Getting kids to eat their vegetables can be a challenge in the best of times, but in households where money is tight, it’s too often an impossibility.
But an innovative program launched earlier this year is looking to change that. Pinnacle Foods’ Birds Eye, in cooperation with the Partnership for a Healthier America and Share Our Strength, began a nutrition education initiative designed to help low-income shoppers — many who are recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — get the tools and information they need to make healthier choices.
A unique twist to the program is how it connects to those shoppers: 140 characters at a time. The “Dinner Made Easy” program sends text messages to subscribers’ mobile devices with cost-saving ideas, tips to make healthy food choices, links to easy recipes and other information to guide their food shopping experience. Subscribers to the service received coupons for Birds Eye vegetable products and were entered into a sweepstakes as an incentive to join.
Organizers said a key was recognizing the text message as the preferred avenue of communication among the demographic. According to the Pew Research Center, people in households making less than $30,000 a year send and receive an average of 60 texts a day. That amount drops to 40 texts a day for households making between $30,000 and $49,000, while households making more than $75,000 a year send and receive just over 30 texts a day.
The Partnership for a Healthier America, created in 2010 in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” effort, is a nonprofit organization led by health and childhood obesity experts whose membership includes health care and business groups including Birds Eye, which committed to a three-year, $6 million investment designed to encourage kids to look at vegetables differently. These efforts range from the “GenVeg” campaign targeted directly at kids through Nickelodeon’s popular “iCarly” program and kids recipe contests to programs like “Dinner Made Easy,” which specifically target lower- income families.
The latter program has been more experimental in nature, Drew Nannis, chief marketing officer for PHA, told SN in an interview.
“It’s not just, ‘More consumption of vegetables is great,’” Nannis explained. “Part of it was, ‘Let’s see if there are some innovative ways that we can run a program and see what might work.’
“PHA has always been intrigued by texting, mostly because it over-indexes for the people we are most concerned about,” he added. “The farther down the socio-economic level you go, and the more diverse you get, the more texting increases. On top of that, the response rate is higher than just about anything else.”
To make sure the effort hit the right demographic, Birds Eye and PHA recruited Share Our Strength, a Washington-based hunger relief program whose “Cooking Matters” program focuses on helping SNAP recipients make the most of their benefits, Nannis said. Participants in that program helped to make up the initial “Dinner Made Easy” subscriber base.
According to Share Our Strength’s “It’s Dinnertime” study, 85% of low-income families rate healthy eating as important, but only half of them put healthy meals on the table most nights. “The families we serve are eager to learn about healthy eating, and the texting program will allow us to continue providing needed information in an accessible manner,” Janet McLaughlin, senior director of Cooking Matters, said in a statement.
Birds Eye likes the program in part because it provided an inexpensive tool to show lower-income shoppers how its products can be a part of a healthier solution. The company said it would not comment on results of the program until after the initial test period at the end of October.
“The texting campaign helps show families how easy it is to bring delicious, nutritious and budget-friendly possibilities to the dinner table. The Birds Eye brand, as part of its commitment to PHA, is committed to supporting programs like this text messaging campaign to help ensure that healthy choices are simple, easy and affordable,” Rodrigo Troni, vice president of marketing for Birds Eye, said in a statement.
Dinner Made Easy partners said they would review results and discuss further rollout following the conclusion of the six-month program later this month. According to Nannis, anecdotal observation indicated a high level of engagement. “The next hurdle is figuring out how to scale, and bring it from tens of thousands to the millions who are in need of this information,” he said.
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