For every ad that kids see for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, they see over 50 more for junk foods like soda and chocolate-flavored cereal. The food industry spends nearly $2 billion annually marketing junk food directly to children, and it works: The more ads kids see, the more they eat.
Can produce growers co-opt some of the same tactics to get children to eat vegetables instead? That's the strategy adopted by Bolthouse Farms, one of the largest producers of baby carrots and juices in North America.
In a new display that will be rolling out across selected grocery stores, the company is selling new products like "veggie snackers," a pack of carrots flavored like chips; pureed fruit in tubes; and unsweetened fruit smoothies, all wrapped in colorful, junk food-like packaging.
"We believe that stealing a play out of the junk food playbook is a way for us to make these kinds of foods more emotive, more reachable, more accessible, more affordable, and that will increase consumption overall," says Todd Putman, chief commercial officer at Bolthouse Farms.
The project is part of the company's larger approach to inspire kids to make healthier choices. Over the last few years, it's launched everything from an extreme baby carrot ad that parodied junk food commercials to a new project with Sesame Street. In the campaign, Sesame Street will be offering the use of their characters, for free, for produce companies to put on their packaging—so bananas and apples can be plastered with Elmo to lure kids in.
"The marketing world in produce is very different than what is typically called the center of the store," says Putnam, who used to work in marketing at Coca-Cola. "In the center of the store, there's a lot of capability and marketing and innovation that happens on those products. In produce, you just don't see the same kind of marketing activation, the same kind of packaging, the same kind of product innovation. You just don't see it."
As Bolthouse and other brands start to bring some of that innovation to the produce aisle, they're hoping to see real changes in how children eat. Some experiments have already shown that it can work—when a company called Super Sprowtz put its vegetable superhero characters on healthy snacks at a school salad bar, for example, the number of students eating vegetables at lunch rose 250%.
"I think every little bit helps," says Putnam. "We are not winning the war when it comes to fruit and vegetable consumption. The data shows that fruit and vegetable consumption is down 7% in the U.S. over the last 10 years. We're not doing well on that ledger."