I was chatting recently with a friend — “Gen-X mom” — about her grocery shopping habits, using my professional privilege to angle for insight on how she purchased produce.

In terms of marketing, it's all about moms, kids

Tom Karst
National Editor

“Where do you shop?”

Mostly Hy-Vee, she responded.

“Do you buy organic?” I asked.

“I have a list,” she said.

I grimaced. Horrors — not “the” list?! Not the “Dirty Dozen” list, surely?

Of course it was precisely such a list, though I refrained from interrogating her further and inevitably blasting her. After all, what kind of friend would I be to denounce her in industry-pundit style for trying to make the best decision for her three kids?

Even if she did put misplaced trust in the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of so-called pesticide-laden produce, I wasn’t going there.

It got me to thinking about how the industry approaches the issues of kids and marketing to moms.

When it comes down to it, kids are the little people moms care about the most. The thought “love me, love my kids” rings true. Anything a mom can do to protect and shelter her child, she will do, given the economic resources.

It shouldn’t surprise the industry that moms will put credence in lists like the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15,” the Environmental Working Group’s companion to the “bad” list. In fact, these are the types of moms who probably top the charts in the love and care they show their kids. You tell a mom that she can do something to reduce the risk to her kids and she will do it.

So the industry can produce an expert panel to provide a counter-argument about the validity of the “Dirty Dozen” list, but will that reach the heart of a mom?

A dispassionate observer may agree that the “Dirty Dozen” list is a ridiculous media stunt lacking any solid scientific footing, but a mom of a 5-year-old girl may not buy it.

The question is this: How do fruit and vegetable marketers show Gen-X moms (and every other mom, I suppose) the love, care and concern the marketers have for their kids?

The idea of “marketing to kids” is perhaps part of the answer.

If SpongeBob SquarePants or a Toy Story character on a bag of fresh produce can make a child happy, then that will make the mom happy.

Yet I think the message goes deeper than high-graphic cartons.

Perhaps one message is that moms show compassion and love to their kids by providing them with a healthy diet. Sure, moms say they don’t want to be put under the pile for falling short in what they feed their kids, but creating images of warmth and love associated with serving fruits and vegetables is a winning message.

Yes, everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are nutritious and good for you. But does that matter-of-fact, black-and-white nutrition label logic speak to the emotion of moms giving their children good food?

Perhaps the message could be contrasted with fears of making the wrong choices for their kids, relating to obesity and other health issues. Considering the gravity of the obesity epidemic and the failure of the modern diet, a little guilt is not a bad thing.

If fruits and vegetables are kind, then fried pork rinds are cruel.

Anything fruit and vegetable marketers can do to communicate to moms that they are “with them” in the task of raising their children would hit a note with moms, I think.

Perhaps there can be a special contest related to a scholarship award, or maybe a promotion that would benefit local schools or a cross-promotional opportunity that might net a free backpack.

These messages about kids could also apply to the families of growers. It would be compelling to hear about the kids of growers who hope to fill their mom and dad’s shoes and grow citrus in California or tomatoes in Florida. That is the type of sustainability story line that speaks to the heart, not the metrics of water use.

Even a message that doesn’t directly mention the “Dirty Dozen” but counters its effect can communicate care.

A father-son shot of a grower working in the apple orchard and talking about their efforts to use integrated pest management to minimize pesticide use is one example.

“I’m working every day to deliver you the cleanest produce possible for your family and mine.”

I also think marketers must be on top of the issue of labor and the families of workers. To the extent it mirrors reality, the industry and growers need to show that they have love and compassion for the families of the people who work for them.

Obviously, the industry can’t be seen as exploiting child labor, either in the U.S. or in another country.

Sometimes we men forget that it is really not about us at all. It is all about the kids — and their moms.

E-mail tkarst@thepacker.com

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