SEATTLE - PCC Natural Markets here is getting more mileage out of its children's healthy-eating initiative.
That's because the eight-unit natural food cooperative has hit the road with the Kid Picks Mobile, a 27-foot-long, 9-foot-wide motor home that it's using to sample better-for-you products.
The green-and-purple vehicle will travel to several events for the remainder of this year, and another 50 events in 2007, including schools, community centers, health fairs and PCC stores. About 30 products will be sampled at each event.
PCC is using the motor home to introduce a future generation of consumers to the array of healthy products in stores, said Sara Walsh, PCC's community relations specialist.
"We want kids to realize that healthy food can taste good," Walsh said. She declined to discuss the cost of the vehicle.
The launch of the Kid Picks mobile comes at a time of rising childhood obesity rates. About 15.5 % of adolescents ages 12 to 19, and 15.3% of children ages 6 to 11 are obese, according to the American Obesity Association, Washington. This is up from 5% and 7%, respectively, in 1980.
This has put packaged foods under the microscope, and prompted some food marketers to revamp their products and marketing. For instance, more companies are offering portion-controlled packaging. And in May, as part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation - a joint initiative of the William Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association - major beverage companies agreed to sell only lower-calorie and nutritious beverages to schools by the 2009-2010 school year.
Along with manufacturers, retailers are helping to combat obesity in their own ways, including health fairs, store tours and better-for-you private labels.
The mobile unit is an extension of PCC's two-year-old Kid Picks program, a sampling initiative in which PCC officials go to schools, community events and PCC stores and let kids taste various products merchandised by the retailer. The youngsters then vote on which they like and don't like.
Items approved by more than two-thirds of the kids, and that meet fat, caloric and sugar criteria are deemed to be "Kid Picks." They are then flagged in-store with Kid Picks tags, and listed on the PCC website, www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/kids.
The motor home simplifies PCC's Kid Picks program because PCC staff no longer has to carry product into schools or community events. Now, all product tasting and voting takes place inside the vehicle.
Since the PCC Kid Picks program began in March 2004, PCC has conducted taste tests in more than 75 venues. Over 1,140 products have been tested by more than 5,000 kid "judges," and 663, or 58%, of the products have passed. They include Kashi granola bars, Nature's Path cookie mix, Arrowhead Mills cereals and Traditional Medicinals Organic Nighty Night Tea.
"It has been very rewarding to see even picky eaters change their minds about foods they think they won't like, after taking part in a Kid Picks event," Walsh said.
In related news, the Kid Picks mobile is now going to local schools as part of a new partnership with the Seattle School District.
The pilot program, which started Sept. 18 to coincide with National 5 a Day Month, introduces students in grades kindergarten through five to a variety of produce items.
The Kid Picks mobile travels to schools, community events and PCC stores with a variety of healthful products to sample.
What Kids Pick
SEATTLE - PCC Natural Markets has designated more than 600 items as "Kid Picks." This means they have been approved by more than two-thirds of kid "judges," and meet fat, caloric and sugar guidelines.