Thursday, April 29, 2010

Social Responsibility Stouffer's Style

Image from Stouffer's Let's Fix Dinner

I stumbled upon "Let's Fix Dinner" by Stouffer's and I have to say I’m pretty impressed. I’ve only gone through a couple of the family stories, but it was very moving and dare-say inspiring. Yes, it brought tears. But of course, this is an issue I feel passionate about. Though it’s a Stouffer’s branded website and You-Tube channel, I did not see one Stouffer’s product in the first set of videos (The Joneses), so kudos to them for some restraint and authenticity. The second set, The Bensons, did have one quick screen grab of a Stouffer's box of something. And, who knows, by the end of the series, they may be all in Stouffer's costumes, jumping up and down and giving a cheer!

The meals, for the most part, were all home-cooked from real ingredients. They were basic American fare of hamburgers, lasagna, and pasta. Maybe not the healthiest choices, but families may need to start in a comfort zone. Just getting to the table can be a challenge, and once that is accomplished, more healthy meals can be the next goal.

More important, family dinner was shown as fitting into the families' busy everyday lives, with a few bumps along the way. One very real moment included the realization of the Jones family that they didn’t have a dinner table big enough to fit them all! The next scene shows the family en masse going out to buy one. In the Benson family, mom had to be encouraged to simply "sit down," which I think is a metaphor for many a harried parent. Sometimes the kids were in total melt-down and refused to even come to the table. But overall, the families are surprised how fast and effective family dinners were in establishing connections and improving family life. The kids literally soaked it up and their faces show how happy they are to have this "simple" family ritual. It takes a commitment and an investment, but family dinner reaps rewards.

Can big food promote socially responsible messages? For this campaign, Stouffer's teamed up with CASA, the family dinner advocates at the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse at Columbia, so that may be why there's such great messaging. While Stouffer's prepared foods are known to be high in fat and sodium, but it's also important to acknowledge that sometimes shortcuts are necessary. French Bread pizza (which brings back childhood memories for me) and a green salad is still better than take-out.

Clearly, Stouffer's would rather increase sales of their frozen dinner products than let those dollars go to fast food or restaurant outlets. Still, I would argue that this campaign is at the very least a nice gesture to throw some corporate dollars and support toward promoting the social good of family dinner. I hope the videos and commercials are compelling enough to inspire families to get around the dinner table regardless of what they decide to eat.

Let's Fix Dinner Home Page

You Tube Stouffer's channel: Let's Fix Dinner

CASA's National Family Dinner Night, 9.27.2010

Stouffer's Attempts to "Fix Dinner", BrandWeek, 2.10.10

Another Blogger's View: New Breed of Advertisers Post on Stouffer's Let Fix Dinner, 03.10

Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Food, Big Fat, Big Trouble

Alarm bells are finally ringing over the rising rates of childhood obesity in America. There has been a lot of buzz and a lot of ideas about promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles to combat this problem, not just for children but for all Americans. Someone in corporate America is saying: "Is this a marketing opportunity?" Big companies, especially ones that have products offering questionable social goods, have long looked for a “halo” effect that will counterbalance negative images that their customers might have of their products or business activities. Target gives out community grants for education and schools, as does General Mills through its cereal box-tops program. Big Food now wants to contribute to the fight against "Big Fat" in America.

This is a little more troubling scenario for PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, who have tasty "refreshing" drinks with no nutritional value. For years, their marketing campaigns have centered on being the drink of young, cool kids, and no one in the commercials looks overweight. It’s a hard sell to promote soda as “healthy.” Thus, many beverage companies have been expanding out into alternative beverages, like juice or sports/energy drinks, even flavored water, which has the same amount of sugar and empty calories, but can cop the appearance of being more healthful.

Nonetheless, the beverage companies must realize that they have to be in front of this issue, lest they are caught dealing with the consequences of looking like the bad guys. If "soda becomes the new tobacco," Coke and Pepsi will not be in a happy place. Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, summed it up.

“While visionary CEOs and enlightened food company cultures may exist, society cannot depend on them to address obesity voluntarily, any more than it can base national strategies to reduce highway fatalities and global warming solely on the goodwill of the automobile industry.”
On the other hand, big corporate dollars and their skilled marketing experience could be used to great public benefit in the fight against obesity. Still, healthy skepticism is needed if public health advocates decide to dance with Big Food on this issue.

More reading:

Can Big Food Fight Fat? NYT, Bitman Blog, 4.23.10

Soda: A Sin We Sip Instead of Smoke? NYT, Bittman, 2.12.10

Can Pepsico help alleviate world hunger? Marion Nestle,, 4.16.10