Birds Eye Frozen Foods Division, owned by corporate giant Pinnacle Foods Group LLC, announced on Monday that it has joined First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass joined Birds Eye president Sally Genster Robling in unveiling the new, multi-million dollar partnership during CDC's Weight of the Nation Conference in Washington, DC. The commitment will include the "GenVeg" advertising and marketing campaign designed to encourage children to eat more vegetables, and the creation of two frozen "kid-inspired vegetable products" that will be launched nationally.
The effort includes a promotional partnership with Nickelodeon TV in 2012, specifically the hit series iCarly, in order to better direct marketing efforts at children through peer interaction. Birds Eye said it will spend a minimum of $2 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014 on its veggie promotion campaign, and encourage kids to help the company create its two new products, which will meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (Above: The new logo)
Birds Eye also pledged over three years to distribute 50 million coupons for products that meet these guidelines, offering a 50% reduction in price for qualifying products.
Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the foundation created to support and monitor the private-sector commitments for Let's Move!, will oversee Birds Eye's efforts. Mrs. Obama serves as PHA's honorary board chair. Birds Eye's project is the twentieth private-sector partnership for Let's Move!, PHA CEO and Chair Larry Soler told the crowd at the conference. Mrs. Obama did not attend due to "other commitments," attendees were told.
"Helping parents afford to put vegetables on the plate and helping kids get excited about eating them are vital components of making our nation healthier," Mrs. Obama said in a statement about the partnership.
"I'm proud that Birds Eye and the Partnership for a Healthier America have come together to make the healthy choice the easy choice for families and I hope more companies step up to help our kids grow up healthy and strong."
During his remarks at the conference, Kass hailed the commitment as "another fantastic step in the process" of ending childhood obesity. The audience watched a video from Birds Eye, as well as a separate video message from Mrs. Obama.
"Birds Eye is taking a different approach to helping kids discover the wonder of vegetables by going straight to the source," said Robling. "We're...inviting them to help us create new veggie products just for kids."
Mrs. Obama made a special appearance on iCarly in January of this year to promote her Joining Forces campaign for military families. The show in the past made "spaghetti tacos" an internet sensation.
“We would like the next spaghetti tacos to be a vegetable," said Robling.
Nickelodeon has previously partnered with Let's Move! to promote fitness initiatives, and located its annual Worldwide Day of Play event on the National Mall last year, which included Mrs. Obama appearing with the network's young stars.
Thanks to her White House Kitchen Garden, Mrs. Obama is perhaps best known for encouraging kids to eat fresh vegetables plucked from the earth, but she has encouraged the use of frozen vegetables in previous speeches as a way of saving time and cutting costs. Kass, too, has advocated frozen vegetables as a convenience item for busy parents who still want to cook at home.
Birds Eye sells frozen vegetables as well as frozen meal "medleys." The Birds Eye Frozen Division includes the brands Birds Eye Vegetables, Birds Eye Voila!, Steamfresh, C&W, Freshlike, and Mckenzie's.
At least one-third of the GenVeg television messages will reach women age 26-54 with children between ages six and 11 and household income of $30,000 or less, according to Robling. The company will also use other media sources to reach the target audience, including radio, print and digital platforms. Birds Eye last month launched a social media campaign for Birds Eye Voila!, designed to encourage consumers to become "brand advocates" by rewarding them with coupons and social media "badges."
The Birds Eye partnership comes on the heels of criticism of the Obama Administration and the First Lady from some child health advocates and the media, who have variously claimed that the Let's Move! efforts to combat unhealthy food advertising have gone "soft" due to the influence and expenditures of food and beverage lobbyists.
"Birds Eye understands that talking to kids differently about eating their vegetables is an important part of helping to change their eating habits," said Soler. "Their commitment embodies the PHA's goal to help make the healthy choice the easy choice--not just by reducing barriers like cost and time, but also by focusing on something we sometimes overlook: Taste."
"Just as we can shape our children’s preferences for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods--with a lot of persistence, we can also turn them on to high-quality, healthier foods as well," Mrs. Obama told food makers during a speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association in March of 2010.
She also encouraged food makers to "step it up" in their efforts to reduce portion sizes and trim salt, sugar, and fat from their offerings.
Sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Weight of the Nation conference is being held through Wednesday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Kass keynoted this morning, and today's sessions targeted multiple areas in obesity policy, including food systems, the built environment, public policy, schools and the workplace.
In her video message, Mrs. Obama praised the conference attendees for their work on obesity, noting that the movement had been going on long before many prominent public figures, including herself, were involved.
“Make no mistake about it. We are truly making a difference here, but we all know that we still have a long way to go,” Mrs. Obama said. “So at this conference, I hope you all will learn from each other and inspire each other.”
PHA's video announcing the Birds Eye partnership:
Other private-sector Let's Move! partnerships....
The Birds Eye project is the first food partnership announced for Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity campaign since January of this year. Then, the First Lady traveled to Florida to join Goya Foods, America's largest Hispanic-owned food company, as it announced a commitment to promote the MyPlate/MiPlato initiative, a USDA program that encourages Americans to fill half their plates at each meal with fruits and vegetables.
Goya also pledged educational efforts designed to get customers to use its products to create healthy meals, which includes an educational component targeted at children, with the use of coloring books and other materials.
Mrs. Obama's campaign also has pledges for multi-year initiatives from Walmart and other grocers, from Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, from the YMCA and Bright Horizon childcare centers for her campaign, among others. The national and regional grocery chains have pledged to build or revamp outlets in areas defined as food deserts. Walmart is the largest among these partners, and also pledged to save consumers $1.1 billion in the cost of fruit and vegetables, which it says it achieved last year. The company has also pledged to reduce salt, sugar and fat content in its private label brands. Both Walmart and pharmacy chain Walgreen's have already built or revamped outlets in food deserts, their representatives said. PHA has issued no formal progress report to date.
In September of 2011, Darden Restaurants, Inc. joined Let's Move!. Owner of the iconic chains Olive Garden and Red Lobster, Darden serves about 400 million meals annually in 49 states and Puerto Rico. The company pledged to immediately begin offering healthier kids' menus, with fruit and vegetables as default sides (rather than French fries), and 1% milk as the default option, with free refills. By July of 2012, carbonated beverages--soda and other sugary drinks--will not be promoted on the kids menus, and vegetables will be spotlighted on illustrations for the kids' menus, rather than less healthy offerings.
Darden also pledged to revamp its menu offerings for adults, with a 5-10 year program to reduce its calorie and sodium "footprints." In five years, these will be reduced by 10%, and by 20% in the next decade. Darden's LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze chains are also participating in the commitment.
*CLICK HERE for links to all Let's Move! posts.
*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama