GoZonkers Strives to Bounce Higher

BOULDER, Colo. Food For All's Denis R. Zegar, president and chief executive officer, believes in the GoZonkers program's mission against childhood obesity. This largely explains why he linked the two programs for a point-of-purchase promotion at Wild Oats Markets here. It also explains why he doesn't plan on giving up on the program after totals from the promotion came in below expectations. After

BOULDER, Colo. — Food For All's Denis R. Zegar, president and chief executive officer, believes in the GoZonkers program's mission against childhood obesity. This largely explains why he linked the two programs for a point-of-purchase promotion at Wild Oats Markets here.

It also explains why he doesn't plan on giving up on the program after totals from the promotion came in below expectations.

After running in 110 Wild Oats stores for one month during the August-September back-to-school period, and again from mid-September to mid-October in 35 affiliated Henry's Market stores, the POP program with GoZonkers raised $16,000. The promotion was identical to the Food For All in-store donation system — centering on displays at checkout counters that held slips for $1, $3 and $5 donations, which customers could add to their shopping total.

Wild Oats Krista Coleman spokeswoman explained that the GoZonkers program appealed to Wild Oats because it fit with company goals of providing healthy food for kids. The BTS angle was also a draw. On the whole, she said, the program “did OK for a first-run.”

Zegar said that although both organizations expected to make more, this was a pilot program and, subsequently, a learning experience. According to him, the promotion's main problem was that the in-store displays were too wordy and confusing. In contrast to such organizations as the Red Cross and Food For All — which convey a clear, concise message in the name alone — GoZonkers needs a simpler presentation.

“When you're in the checkout line, there are only a couple minutes in which you can see that point-of-purchase material, and so in that very short period of time it has to tell you immediately what this is going to do,” Zegar said. “You shouldn't have to read a paragraph to figure that out.”

Boyd Jentzsch, president and CEO of EarlySport Foundation, Salt Lake City, which produced the GoZonkers program, mostly agrees with Zegar. He believes that the responsibility for raising customer awareness also extends beyond the displays. Store staff and the customers themselves should be educated on the program before they even step into the checkout line.

“We will get better at getting the public more informed about what the campaign is and why it's important, and why Wild Oats is a part of that,” Jentzsch said.

From here, Food For All and GoZonkers look to regroup and pitch the promotion to other retailers. They are currently in talks with several companies, according to Steven Persitza, Food For All's vice president of sales and marketing. He named Associated Stores of Salt Lake City as being especially interested.

Zegar and Jentzsch would like to run the promotion in Wild Oats next year. Coleman said the company hasn't made a decision yet. The chain is currently working on promotional planning for 2007.

The funds from this year, then, will go to elementary schools close to the participating Wild Oats stores — approximately 1,500, according to Jentzsch.

Founded five years ago, GoZonkers provides exercise programs and educational activities centered on staying fit and eating right to elementary schools throughout the country. One of the most popular activities is a daily 10-minute radio program that coordinates in-class exercise through a colorful, ongoing narrative. There's also a weekly reader, instructional videos and a plethora of supplemental materials that highlight physical activities and nutritional guidelines.

GoZonkers doesn't charge schools for the materials they receive. Rather, the organization utilizes advertising to cover most of the $20-per-classroom cost of operating. Jentzsch explained that these advertisements are always for healthy foods and the companies that provide them. Additionally, the advertisements are geo-targeted to local areas.

Doing this, he said, furthers the financial and ideological goals of GoZonkers.

“If a manufacturer has gone out of their way to create a healthy product, we want kids and parents to know that,” Jentzsch said.

FACING THE FACTS

The GoZonkers program attaches itself to a sobering national growth trend — the growth of children's waistlines. According to the 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 19% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight. This is a nearly 10% growth over the past decade, and double the percentage of children who were listed as overweight in 1980.

Looking at the larger picture, about 127 million Americans — 65% of the population — are categorized as overweight or obese, according to the American Obesity Association, a nonprofit organization that lobbies the government on health-related issues.

Compounding the childhood obesity trend is the decrease in physical education classes throughout the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 8% of elementary schools provide daily physical education. The surgeon general recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Without the requirement in school, experts say, many kids won't get the necessary physical activity, given the predominant sedentary culture.

In a recent report — “Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity: How Do We Measure Up?” — the Committee on Progress in Preventing Childhood Obesity, part of The National Academies' Institute of Medicine, explained that the problem is a multifaceted one. Among their many explanations for the trend, the authors list “social norms that reinforce both a sedentary lifestyle and the consumption of high-calorie processed foods and beverages,” along with “school policies that do not support or enforce the requirements for adequate time for physical activity.”

Zegar prefers to put it very simply.

“The kids today get home from school and they go immediately to their Xbox or their computer,” he said.

Jentzsch and Zegar believe that the GoZonkers program is effective because it's a multidimensional solution to a multidimensional problem. The materials appeal to all the senses, they say, and the characters and stories through which activities are conducted keep the kids interested. Indeed, the program is designed not only to provide moderate activity once a day, but to promote it outside the classroom as well.

“The obesity epidemic is a combination of a number of different things,” Jentzsch said, “which is why you need that multi-impact way of solving this problem.”

Expanding the GoZonkers program to fully meet this challenge has always been difficult financially, despite the advertising ingenuity. Case in point: printing costs. Jentzsch explained that getting printed materials out to all the schools that demand them has become a burden.

“The cost of newsprint was getting too high; it was getting too tough to put it in the schools,” he said. “And our business model from the beginning dictated that we wouldn't charge the schools for any of this. If we have to charge them, it won't get done, and schools who need it won't get it.”

The solution? Move all of the content into cyberspace, where teachers can download everything for free. Currently, GoZonkers personnel are uploading all of its magazine and radio content onto their website, www.gozonkers.tv [3].

The online move should vastly expand the program's scope of influence in elementary schools. In addition, Jentzsch explained, it will help move the program into homes, which he said are the next frontier for the organization. Beta tests for home activities are under way in 200 neighborhoods across the country.

In the end, it all comes back to the idea of teaching healthy habits to children that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Studies show that these habits will stick with them into adulthood and beyond.

“We have to do this with the grade school kids,” Jentzsch said. “There's no other time to do this.”