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Sugar, Spice and Nothing Nice

 
#KunalSpeaks20 November , 2018

A few weeks back my wife made a relatively healthy chocolate spread at home for our son. He rejected it. The next day she took the same spread and filled it in jar of Nutella. He loved it. We’ve done similar things with ketchup, cereal and chocolate bars, most of the times it has been successful. This holds true especially in cases where the homemade version was the first to be introduced.

We have a 4-year old and as parents we try our best to inculcate healthy eating habits. That does not mean we are strict about what he eats – occasional junk food is perfectly fine, in fact even necessary but the idea is that he should be aware about what is going in his body and he should be the one making that decision as he grows older.

I am sure there are many parents who have similar intentions like ours. However, brands that target kids are in a space where capitalization is not very effective. On the contrary, these brands make parenting very difficult.

Take for example McDonalds in India. They do a damn good job seducing innocent children with their colourful promotions, Ronald McDonald and those amazing toys. In return they feed children sugary, fried, salty, creamy junk! Nobody is stopping you from serving excessively salted fries, low-nutritional burgers or the absolutely horrendous colas, but at least give the parent a fighting chance! At least give them a few healthy options. You do this in the western countries, so why not in India? Why can’t I have the option of cucumber or carrot sticks instead of fries? I would look at Mc Donalds as a responsible brand if they offered milk as a choice instead of those sugary beverages. Their milkshakes do not qualify as an option as that is another sugar loaded drink coupled with melted ice-cream and very little milk. The standing question remains that why can’t a fast food brand take a larger stand and create a brand that is responsible towards our children?

 

Try watching any television show at anytime on a kid’s channel. While I have no statistical data, I am certain that majority of the ads during commercial breaks between programs are sugary, packaged, unhealthy junk foods and beverages (at times 100% of the ads are junk foods). A lot of these shows are great educational content for children, then why not the same responsibility towards what commercials you show children? Advertising makes unhealthy foods seem desirable for a child. A study conducted at the School of Psychology at University College Dublin concluded that for very young children, awareness of food brands increases greatly between ages three and four and is highest for unhealthy foods. Food-brand knowledge predicts what kids will ask for later. Why can’t a television channel take a stand and be responsible about the commercials that get aired, or at the least offer a time slot which is free of irresponsible product ads? – Just like we have primetime, could there be a responsible branding time?

I love going to supermarkets and large format retails. Not for grocery shopping as much as to research and study brands. Taking a child grocery shopping along with you is like stepping into a warzone. It’s a parent’s war against unhealthy brands. You may notice me walk-in with a shopping cart, but what I have really walked in with is an armoury full of excuses, defences and strategies to safeguard my child against colourful, sugary, packaged, fried, fattening evils.

 

It’s a well-known fact that retail design and planning is based on human psychology – aisles are designed to tempt, circulation is designed to make you buy unnecessary things while you get to the basics. Supermarkets are the ultimate battleground for parents; this is where advertising, branding, placement all comes together for one final showdown.

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The first aisle I battle is the “Cereal” killer who is trying to slip in unnecessary sugar in the name of healthy cereal by showing my son a friendly cartoon tiger.

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The second aisle is a showdown of me V/s the wolves dressed in sheep clothing – all those safe and organic looking fruit based snacks and beverages who are trying to sell my son the idea of replacing the fruits with them.

 

But the worse is the final round at the check-out billing aisle. The retailers know there is no escaping this because while you wait, you are prone to multiple impulse purchases. This is where a parent may run out of patience and ammunition and give in to their child’s demands. This is exactly where they place their best soldiers, the high on sugar candies, the friendly egg-shaped chocolate surprise, the colourful lollipops, the cheap made in china toys and the quick snack chocolate bars. This is the final showdown, and after we pass this our parenting skills are evaluated basis the percentage of junk food vs healthy food in our shopping carts (or how many times you disappointed your child with the stern “no” or the creative excuses).

For once, I would love to see a grocery billing aisle with fruits. Is it too much to ask for? Can supermarket brands at least offer me one responsible billing aisle which makes it easier for me?

Fat and sugar are inherently appealing to the human palate, so even with an equal amount of exposure to both healthy and unhealthy foods – the recall value of unhealthy food is much higher. It’s very easy to pin these things on “It’s all about good parenting” and saying “All the parents have to do is say No”. But it is not that simple. No parent would like to say NO to their child.

A lot of brands “catch them young”. Companies know that our relationship with brands is very emotional. They start laying the foundation for this relationship very early on making it difficult for parents to fight. You will find that every large junk food brand does a damn good job with their corporate social responsibility, or at least they showcase that brilliantly on their websites. Aerated drink brands will show how they have replaced regular cola with low calorie colas in schools, fast food brands will show how they are feeding under developed nations, packaged food brands will show how healthy they are by reducing serving size, the list keeps going one. But how many of these brands actually question their own product? How many of them wonder whether it should be directly or indirectly marketed to children? The world’s largest cola brand is developing new methods to ensure waterways remain clean and useful, but what good is it if millions of children globally are consuming beverages they are not supposed to?

I believe that with increasing awareness amongst consumers, brands should tread carefully, especially when it comes to children. The future is for brands that genuinely show responsibility, brands that “catch ‘em young” for meaningful products and more importantly brands that address the parents’ apprehensions before tempting their children. After all branding right also means branding responsible.