Will Kids Go For The “FryPod?” Brandwashing Nutritious Fare

frypod.jpgDragging their buns far behind the rest of the junk food giants in the compliance arena, Burger King is introducing a crisp first strike on the PR front with The Fry Pod, apple slices cut to look like fries, packaged in a traditional BK sleeve.

In a nod to Stanford’s recent study that food packaging not only influences kids’ preferences but makes them favor the flavor, it seems this one is primed for marketers to trot out in the “we’re doing the right thing” arena, as ValleyWag reports here. Wash apples in lemon juice, make ’em dead-ringers for the spuds and who can fault the logic that marketers aren’t being responsive? Brandwashing to present healthier fare? Hmn. Slick.

Maybe the novelty of it all will capture some market share, so that alone is worthy of applause…After all, BK operates more than 11,200 restaurants in all 50 states and 69 countries and territories, so if clever marketing catches on this could be big…but let’s chomp on a tidbit of packaging deconstruction first.

First, as I’ve written here before in Get Kids to Eat Green, Use Shrek Against His Drek, we’ve been VERY eager to test this kind of research en masse ourselves. So I’m extremely curious as to how this branding test plays out. We’ve been piloting our own counter-marketing programs ‘repackaging’ healthy food using popular icons to test ‘kid appeal.’ Here’s an article I wrote about the confusing messages sent to kids when licensed characters and brands simultaneously market junk food and healthy habits, and here’s one of my very first inaugural posts titled Coaxing Kids With Cartoon Characters.

I’m clearly a fan of using marketing tactics to ‘sell’ healthier behaviors…BUT…I’d sure love to hear from the sensory branding reporters at the NeuroScience blog to see if they’ll cover this FryPod launch as a follow-up to their piece on preschool branding. Know why?

Because the wee ones’ little synapses may go into over-drive trying to grok the full scope of this level of brandwashing, as the media/marketing messages are all over the board.

We’ll get to that in a minute…But first?

Let’s congratulate Burger King for their brilliance in creating an absolute win-win…

If FryPods sell big, BK can claim it was their innovative marketing and diligence putting dollars behind the marketing process to help kids chew off the chub.

If they flop they can say, “see, I told you so” people don’t come to junk food eateries to have the junk taken away.

Either way, it’s smart business to address critics head on, pour some proprietary technology into creating the fruit fry beasties, and give it a go…Last week’s new policies and press may even silence the ‘choices and alternatives’ aspect of BK’s junk food offerings too. Now let’s look at BK kids’ marketing a tad more holisitically and put those new FryPods in perspective on the do-gooder deeds spectrum:

They’re simultaneously offering kids a way to ‘load up’ with prepaid credit via ‘BK crown cards’ as part of a back to school blitz…(note the ‘buy in bulk’ verbiage) and offering cheap new dollar deals so kids with slim wallets can get mighty fat in no time. They’re teaming with fun sports pros like Michael Waltrip’s flamin’ hot racing promos, and NFL mini-jersey giveaways in kids’ meals…And just to make sure they tap that older youth segment, they’ve partnered with MaximOnline, home to the banner descriptor, “Hot girls, sex, photos, hot videos, sports, movies and music.”

Alrighty then, I’d say they pretty much have that junk food youth target wrapped up at every angle.

Taste a hint of poison in those apples do ya?

I’m not gonna dwell on the obvious disconnects on the childhood obesity front, let’s instead address the brandwashing pragmatics from a marketing angle that might instill some behavioral change. I actually think these FryPods might sell like like wildfire as a novelty item anywhere EXCEPT the fast food chain itself.

Why? It’s an awfully tough parental pitch to get kids to opt for apple slices in a venue where the ‘real thing’ is just a shout out away…I mean, c’mon, no one goes to Burger King for apples.

I wonder how many Shrek “apples and milk” combos McDonalds sold compared to their standard fried kids’ meal fare? Doubt we’ll ever see those numbers. Ditto for the swap out of Mott’s apple sauce or other “better bets” at BK, KFC’s corn on the cob, green beans and such.

But it’s a start, folks, it’s a start…Embracing the concept of offering healthier choices is a win-win for us all.

That said, BK spent $285 million in advertising last year, so simply turning down the volume altogether would be of much more help if they’re really serious about ethics and kids’ obesity, so we’ll do a deeper authenticity check later.

It’ll be interesting to see how much of their budget is put towards marketing FryPods and healthier fare. Remains to be seen…

Will they be aggressive, like Disney theme parks who have shifted to positioning healthy fare as the default in kids meals with ‘fries/soda’ as the option at many of their venues?

Or will they slap up the signage right next to the quad-stacker heart attack on a plate like this photo from ilounge (FryPod promo from a year ago) and then say, “hey, we offered choices!”

After all, they spend a bundle, so marketing against themselves gets a bit dicey…not sure how much transparency they’ll have.

MY biggest concern?

Burger King now has a healthier offering capable of exposing the brand via sponsorship and partnerships to draw in new customers that normally wouldn’t come to BK at all.

Envision a 5K marathon run with healthy BK apple fruit as the sponsor…Good for the fundraiser, bad for the healthy tots weaned on organic baby food and healthy fare now begging to go to BK for ‘cool’ apples in that clever packaging.

Think ‘candy cigarettes as a starter pack.’ (save your snarly e-mails rants, and use the comment section, please!) I’m well aware toting faux vices won’t turn tots into addicts…I’m just saying the parent posse should be mindful and prepared to address disconnects with media literacy, that’s all.

On a positive note, seems to me the gimmicks within the BK merchandising machine have the opportunity to ‘incentivize’ kids to choose a healthy kids meal by not offering toys and such for ANY other fare, so we’ll see how ‘serious’ they are on the childhood obesity vs. brandwashing front. For example…

Last night I swung through the drive-through to see if I could snag some FryPods to test ’em, much to my daughter’s awe-struck glee. Right now they’re doing the ol’ athlete/sports junk food pairing with cute lil’ mini-football jerseys as kids’ toy tie-ins.

As this sports blog pithily points out here, BK website disclaimers shout ‘this is an ad’ to kids, in this hilariously spot-on analysis from Ryan. Anyway, no sign of FryPods yet.

The order taker SAID they had them, even though they were nowhere on the menu or promotions at all…So I first thought, ‘ah, you have to ASK for them, like a secret menu item’…

But alas, when I pulled out my ‘kids meal’ to peek while driving away, they were same ol’ same ‘ol fries…which I’m going to assume was simply a language barrier and misunderstanding; I’ll give BK the benefit of the doubt that they haven’t launched the campaign yet.

If they have, it sure is stealthy.

Which reminds me, looking at last year’s blogosphere buzz, what’s with the year long re-launch lag time on these FryPods? Was the delay due to fear of an ‘ilawsuit’ over the Frypod name or TM or what? Add a comment if you know the rationale there…(Was it a market test? If so, did it work?)

Natch, the free enterprise/profit system will ensure that IF FryPods DO sell well, there will be plenty more to go around…so I’m sure we’ll here much more from them soon. In fact:

Ad Age reports that new kids’ meals are on the way too, avail in all BK locations nationwide in a year or so. (late 2008 projection) BK will “begin testing a kids’ meal that swaps fried, crown-shaped chicken tenders for flame-broiled ones, and Mott’s apple sauce with the organic, no-sugar-added variety. It will also include Hershey’s 1% fat chocolate milk instead of a soda.” —Yay!

BK’s kids’ meal face lift joins the healthier fare of eateries like Wendy’s, whose kids’ meal is a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, yogurt with granola, and low-fat milk. McDonald’s will soon be the only one of the three to offer fried food in a kids’ meal, by way of its chicken McNuggets.

But don’t put your party hat on just yet…let’s deconstruct a tad more…

BK agreed to join the third party oversight crew at BBB’s Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.

Fab. BK has committed to ensuring that items they push to kids under 12 will contain fewer than “560 calories and less than 30% of their calories from fat.”

Only semi-fab. Is it me? Or is that nutritional guideline a head-spinner?

Even though this is an ‘improvement’ it makes you cringe thinking of what kids are snarfing NOW. I mean, gosh, look at those numbers.

That said, this is not spa cuisine, it’s a fast food franchise, so committing to limit marketing dollars aimed at the worst junk food offenders targeting kids is a corporate citizen move for certain. Choice is choice. Individuals are accountable.

People know full well they’re tanking up on junk food that tastes good, it’s not an organic bistro fergoshsakes…you don’t go to an ice-cream parlor and order carrot sticks generally, n’est ce pas?

But when it comes to kidlets, parents really need to take heed.

Fast food meals can quickly put kids over the edge in just about any category from sodium to sat fat in kids’ Daily Value dietary guidelines for nutrition. (it’s no wonder kids’ are ingesting triple the sodium in recent years!) Like anything, it’s all about moderation and common sense.

Burger King as a treat isn’t going to kill you…Burger King as a daily dose just might. Doesn’t matter how many FryPods you swap out for your pommes frites.

As nutrition policy queen Margo Wootan of CSPI commented about the new BK efforts, it’s “another good step forward to reducing junk-food marketing to kids.”

So congrats, Burger King…Even though there were a dozen or so companies ahead of you in the advertising self-rein arena, you made it to the pledge restrictions table along with Kraft, McDonalds, Pepsi, Hershey, Kelloggs, Mars, Coca-Cola, Unilever and General Mills…Your proprietary wedgy fruit fries might just be the hot ticket to set a positive pace.

To those who carp, “omg, a Fry Pod? What will they think of next?” I might counter, if a FryPod tunes kids to a healthier frequency (dare I say it?)…it would be music to my ears.

Ouch.

p.s. By the way, great round-up of resources on nutrition sites for kids and for parents here, but as a media literacy reminder, always note who’s hosting the site (from dairy to Dole…)

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Comments

  1. Hmmm… so much to consider. My first reaction was near glee — when we stop at fast food restaurants (exclusively on the Mass Pike, NYS Thruway, etc. at rest stops) my daughter loves to get the “apple dippers” and we also get her the milk and I don’t feel too badly aboutthat, so the more options the better. On the other hand, your point about bringing in new consumers is really smart. Ramping up to the junk. Hmmm. Very interesting. Subway is also promoting its healthier choice meals for kids. Overall, net gain, I think.

    Now can school cafeterias catch on…

    Mom

  2. I have such mixed feelings about something like this. If parents are going to bring their children to Burger King anyway, I suppose having healthier options to choose from is better than nothing.

    If I were a kid, though, I’d want to eat what everyone else was eating. Certainly, too, the smell of fried potatoes that permeates the air in BK and all fast food restaurants instantly creates a synaptic response of “I want that!” — something the smell of apple sticks might not do.

  3. I actually think this really IS a net gain overall. And actually am working on a feature about Subway’s positive positioning as well in terms of their healthier choices… (difference is, they’re MARKETING the healthier options as their primary focus, which is refreshing…and TRYING to be aligned with wholesome eating alternatives, rather than coming out w/one item in a sea of junk)

    That said, I completely concur with the fast food/freeway scenario and LOVE having that choice as a consumer to snag something healthy on the go! (I’ve always said, if we could come up with a fast/fresh/organic pitstop of ‘go-food as good food’ it would do us all a favor)

    I realize I’ve been stingy with the corporate kudos, and they need to be distributed more freely in order to really create change and incentivize ‘a better way’—So I DO applaud companies trying to give us healthier options…

    Guess I just feel I need to ‘deconstruct all angles’ to reveal the pro and con of this kind of maneuver for awareness, media literacy and such. As they say in the biz, ‘dat’s my job.’

    Even if it IS probono right now! 😉

  4. Maybe if we packed our lunches and ate at home more, we wouldn’t have to worry about how food was packaged in the restaurants so much…. and it IS cheaper to eat that way.

    Sounds harsh, but honestly, we pack our food almost everywhere we go! Not because I’m some militant vegan mom, but because I have digestive problems and can rarely eat the fast food offerings!

    It’s sad, too, I grew up in a low income area, and back then even in high school we weren’t allowed access to soda or snack machines. You got breakfast, and lunch at school – white or chocolate milk were the only two drink offerings. True, sometimes the food didn’t taste all that great, but when you are truly hungry, you’ll eat what’s in front of you. But of course, I’m only speaking for myself.

