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Fruit Snacks … Real Fruit or Just Candy in Disguise?

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The fruit snacks try to pretend they are healthy, but they aren't!

A partial line-up of Kellogg's Disney Fruit Snacks

 What’s the difference between fruit snacks and candy?  Not much!  As far as I’m concerned, fruit snacks represent a lot of what’s wrong with the food industry.  Although nothing is illegal about what the manufacturers are doing, their actions are irresponsible and misleading.

The fruit snack manufacturer’s playbook is pretty simple and typical of many kid brands.  It goes like this:

  1. License iconic brands and movie equities to build kid appeal
  2. Advertise the product frequently with commercials that drive home kid fun
  3. Provide a “nod” to nutrition or health

Let’s look at each of these aspects of kid marketing a little closer.

1.  License iconic brands and movie equities to build kid appeal:

From Disney to Nickelodeon to the latest movies, there is always an abundant supply of animated brand icons for categories like fruit snacks to tap into.  This is probably the most popular technique used in marketing to kids.  And with equities like Handy Manny and Disney Princesses, it’s clear that these snack are targeting very young kids.  In this example, Kellogg’s has paid to license Disney’s Toy Story, to give the snack immediate appeal and kid “cred”.

2.  Advertise the product frequently with commercials that drive home kid fun:

Kid targeted advertising and promotions are another method of drawing in kid interest and appeal, especially when there is no licensed equity like Disney to feature.  Kid advertising is all about being silly, irreverent, cool, and fun.  Check out this example below of a popular fruit snack brand, Gushers.

3.  Provide a “nod” to nutrition or health:

With snacks like Lays© potato chips and Cheetos© dominating the landscape, parents are looking for an alternative.   It’s doubtful that candy would be seen as a healthy alternative to salty snacks, but when you’re a packaged foods marketer, that doesn’t matter.  Enter Fruit Snacks, a category born in 1980′s, these nutritionally empty sweets masquerade as a healthy snack.  But as the old saying goes, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it must be a duck.  Here are some quick nutrition facts (for the full nutrition information, click here):

Although it should be noted that some fruit snacks add minor amounts of apple puree concentrate and are fortified with Vitamin C, the net result is no different:  Fruit Snacks are glorified candy.  In fact, some fruit snacks have even more calories per gram than gummi candy.  Regardless, some processed food company advocates defend fruit snacks and say they are not marketed as healthy snacks.  Let’s take a closer look at the packaging burst on Kellogg’s Disney lineup:

With claims like “made with real fruit”, “100% DV Vitamin C”, “Fat Free”, and “80 Calories”, it sure sounds like Kellogg’s is trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes.

So what can we do?  Food manufacturers have proven they have no interest in advocating healthy, balanced diets.  Should we create legislation to help protect everyday consumers?  Possible alternatives include:

  1. Enact food labeling laws that would create clear, color-coded nutrition guidance system on the  front-panel (see my post entitled “Here We Go Again …” for more information on this)
  2. Enact a tax on junk food and sugary beverages.  Funds could be use to improve nutrition education in schools and fund healthier school lunches
  3. Restrict advertising to products that meet stringent health criteria (low fat, low salt, low calories, high nutrition).  The House of Representatives is debating legislation right now that would enact voluntary limits on advertising, but the food industry is vigorously fighting any regulation despite these rules being called “a model for how self-regulation can work.”

What do you think?  Can food companies be trusted to improve their act?  Or do we need to enact real regulation that will limit the abuses of the food industry?  Share your opinion and get the conversation started.

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9 comments… add one

  • SFC B July 25, 2011, 6:36 pm

    Or, parents could just say “no”.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley July 25, 2011, 6:42 pm

      Yes, but why are we protecting processed food companies and letting them formulate, market, and advertise their products however they want? Who do you think deserves their rights protected more … a naive child, an overworked parent, or a multi-billion dollar food company. I’d rather error protecting the rights of kids and overworked parents. Ultimately it is a parent’s responsibility to make sure their children are fed healthy foods, but food companies shouldn’t have a right to misled consumers.

