The generation of kids that came of age since the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of video games is arguably the most tech-savvy in history. Yet, those tech-based distractions may have led them into a sedentary style of play that has contributed to weight gain and even obesity.
The very technology that kids love can also be used to address the childhood obesity issue, and food retailers are among those doing just that. Tech-related applications like loyalty cards and the Web are being employed to reach out to children and, in many cases, nurture a more nutritious lifestyle. In some cases, the technology makes possible programs, such as in-store events, that can stress nutrition.
Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Markets, home to such calorie-rich goodies as "killer brownies," has nonetheless become one of the more progressive retailers when it comes to kids' nutrition. Kathy Neufarth, director of consumer affairs for the three-store merchant, has brought a new approach to such activities as in-store Halloween parties since her arrival two and a half years ago.
"During my first year as director, I was appalled at some of the items that we were distributing" during the Halloween party, Neufarth said. "The next year, we made it our goal to offer more healthful treats since kids get plenty of junk [trick-or-treating] in their neighborhoods."
The annual Halloween party is a popular event promoted through Dorothy Lane's DLM Kids Club. Children, aged 12 and under, of adult Club DLM loyalty card holders are eligible for membership in the club. It currently has 6,000 members.
Dorothy Lane maintains a separate database for its Kids Club member information, for mailing purposes.
However, it has not yet linked that database with that of adult card holders, so parents are not getting customized offers that specifically refer to their child by name, according Neufarth. "Although [customizing offers] is a great idea, at this point we're just not there. That would take us a long time to create," she said.
The parent-child link is required for in-store benefits associated with the kids' club. For instance, in an example of a program promoting a nutritional food, each month Dorothy Lane features a different produce item that can be redeemed for free by a parent/child cardholder team.
It works like this: After presenting a Kids Club card to a produce employee, a child is given a sticker that contains a special price-lookup number. That number is entered at the checkout, but the item only becomes free if an adult shopper's club card has been scanned.
Kids are able to get free items like cheese on the spot at the deli by presenting their Kids Club card.
The Kids Club is used as a vehicle for promoting events, such as the annual Halloween party. Yet instead of the standard candy and sugary fare, kids who get dressed up in costume for the event now receive healthy treats like bananas, raisins and a bottle of water as they trick-or-treat through the store's sections, Neufarth explained.
"In the meat section, we still give away lunchables, but now they are nitrate-free lunchables," she said. "In the bakery we still give kids a cookie." Dorothy Lane is, after all, home of the "killer brownie."
Kids Pose Challenges
Although Dorothy Lane's Kids Club gets children excited about shopping in the store, Neufarth acknowledged that there are some challenges associated with the program. "Our biggest challenge is determining whether we're being completely effective," she said. "We have 6,000 members, and we don't have activity from all of the children who sign up."
One concession to inactivity was the cancellation of a quarterly Kids Club brochure containing recipes, activities, games, coupons and information about the retailer's Web site. "The redemption of the coupons [in the brochure] was relatively low, and we decided we could better spend the money elsewhere," said Neufarth. Kids Club offers and activities are now advertised in Dorothy Lane's monthly adult newsletter.
As with adult loyalty clubs, privacy can also be an issue with kids' clubs. Although Neufarth has not encountered any concerns from parents about the privacy of Dorothy Lane Kids Club members, the issue sometimes deters retailers from establishing a loyalty club for children.
"There are a lot of programs that support schools and other education initiatives, but not many 'kids' clubs,"' said Carlene Thissen, president, Retail Systems Consulting, Naples, Fla., which tracks supermarket frequent shopper programs in its Card-Based Marketing Report. "Some retailers stay away from them because identifying children raises more privacy issues than there are for adults."
Dorothy Lane's Kids Club enrollment process requires such information as the child's name, address, phone number, birthday and parent's club card number.
Dorothy Lane maintains that it won't share, sell, or in any way distribute a parent or child's personal information.
Although it doesn't have a club for kids, Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas' collects information about shoppers' children and their ages on its loyalty club card application, said Diana Bejarano-Medina, spokeswoman for Bashas'.
"Our vendors use the database to market new items and special products," she said. Bashas', in turn, uses the database to make sure that shoppers with children are receiving compatible offers. Bashas' also uses a child's birth date information to send a birthday card.
Like Bashas', Giant-Landover, Md., doesn't have a formal kids' club. It does, however, dedicate some of its information systems, especially its Web site, to programs aimed at getting kids to exercise and eat healthier foods.
Headquartered in the backyard of our nation's capital, health consciousness is important to the market it serves. "We've been promoting health for more than 30 years," said Janet Tenney, manager of nutrition programs, Giant-Landover. "We serve an educated population and a lot of government workers who deal with dietary issues."
For example, the retailer has a Kids' Corner section on its Web site, www.giant food.com, which features downloadable activity sheets in PDF format dedicated to such topics as calcium intake, physical activity, organic farming and the 5-A -Day recommended daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Certain features of Giant-Landover's site are currently in hiatus due to the site's integration with Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop's site, said Tenney.
Giant-Landover uses its intranet to post information related to hosting educational store tours for kids in the third grade and younger, according to Tenney.
"The tour is based on the food pyramid," she said. "We take kids around to the different sections and explore different food groups. We let them taste things in the dairy and deli, and get them looking at things like the lobster tank. We not only teach them about nutrition, but also about how items get into the store."
Giant-Landover also relies on technology resources to link to a partner organization, Club Mom. Members of the 2-million-member club can earn and redeem rewards points when they shop at partner retailers like Giant.
The Club Mom Web site, www.clubmom.com, will launch an online resource center for moms this month.
"It will feature 20 topics from parenting to cooking," said Alexandra Aleskovsky, chief marketing officer, Club Mom. "Moms can go there to get information and advice from experts and other moms."
The online center will include 300 message boards where moms can engage in online chat with each other about 20 topics, including nutritional cooking for the family.
"The objective of Club Mom is to recognize and reward moms for the job they do," said Aleskovsky. "They are the CEOs of the household, making purchase decisions and spending $1.7 trillion a year."
To earn Club Mom points at Giant-Landover, Club Mom members must be enrolled in Giant-Landover's loyalty program. Club Mom shoppers earn one point per dollar spent at Giant-Landover, when they use their Giant-Landover loyalty card.
Point totals are communicated automatically from Giant-Landover to Club Mom through Club Mom's proprietary system, according to Aleskovsky. They can be redeemed for items featured in the Club Mom catalog. They range from Giant-Landover gift cards to spa services and vacations.