    And it used to be a Happy Meal was something we only got once a month if we were lucky and we’d play with the box for a week! Funny, I don’t remember having an unhappy childhood because I didn’t get it more often….

    Interesting commentary. I’ll be back for more reading!

  5. You’re absolutely right…much cheaper/healthier to eat at home, but as you can see by this Keystone Forum on Away From Home Foods (a study commissioned by the FDA, 132pp doc here:)
    http://www.keystone.org/spp/documents/Forum_Report_FINAL_5-30-06.pdf
    you’re in the minority of eating habits in the U.S. sigh.

    I also think there’s a strong correlation w/childhood obesity, weight gain and such eating out in both restaurants (portion distortion/menu selection) and fast food eateries…and the study seems to bear this out…

    Some days when I’m feeling uber-entrepreneurial I envision a fast fare/organic-healthy drive-through for ‘meals on the run’ but guess I’ll have to settle for ‘better bets’ as http://www.CSPInet.org would say…which I suppose these apple slices would BE in a pinch.

    Interesting to hear your comment on ‘getting breakfast and lunch at school’ because in my various public grade schools in Hawaii we actually worked IN the cafeteria to subsidize the school lunch program, and every student took a shift, low income or not. (gawd I remember those hair nets and shower caps with the little ice-cream scoop for portion sizes!) Now, kids don’t even HAVE cafeterias as a rule.

    Now it’s almost ALL over-processed ‘fast food’ fare distributed in bulk through a central district supply venue trucked out to the schools vs. being freshly made on the premises…

    There are exceptions, of course. In fact, the Title One (No child left behind act) school where we piloted our counter-marketing program to low income kids DID have fresh food on site…with fresh fruit & veggies and quite a nice selection. Sure haven’t seen any such thing in my own daughter’s school where they sell pizza, cookies and chips as counter fare, and ‘processed boxed lunch’ institutional food as the standard menu in rotation. Bleh. That’s why she brings lunch everyday…(and btw, IDEO or some snazzy design team needs to find a lunchbox middleschoolers would actually USE…now they claim there’s no room in their backpack, so everything has to be in a ziploc or brownbag…which is fine, as long as they recycle it back to me, but as a ‘green machine’ I try to land in the ‘trashless lunch’ camp…and it’s hard to do w/that mentality)

    Anyway…I’m with you, eat at home when you can…Preferably not anything out of a box. 😉 Tall order for an on-the-go society though…VERY tall order.

  6. This is no reason to celebrate.
    1All this does is bring you in to those fast food under good intentions, just to be sucked in later.
    2 Those apples? I cannot say for burger king, but mcdonalds apples stay fresh for a bit too long. I mean those things survive nuclear fall out lol, watch some of the videos on youtube about how long mcdonald’s ‘stays fresh’.
    3 Real fresh fruit (stuff no in fast food places) is ok, but you want to eat more veggies. Fruit i believe is better than those burgers made out of worm, but you should get some real nutritious food, like chia seeds.

  7. Shane, I hear ya…Even the ‘organic apples’ that are prepacked from EarthFarms at Costco ‘last a bit long’ for my taste, but I know they’re ‘real’ because the bag balloons when it gets past the expiration date as a big ‘uh-oh!—I’ve tried to buy them for the volleyball team for ‘snack’ but have to watch the pull date religiously as they’re very much on the fringe! 🙂

  8. i know a lot of people could be allergic to nuts, but nuts really sustain energy better than a few apple slices anyway. Still i applaud you for trying to make a difference (compared to those who will willingly give the kids crap just because “they burn it off’ or ‘young and healthy'”). One problem is we live in a time where if you need something quick or on the run, it is too easy to grab processed junk with empty calories. Believe it or not we are a starving nation, we feed our hunger, but not our body. People have too much of a distortion that calorie is a calorie, but i assure anyone reading this a calorie from a sugar cube is much different than a calorie from vegetables, unprocessed meat, and pretty much anything that isn’t processed which is real food.

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