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Fruit Loops or Oat Bran? Grocers Target Kids’ Nutrition With AM-Holiday Cuisine, Bjt

December 24, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ J.B. Pratt Jr. makes a living off what is sold at his Oklahoma grocery stores, but he’s often appalled at what people buy from him - particularly what they buy for their kids.

Carbonated soda, salty snacks, fatty foods.

″I could see all this garbage that people were buying and giving to their children without thinking,″ he said.

Pratt is no ordinary grocer. He was trained to be a medical doctor. Although he dropped out of a medical residency in 1973 to work in the family business, he’s trying to incorporate what he learned about the body with what he knows about food, especially for children.

He’s not alone. Pratt Foods is one of 50 supermarket companies nationwide participating in the Food Marketing Institute’s new ″Healthy Start″ campaign for children ages 2 to 6, designed in cooperation with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dietetic Association.

Paul Bernish, at Kroger’s corporate headquarters in Cincinnati who helped create the FMI program, said the interest in child nutrition grew out of the industry’s involvement with food banks and services for the poor.

″We realized there wasn’t a lot of information available for people interested in providing healthy meals for kids,″ he said.

Cherryl Bell at Safeway’s corporate headquarters in Oakland, said her company was convinced of customer interest by the popularity of an issue of the giveaway Safeway magazine devoted to child nutrition.

Pratt says parents of 2-year-olds should grab the opportunity to establish nutritious eating habits. ″When they get about 7 or 8, we have a problem,″ he said.

Before FMI unveiled its campaign last spring, Pratt already was offering especially healthy box lunches for toddlers, grade schoolers and young teens.

Since then, his stores have added health food samples for kids, brochures on nutrition and juice machines for customers who like to sip and shop.

″I came out with my own shopping list that I attach to the brochures which a mother can carry around with her in her pocket,″ he said.

He also has a children’s playroom with activity books that show the basic food groups. He’s been promoting the program with local pediatricians, dietitians and schools. Next month, he’ll start publishing a newsletter on nutrition for children.

Pratt says the reality of the grocery business is that to attract customers, the salty, fatty, sweet snacks and beverages must be on the shelves. ″We are addicted to these foods,″ he said. ″But if I’m going to continue to sell Fruit Loops, I can point out the whole grains.″

Sue Borra of FMI says flavor is still the top reason consumers give for buying particular foods, but more and more marketing will be directed at health and nutrition.

It was not until recently that the health professionals agreed on what comprised a healthy diet: basically, less fat and more grains, vegetables and fruits.

Traditionally, Pratt said, medical schools don’t teach much about nutrition. Now he sees his job as a grocer more closely allied to his medical training.

″Here I am practicing medicine,″ he said. ″It’s an emergence of whole new realm. Meals that heal. Things are really changing.″

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