Can we really encourage children to eat more vegetables? Will a vegetable marketing board really help to make eating veg a fun thing to do? The industry is coming together in the hope that it might just do the trick Words: Morag Wilson
I don’t know how many times I write about encouraging children to eat more vegetables. Be it through stealth tactics or getting dirty in a vegetable patch and showing the journey from seed to plate, it doesn’t matter how you do it, the end result is a shared ambition: to get vegetables into more tummies and create the dietary habit of a lifetime.
Yet we’re failing. While there are some great examples of initiatives that have worked, nationally we are at a crisis point. According to The Food Foundation, 80% of young children are not eating enough veg – rising to 90% among teenagers – and 20,000 premature deaths could be prevented every year in the UK if we ate enough vegetables (Global Burden of Disease, 2016).
Would it help if there was a marketing board dedicated to promoting vegetables? A bit like public service announcements, like drink driving ads around Christmas or those frightening speeding ones. Yet these would do the opposite, act to promote rather than deter.
I’m too young to remember the Milk Marketing Board’s initiatives, the lasting campaigns in people’s memories like Accrington Stanley, Who Are They? And many people will remember Unigate’s 1970s TV adverts featuring milk thieves, The Humphreys.
More recently, British Summer Fruit, the UK’s crop association for the soft fruit industry, has seen significant growth in sales of British berries since it has been running seasonal PR campaigns since 2002. UK berry sales have grown from £370m per year in 2002/3 to £1.26bn in 2016/17, according to Kantar Worldpanel data. This has given Peas Please, the collaboration between the Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland, Food Cardiff and the WWF, the belief that we can get the same engagement with veg.
We’ve a long way to go though. Currently, just 1.2% of food and soft drink advertising spend goes on vegetables, so there will need to be a lot of work to be heard above the noise of big brands. However, with regulations around junk food advertising very likely to be introduced by the government later this summer, this could be the perfect time to launch the Veg Power marketing board.
Veg Power is a marketing fund that will create impactful, innovative digital campaigns aimed at children. It is currently a Crowdfunded initiative, setting a target of £100,000 which it will use to deliver exciting campaigns to inspire kids to love veg, empower parents and use contacts in government, supermarkets and the farming community to provide further long-term support for the fund.
“The Veg Power Fund is a fantastic opportunity to really show how positive marketing can change people’s perception of vegetables and inspire our children to eat more of them,” says Anna Taylor, executive director of The Food Foundation. “Eating more veg will have a huge impact on their long-term health and significantly reduce the risk of them developing diet related diseases as they grow up.”
The next project will be a book of Veg Power containing fun kids’ activities, veg facts, tips and child-friendly veg-centred recipes from over 50 contributors.
But it’s already making a big impact, even without a budget. Last year Peas Please ran a competition to create a poster advert for vegetables which were then placed at over 5,000 sites including projections, graffiti walls and at Coop’s check-outs across the country. The posters even made their way into school kitchens.
Celebs are on board too, which always helps, most notably Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Dr Rangan Chatterjee and advertising legend Sir John Hegarty.
“I’m a parent and like everyone else, I want my kids to have a proper balanced diet, packed full of lovely veg! But we all know that encouraging kids to eat more greens can be a challenge, so we need to get them really excited about veg by celebrating all the beautiful, colourful, fun things you can do with them,” said Oliver. He and Fearnley-Whittingstall have also written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt asking for the government to fund the advertising and marketing of vegetables.
Of course, having the money is just the start. Campaigns will need to be engaging and they will need to really convince children and adults to see the benefits of eating veg. This will be a long-term project to really change the eating habits of a nation. But using the experts to hand, as well as industry support, this could be the start of something really rather special.