Have you heard about the new ad campaign that’s branding baby carrots as junk food? Not an alternative to junk food. But junk food’s cheeky, farm-fresh cousin. There will be crinkly, snacky-type bags, some sold in vending machines, all labeled with the hipster directive to “Eat ’em like junk food.”
In a world of food gone crazy, this is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.
Something like 50 carrot growers are teaming up to spend $25 million to persuade parents and kids that eating carrots is good not because carrots are nutritional powerhouses and tasty, too, but because they’re orange and doodle-shaped like Cheetos. (Haven’t we been down this road with cartoon characters?)
Here’s Bolthouse Farms CEO Jeff Dunn (a former Coca-Cola executive) in yesterday’s USA Today story: “It’s not an anti-junk-food campaign. It takes a page out of junk food’s playbook and applies it to baby carrots.”
Because, of course, junk food is such a good role model.
But the best bit belongs to advertising psychologist Carol Moog, who, according to the story, “says kids may be disappointed to find all the flashy ads are really just for carrots. She says they need to make carrots more fun — like, perhaps, putting an orange (but natural) dusting on carrots that mimics Cheetos.”
Moment of silence, please, as I ponder the ridiculousness of that statement.
So. What do you think? Harmless fun? Or hell in a handbasket?
Some trivia: Did you know that “baby” carrots are, in fact, whole carrots chopped and whittled to nubs? Fascinating backstory here.
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2010 Christina Le Beau
Oh. My. God.
I’m going to go with “hell in a handbasket” and vehemently refuse to EVER purchase baby carrots in a package that looks like Cheetos.
“says kids may be disappointed to find all the flashy ads are really just for carrots. She says they need to make carrots more fun — like, perhaps, putting an orange (but natural) dusting on carrots that mimics Cheetos.”
There are just so many things wrong with both of those statements that you’d actually need a year of silence to make sense of them.
The answer is slow food. By that, I mean GROW some carrots. Well worth the wait and attention. Give kids an appreciation for what goes into creating a carrot, a real one.
Visit the Carrot Museum and learn more about baby carrots including the words of warning about lower nutrition and chlorine
So true. Not to mention the fact that “baby” carrots don’t even taste like real carrots. Hmmm, I might actually make a joke about baby carrots being the junk food of the vegetable world if this ad campaign weren’t just so insane.
That’s a new one for me too. But… It might work. One of the reasons junk food is so popular is the flashy marketing campaigns and the whiz-bang packaging. If this packaging gets people to reach for a bag of carrots instead of a bag of potato chips, I’m thinking that’s a good thing. Then, once those people begin to think of carrots as an alternative snack food, we reel them in for the organic, locally grown carrots. Because, yeah, these “baby” carrots are a far cry from the glories of fresh and local carrots.
In general, it’s much easier to work within established behavior patterns than to change behavior patterns. That’s basically what this is doing. They are trying to sell more carrots by working within the wildly successful junk food niche. It doesn’t personally appeal to me (or you, I’m willing to bet), but it might appeal to lots of Cheetos eaters.
The fake orange carrot dust though? That’s just wrong. Ick.
Thanks for migrating your comment from Facebook, Cristina. (Must figure out how to make that happen automatically!) As I mentioned there, my problem is with the perceived need to associate carrots with junk food, as though that’s the only reason people would eat them.
And I have to wonder whether diehard Cheetos fans are really going to switch to carrots just because of the marketing. Seems like an enormous waste of money, and an insult to thinking eaters.
But you made a good follow-up point (also over on FB), about how this marketing may draw in people who are sort of in the middle, and then maybe that can be a steppingstone. One can always hope.
The whole carrots-as-junk-food idea is absurd and silly and says a whole lot about where we are as eaters in this country. Backwards and confused.
But, that’s where we are right now. That’s our starting point for any change we hope to implement. The readers of this blog know enough to reach for real carrots, skipping these silly uber-marketed “baby” carrots. But, what about the many, many people who think of french fries as an acceptable “vegetable?” Those are the folks this marketing campaign is aimed at. And, it might work. Honestly, I hope it does.
The thing about behavior changes happening in stages is really relevant here, I think. We can’t expect Cheetos-eaters to just walk away from their junk food and embrace a carrot. It just doesn’t happen that way. There are a whole slew of decisions and actions and experiences that lead up to that ultimate change. A big one would surely be the realization that carrots are a tasty snack food. Thus, my belief that the silly packaged carrots aren’t an entirely bad thing.
But, Cristina, that’s so sensible. And I just want to be outraged. LOL. Seriously, though, thanks for this perspective. You might be onto something with the “french-fries-are-vegetables” crowd.
Like putting tap water in a bottle and selling it!
Ick. Ick to the idea, ick to the wasted money that will be lavished upon it, and ick to the mere mention of natural orange cheeto-like dust adulterating good old carrots.
Not to mention the fact that the “baby” carrot is usually just a shaved-down version of the real thing — which means it’s already masquerading as something it’s not!
Flashy packaging and the allure of marketing ploys aside, what I’d much rather see in this country is a move AWAY from packaging and marketing altogether, and a move TOWARD feeding our kids homemade food, in a way that assures them that food does not appear from the heavens in brightly colored crinkly bags and boxes. (Metaphorical shaking of my cane as I reminisce about the old days and tell the junk food lobby to get off my damn lawn.) I mean, seriously…in the fridge at preschool this morning all the other kids’ bins were filled with packaged convenience foods (really? A Gerber Graduate meal, Gogurt, Fruit Snacks, and a Yoo-hoo is a balanced lunch?) — while my kid delved happily into his morning ritual of opening every tupperware container in his lunchbox to see what “surprises” Mommy made just specially for him. Oh, look Christina — now you’ve gone and got me started! 🙂
Cane-shaking is always welcome here. So-called “kid food” is creating a nation of alarmingly food-illiterate children, so bring it on.
Ridiculous, this is. And they were kidding about the orange dust, right??? Not that we buy “baby” carrots – they fall in the processed food category in our house, and really just taste watery to me. It also occurred to me that this is another reason to be happy for not owning a television.
For the sake of civilization, I hope so. The ad psychologist was paraphrased, not quoted directly, so it was hard to know whether she was commenting tongue-in-cheek. Might have to track her down and find out for myself.
What’s annoying is how carrots seem to be the only veggie that marketers seem to think children will eat. Mott’s now has a fruit/veggie blend juice that is apple & carrot juice mixed together. Granted, I’m sure apple juice/brussel sprouts juice might not sell, but there are a whole host of other “sweetish” veggies kids could eat.
We’ll skip the pre-packaged, junk food baby carrots, thank you very much. I’ll grow my own carrots and have my kids dig them out of the dirt when they want something to eat.
OMG. This is just so over the top!
For a moment I was actually….speechless.
When those bags of baby carrots first came out my mom went out and bought seeds and planted carrots in the garden that year so my kids could tend the carrots and dig them up and see the strange shapes. Of course they ate them too.
Bri, I’d love to have you at my preschool. I just gave my growing food speech to the parents today. We shall see how it goes this year.
I am really seriously thinking of keeping a running list on my blog of all the heinous things I see in the refrigerator when we put my kids’ lunches away next to their friends’…but then I’d risk being “that mom.” The question is…do I care? 🙂
Can’t believe this! I would rather see them spend these marketing dollars on something more meaningful, something that will encourage kids to develop a lifelong taste for veggies and fruits.
The fundamental question is – why don’t kids like to eat carrots, or for that matter, other veggies? Is it the texture, the taste, or how they are cooked and presented to them? Is it because even their adult role models do not eat them? Whatever it is, I am convinced that lack of similarity or connection with junk food is not the main reason!
As someone who really likes Cheetos (they are my seriously occasional treat), I find this vaguely offensive. Like kids (people) only like Cheetos because they’re orange and come in a bag. Come on, give the little guys some credit — it partially has to do with the artificial flavor enhancers that overstimulate their taste buds.
Personally, I no longer buy baby carrots, since they seem wasteful, they’re too thick for me to eat anyway (I cut my carrots into very thin sticks), and I thought I heard somewhere that they’re washed in chlorine to help keep them pretty and fresh.
Offense from the other side. Quite a twist! I think Cheetos are pretty vile myself, and the one time my daughter tasted one at a party (she wanted to, I said sure), she spit it out and has never asked for seconds. But I have no doubt that those flavor stimulants work. And yes, orange dust on carrots isn’t going to cut it. LOL.