      Reply
      • Mindy @ The Purposed Heart November 16, 2011, 11:20 am

        I couldn’t agree more, Bruce! Food companies should NOT have a right to mislead consumers.

        I don’t ever buy fruit snacks for my child, but saw a box at the checkout lane at the grocery store the other day and I was absolutely disgusted by the “health” claims on the front of the box. I looked at the ingredients and sure enough it was made out of nothing but lots of sugar in it’s different forms and artificial flavors and colors.

        I know better than to believe the claims that this is a healthy snack choice for my child, but the sad truth is that, while most kids are naive about food labeling, there are many naive parents out there also. I know a lot of people who don’t see anything wrong with giving their kids fruit snacks every day (along with many other packaged foods) because they honestly are ignorant to the fact that these things are bad for their children. In fact they are led to believe that they are good for them, which is a sad, sad thing in my book.

        You’re doing a great job with this blog! I can’t wait to check your book out either. Thanks for helping to spread the word about what healthy food really is and isn’t!

        Reply
  • Nancy-The Frugal Dietitian October 19, 2011, 8:25 pm

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 20, 2011, 3:23 am

      Thanks for the info Nancy. This legal battle should be interesting to watch!

      Reply
  • Kelly January 26, 2013, 9:50 am

    I realize I am late to the table for this blog entry, but this is something that has been driving me crazy for a few years. I am a childcare provider and have been trying to inform parents of smart food choices for quite a few years. The kids in my care have always been served/eaten whole fruits, veggies etc. We have always saved “treats” like brownies, cookies, etc. for holidays or birthdays. I am always shocked at the number of parents that let their kids drink large sippy cups of juice or give them fruit snacks as a healthy snack, then wonder why junior won’t eat his dinner. I think we have an epidemic of parents that have been told that saying “NO” to your child is detrimental to their mental health! These are great kids, who have no problem eating the food I put in front of them, but will dig in their heels, kick and flail, when they don’t get what they want from mom/dad. I know it’s hard to say no and be tough when you are tired and have worked a long day. I have been there with my own kids. But parents need to realize that they are a kids first, best line of defense against junk food, weight gain, diabetes, etc. I agree the packaging is really confusing and that needs to change. Lately, I have gotten so disgusted with the “sugaring” up of everything from granola bars, cereal, sauces, etc. that I am now making my own. Good-bye processed foods, good-bye canned sauces…
    I was wondering is this an American phenomenon or do other countries have this kind of problem? Great job with the blog and good luck in the fight for healthier choices.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley January 29, 2013, 3:12 pm

      Hi Kelly! Thanks for your comment. I think there are a couple things going on. First, you’re right … there are a lot of parents that just don’t use “no” enough. That said, parents are “set up” far too often by food and beverage companies to have to say “no”. Of course, that’s not an excuse for parents not doing their job.

      I think the second piece of the problem is that many parents are confused or mislead into thinking some foods or beverages are healthy when they truly are not. This is where I’m really trying to help out by speaking up about all the tricks, traps, and tools big food (and beverage) companies use to getting us (and our kids) eating more and more highly processed junk. I believe real food that hasn’t been doctored up is the best answer for feeding ourselves and our families. Yes, it requires a little more work and forethought to prepare real food meals and snacks, but I think my family is worth it.

      Thanks again for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts!

      Regards,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Loisann Kuiper March 21, 2014, 6:34 am

    Can anyone suggest an alternative..is there a “good packaged treat”…exhausted Gramma here and guilty of using fake fruit snacks to quiet my grand daughter. (And yes I know better…obviously Dora doesn’t.)

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley April 10, 2014, 10:04 pm

      I know it’s not quite the same, but I think real fruit and dehydrated fruit can be a good option. Unfortunately our kids have gotten too used to eating junk food.

      Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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  • About Me:

    Bruce Bradley

    Bruce Bradley

    I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

    Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

    Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

    Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

    Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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