Pink Princess Fairytale Flakes; Candy Bars For Breakfast

fairytale-flakes.jpgI’m not sure which tweaks me more, junk food glop dyed pink in stereotyped splendor, “berry” cereals that have nothing remotely resembling fruit, or confusing callouts, (vitamin-D, calcium, lightly sweetened) that make people believe this crud is actually consumable, as a ‘healthy’ start to your day.

Leave it to General Mills to have all three apply in the newly launched Princess Fairytale Flakes, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Berry Crunch, and Little Einstein Fruity Stars.

I like the quote on the Appetite for Profit blog which sums, “General Mills has ensured that the cereals meet Disney’s new food guidelines; which of course only proves how pathetic the guidelines are in the first place.”

You can slap a “Smart Choices Made Easy” green seal of approval (self-awarded criteria from parent co., PepsiCo) and snipe it with a “good source of whole grain” (whole grains are great, but see Shaping Youth’s label lingo article on weasel words and “good source of” claims)…

Personally, anything that turns your milk PINK (or blue like last summer’s Superman) or green like Shrek3 (“multigrain with marshmallows” promoting the upcoming movie in May) just simply shouldn’t be in the ol’ body fuel ‘fill up the tank’ category.

C’mon, would you feed your kids a candy bar for breakfast?

Using student’s weekly media/food logs, we’re tracking a direct correlation between what goes into kids’ minds (media, ads, commercials TV) and what goes into their bodies. (Trix, Lucky Charms, Reese’s Puffs, Cocoa Krispies, PopTarts, Eggo Waffles)

Freakin’ scary. Last week we used CTV’s data to counter-market sugary cereal, here’s what we found…

50g Kellogg’s Fruit Loops=22.5g sugar or one dark chocolate Kit Kat bar, Sugar Crisps had MORE than a Snickers at 26.6 g sugar, and the average intake of these kids would max out their DV of sugar for the entire day at breakfast!

We stuck a spoon in a bowl with a Kit Kat and Snickers Bar to simulate the intake from logs we’ve received in our Title One pilot school of 4th & 5th graders with a heavily Hispanic, high risk demographic for obesity. Amazing.

For kids that can sing media jingles, tell me taglines, cite cartoon characters, and name faves, there’s no way they’re gonna wean themselves off processed sugar and eat a healthy breakfast in one fell swoop…It’s a gradual process.

They’ve been spooning silver screen media tie-ins that sound like chem labs into their mouths their entire lives, so switching to raisin bran’s not gonna fly overnight.

Examples? Pirates of the Caribbean’s “naturally sweetened chocolate pearl-shaped cereal with pirate-shaped marshmallows,” Cars, IceAge2, and chocaholic delights like Kellogg’s new Cocoa Krispies Choconilla or Quaker Oats Life Chocolate Oat Crunch. (say what?)

To these kids, ‘berries’ are shriveled bright chunks of unidentifiable solids, not anything resembling fresh, so counter-marketing is a colossal challenge.

We ease them into the good stuff using our ‘fear factor’ format with fun.

We held a blindfolded sampling of fresh blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, (most kids couldn’t identify them or had never tasted them before) ‘dared’ them to give organic oatmeal a go, spoon fed them whole grain/high fibre alternatives like Kashi’s ‘Go Lean Crunch’ (which they loved) and ‘dissected’ the mini-cereal boxes of Kellogg’s snack packs calling out the artificial ingredients like a toxic bingo game. (Blue 1, Yellow 5, Red 40) Man, those Apple Jacks and Froot Loops are double-pointers…

Common sense tells us to strike hydrogenated oils, fake dyes/colors/flavors/chemical preservatives from the ‘healthy cereals’ list, but when companies start doing the bait and switch (“new, improved, higher fiber, more whole grains, “etc.) it becomes even more of a jumbled mess.

Whether it’s NutriGrain cereal bars (pretty much a jam on white bread pastry equivalent) or “Reduced Sugar” cereal claims (where manufacturers replace sugar with equally caloric refined carbs, but technically reduce sugar itself so it’s legal to market this way) you practically have to be a nutritional toxicologist to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

So how do you know what’s REALLY in your bowl? Believe it or not, it depends on where you live, as the multi-national brands vary among countries!

We coach the kids on how to ditch the front of the box altogether and go straight to the ingredients label, then urge ‘baby steps’ like cutting their favorite cereal with a healthier choice. (great list here of CSPI’s ‘Best bites’ for high fiber flakes and clusters that are sweet enough for kids to like)

We’re realists. When kids have been chowing down on pouched packet sweets from the get-go, we can’t expect a full flip-flop easily, it has to taste good and swap flavor for fun.

We COULD show them the huge UK study of almost 300 kids’ cereals and explain that the grains are so over-processed that they’re depleted of nutrition, lacking protein essential to brain health, and leading to deficiencies in serotonin and dopamine that link to depression and ADHD…but I guarantee their eyes would glaze over with a great big, “so what?”

Instead…we challenge them try our ‘mystery munch,’ dare to compare processed vs. fresh, and amp up their nutrition knowledge with online links, food pyramid kids games, interactive cereal box design, and hands-on packaging deconstruction where they create, design, and market their own brand. (some of their products would ‘sell’!)

We also try to turn their breakfast concepts upside down to think ‘out of the box’ (the media box particularly) and fit regimes to their lifestyles to increase their chances of change.

Rushed in the morning? Why not grab a PB&J on whole wheat toast? A turkey tortilla roll-up? OJ smoothie? Yogurt-n-banana shake? Sure beats the syrupy, sat-fat, crash-n-burn empty calories and fast food breakfasts being consumed now.