We stopped buying baby carrots long ago (except for the occasional vacation purchase) after I tasted my first farm-fresh carrot. No. Going. Back. But yes, pretty much any commercially cut-and-prepared fresh vegetable is washed in chlorine. Even our local grocery store, which offers prepped fresh veggies to go, uses a chlorine rinse.
very interesting I hope thier campaign works. Why is it that kids will eat baby carrots and don’t care that much for a whole carrot? They are the same thing yet different to them Go figure
Actually, I know lots of kids (my daughter included) who happily eat whole carrots. I think it’s like anything else: Kids eat what they know. And if the only carrot they know is one that’s chopped and whittled and sanitized to death, well, an actual carrot is going to seem like an entirely different food. (Which, in a way, it is.)
Pretty darn ridiculous…and sad too if the marketers feel this is the best way to advertise these. Why can’t carrots just be good for carrots sake? It’s a sign of our fast food times that is for sure. For parents who are already feeding their kids healthy foods, I don’t think this will change their behaviours, but for the moms who grab snacks at the convenience stores when on the go, well then maybe it will work. Maybe.
They can put any kind of dust they want on those “baby carrot” things for all the difference it will make to my family. I grew up on real carrots grown in our garden and have not found any grocery store product that comes anywhere close. That is why I have grown a garden every year, and that is why my kids, now 16 and 19 still head to the garden for a breakfast of carrots, peas, strawberries, raspberries, radishes or whatever else is ready. It’s the highlight of the summer as far as they’re concerned. These things will probably be popular, though, because people think they’re too busy to take the time to do things properly.
Just this summer, the kids from next door (ten and eight) were offered peas from our garden. They had no idea what they were or what to do with them, until their father pointed out that they were similar to what was in Chinese food and showed them how to open a pod. They didn’t like them. They can, however, recite the entire McD menu and know every flavor of Kool-Aid Jammers ever made. Did I mention that the ten year old is about fifty pounds overweight and mom works in a grocery store because she was “bored” at home? How sad is that?
I must admit that I buy the “baby carrots” in bulk and serve them at home and put them in school lunches. But they don’t go to school in a “chips bag”. They go in stainless steel containers. I buy them because I find that they are consistently sweet, whereas when I buy regular carrots and chop them up, they are sometimes sweet and sometimes not. If they are not sweet, they get outright rejected by my kids and I end up with tons of waste.
But this advertising campaign??? UGH.
This is so ridiculous, I have no words….
Though I mostly eat carrots from my garden, and mostly just barely trust Trader Joe’s organic policies, it’s clear from looking at their organic baby carrots in bags that they’re baby – or at least small – carrots. They’re still whittled (no peels, no hairs, etc.) but the core size and in some cases the shapes are obvious. My dogs prefer the bigger, more whittled-looking ones, for some reason. (They’re also happy with my garden carrots – and broccoli, and brussels sprouts.)
I think it’s ridiculous but might work. And honestly, I think kids who already eat healthy aren’t going to be impacted one way or the other by this, but I knew tons of kids who consistently bought snacks from the vending machines at school because their parents gave them money instead of food. If those kids eat baby carrots instead of donuts and Doritos, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
We don’t buy baby carrots mainly because of the cost and the chlorine.
While I agree with some of what has been said in this thread (and am nauseated by the “orange dust” statement), I have to voice some support for the concept of using traditional marketing strategies to sell a healthier product. (Personally, I am not a big fan of baby carrots either. But I’d rather serve those to a child than Cheetos.)
@TwinToddlersDad is right on in saying that children need to “develop a lifelong taste for veggies and fruits” – that is critical. But I don’t see major harm in taking a page out of food marketing’s wildly successful playbook. If those advertising techniques were successful enough to get an entire nation to eat something as plastic-y tasting as Cheetos, than why can’t they be employed to entice us to eat something as fresh & delicious as vegetables.
Yes I agree that this packaging technique takes away from the idea of Slow Food and sustainable eating. However, there is a HUGE portion of our nation’s culture that don’t value vegetables at all and dont have the time, money or skill sets to grow gardens. I believe it is more of an imminent concern to improve Americans’ nutritional status, that can be most efficiently accomplished through marketing. Valuing healthy, sustainable food will take longer and will require educational efforts. These efforts are extremely important and should continue to be worked and supported. But in terms of getting America healthy now, working within the established system might be most effective.
Lisa, you’re so right, we have a dire need in this country to increase the fruit/veggie IQ across the board. (And you’re certainly doing your part with Veggiecation.) And yes (yes!) baby carrots are a better choice than Cheetos. So maybe, as you and some other readers have said, this campaign can reach those for whom even baby carrots would be a radical leap forward.
Maybe they just need to make carrots more fun. I’ve personally tried to grow carrots 3 years in a row and have failed miserably each year. So we buy them at the farmers market. My daughters can’t wait until we’re on the way home when they roll the ends up in the window to snap off the tip and the greens. Sure, people look at us all crazy like at the traffic lights, but what do I care? My kids are eatting their veggies 🙂
Sarah, that’s funny and oh so inventive. Love thinking about that image.
Hi. I’m a huge fan of your blog and have been emailing you over the summer to say thanks for being so supportive on my blog and at Fed Up With School Lunch. Your emails keep bouncing back. And then, summer and vacations got in the way. And more bouncing back.
No matter. I just wanted you to know I am a fan, a follower of yours and look forward sharing more ideas about kids and food. Thanks again. Your support really meant a lot to me.
Hey, thanks, Kim. Mutual admiration right back at ya. So sorry about the bouncing. And weird, as I’ve been getting other e-mails. I’ll e-mail you off-blog with another address to try. (BTW, nice to see you’re back in the blogosphere.)
What a great blog! This is the first time I’m reading it, and your thoughts are bang on. We don’t eat “junk” food in our home, and fruit is a “treat” to my kids. While I also hope (dream?) that a campaign like this might help turn some other kids onto eating more veggies, the problem still start at home. Why are parents buying junk such as Cheetos, soda pop, and sugar-filled cereals for their kids, anyway? If it doesn’t come into the home, they can’t eat it.
Our fridge is stocked with lots of whole foods -fruits and veggies. And they can eat at will. It’s music to my ears when my girls say they want an avacado for a sanck or an apple for dessert. And they are much healthier because of it!
I think a campaign against marketing junk to kids and keeping junk out of the our schools in the first place would be the better place to start. Our school has a “no junk food” policy. I’d love to see this happening in more schools.
I’m with you, Tamara. Junk food has no place in schools. None. But it’s a combination of marketing, money and habit that keeps it there. A little glimmer of hope (an ironic glimmer, given this discussion): Carrot vending machines a surprise success.
I’m not sure I’d call that a surprise, given that a lot of kids already like carrots. And I still think equating carrots with junk food is wacky. But hey, it’s hard to argue with anything that gets kids eating veggies (pseudo though they may be).
I admit that advertising baby carrots as junk food is pretty dumb, but I wouldn’t throw the idea out completely.
I am an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania and I recently learned about childhood obesity in my nutrition class. Obesity rates among children have increased dramatically over the past few decades. The obesity rate for children between the ages of 6 and 11, for example, has almost tripled from 6.5 5 percent to 19.6 percent between the years 1980 and 2008. This is ridiculous. The current trend is attributed to the current “obesogenic food environment” surrounding much of America’s youth. As I learned in class, this type of environment is heavily defined by portion size, energy density, low cost of unhealthy foods, high cost/lack of access to healthy foods and food advertising.
Bagging baby carrots and placing them in vending machines, I think, is a genius idea. This would provide children with a (convenient) healthier snacking option at an affordable price. This alternative not only has less calories than a bag of Cheetos (or any other vending machine item), but looks cool and fun to eat too thanks to this new marketing strategy. If this strategy can be utilized for other fruits and vegetables, maybe we could slowly start to transform all vending machine products and make them not something to regret, but something to embrace.
@Dr. Susan Rubin: I agree with you completely that we should teach children how to grow their own carrots because they will then gain a greater appreciation for their food. But we need to be realistic.
It takes time and space to grow food. Many urban and low income families do not have either. The reality is that many children depend on school vending machines to supply them with a daily snack (if not meal). Although packaged produce may not be ideal, it’s definitely a small (yet significant) step towards reversing this obesity epidemic.
Jasmine, thanks for weighing in. If this leads to more healthy vending-machine options, then I’m all for it. (Though I reserve the right to cringe if they keep calling it “junk food.”)
Although I certainly agree that junk food is just that – junk, I do certainly have to agree that in terms of marketing (looking at just that by itself), they should be considered a role model, or maybe better said a success story in achieving the desired goal: selling as much as possible. I think the big fail here are the parents that allow their kids to be influenced by this crazy greedy and influencial industry.
But this is now a whole different issue. Which farmer, that grows the good stuff, has the marketing funds to combat this. The only solution seems to be that the government steps in and slaps them on their hand. Oh, hold on, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Back to this responsibilty to us as parents. “he’ll in a handbasket”