s airwaves and magazine ads, the CSPI claimed.

IRI’s findings show that parents are increasingly looking to outside influences such as schools, government agencies, and particularly grocery retailers to support them in making healthier meal choices for their children.

According to the report, 75 percent of parents are making a conscious effort to purchase healthy foods, yet just 35 percent believe that retailers are doing a good job of helping them find healthy selections for their families.

Purchasing power

A separate report from Business Insights, called Ethical and Wellness Food and Drinks for Kids, said that parents are the dominant food purchasers for a shorter time as children begin to gain more independence and assert their purchasing power from a younger age.

It added that marketers are appealing to parents by printing clear and bold health and ethical claims on the packaging of kids’ food and drinks. However, these products also need to appeal to children.

Children are also becoming more brand conscious from a younger age and “demanding more gourmet and exotic ingredients”.

At the same time their purchasing power appears to be increasing as the amount of pocket money received by US children, aged five-to-nine, rose from $4.2 per week in 2001 to $8.2 in 2006.

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