Shaping Youth will never be able to compete with the billions spent on mobile marketing, online gaming and interactives like Millsberry, Kelloggs FunKTown and Neopets Cereal Adventure, but we can counter-market and intervene to shift habits where we can, early on, creating our own brand of coolness caché…

Kids love being ‘in the know’ and WANT to ‘teach’ at parent ed night. (this actually works well, role-reversing and empowering kids to take the pester power in a new direction, helping parents decide what NOT to buy!)

No question better food policy and product formulations would help the obesity epidemic in a huge way, but I love the idea of market forces and parent power at work with Australia’s concept of a “Parents Jury” too.

Sounds brilliant, bouncing repeat offenders on the food front…kind of like ‘voting them off the island,’ Survivor style.

We’ll be profiling Parents Jury soon, especially in light of last week’s British ban of junk food ads; there’s bound to be some food fights and rhetoric slinging globally. (I can hear the nanny-state name-calling already)

Finally, take heart. Now more than ever there are scads of healthier options out there…they just need to be ‘marketed’ to the kids with the same persuasive tools the junk food giants are using… Appearance appeal, incentives, and fun, innovative tactics for behavioral change.

As for our hands-on counter-marketing?

So far we’ve made significant headway with about a third of the students this round…another third is media literate with high awareness, but backslides at the execution stage (we get logs like, “I had Sunny D today, sorry!”) and the final third seems firmly entrenched in the ‘why should I care?’ camp…

They’re already noting the high fructose corn syrup in their chocolate milk at noontime, pinpointing artificial colors and flavors in their own district lunch, and the water bottles are starting to outpace Capri Sun by sheer peer pressure and our game incentives. So there’s progress…

BUT…when the Snickers bar was swiped during our “candy in a cereal bowl” session last week, I got a bit blue.

Not the Superman-in-blue-milk-mighty blue…or ‘rage against the machine’ blue…just…blue.

Definitely one of my toughest crowds. If we can turn THESE sugar-bugs around, the rest is ‘a piece of cake.’



  1. Amy, I’m dying. Today I thought of this blog when I went shopping for clothes for a wedding and I saw something that really killed my mind for a while. I thought you might want to check it out in case you want to blog about it. Just look it up as “Barbie loves MAC”.

    I wrote a blog entry about it. The link’s there.

  2. OMG, Mariel. Just saw/read it and yes, it fits perfectly with a piece I’m working on right now re: the new “Pussycat Dolls” reality show…(like we NEED any more pop-star pole dancer wannabes?) Sheesh. I will link and forward…THANK you!!

  3. This is one of your best exposures yet, Ms. Jussel. I have enjoyed your blogs so much lately, but have little time to write and let you know it. I wish you could somehow set up one of those junk-food “taste-testing projects” for young mothers or mothers-to-be (like the ones you tell about running for kids in certain public schools)–or for any adult who does the BUYING or planning of meals in the home. I guess you sure couldn’t put up a stand and offer “taste samples” at any of the grocery stores, though, could you?

    I would suggest that you write a book, but people don’t have time to read that kind of book. Maybe you need to get a TV show,excepting people like me wouldn’t have time to watch it. It’s a frustrating thing, but at least I’m not embarrassed now when we have gohan (rice) for breakfast.

  4. Thanks for this. The duality of Disney continuing with these foods while pimping their new health strategy makes me ill. I have been posting on the Institute of Medicine’s report “Food Marketing to Children and Youth” back on my site, and it is pretty hard information accept. I just don’t want to believe how tough the situation is. But we have to know. As parents and educators, we have to know.

    Thanks for this post.

  5. ExPat Chef: Your above comment couldn’t be more timely, as I’m on the IOM site right now pulling facts and links to enlighten this short-sighted, smarmy Adrants guy via radical rebuttal!

    This is the same colleague (I use the word loosely) known for his sophomoric ‘T&A’ advertising fixations, calling ads like this “brilliant” with zero acknowledgment on the messaging to kids… (He’s either clueless or marketing myopic when it comes to damaging advertising & children)

    I have a feeling you’d have some great comments for this gentleman based on your posting, so if you’d like to lend a few quotes, pls. call or Skype me to say a few words. I’ll link to your well-written piece regardless!–Amy

  6. Two new studies show why some people are more attractive for members of the opposite sex than others.

    The University of Florida, Florida State University found that physically attractive people almost instantly attract the attention of the interlocutor, sobesednitsy with them, literally, it is difficult to make eye. This conclusion was reached by a series of psychological experiments, which were determined by the people who believe in sending the first seconds after the acquaintance. Here, a curious feature: single, unmarried experimental preferred to look at the guys, beauty opposite sex, and family, people most often by representatives of their sex.

    The authors believe that this feature developed a behavior as a result of the evolution: a man trying to find a decent pair to acquire offspring. If this is resolved, he wondered potential rivals. Detailed information about this magazine will be published Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    In turn, a joint study of the Rockefeller University, Rockefeller University and Duke University, Duke University in North Carolina revealed that women are perceived differently by men smell. During experiments studied the perception of women one of the ingredients of male pheromone-androstenona smell, which is contained in urine or sweat.

    The results were startling: women are part of this repugnant odor, and the other part is very attractive, resembling the smell of vanilla, and the third group have not felt any smell. The authors argue that the reason is that the differences in the receptor responsible for the olfactory system, from different people are different.

    It has long been proven that mammals (including human) odor is one way of attracting the attention of representatives of the opposite sex. A detailed article about the journal Nature will publish.

  7. And um…your spoof study has exactly WHAT to do with ‘Pink Princess Fairytale Flakes?’

    Pls. keep the comments relevant, folks…I would’ve deleted, but I’m trying to set policy here…

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