Guiding Stars

by Kathleen on December 1, 2011

Dear Hannaford,

Thanks so much for inviting my daughter’s first grade class for a tour of the Camden store.  The kids all enjoyed it, and it’s certainly prompted lively discussion around our table.  You don’t have to reach out to the community with free nutrition tours, but since you do, I have some suggestions to help you take advantage of this great public relations opportunity.

Ask educators to help you develop an interactive program. Our Hannaford tour guide was friendly, but she clearly overwhelmed by a class of enthusiastic six year olds.  The teacher kept the kids focused, but this is your program, and you’ve got to lead it.  That means more than pointing out each department and offering a few samples.  Some of your employees were terrific at engaging the kids; sit down with them and ask them how they do it.  Put together some scavenger hunts for healthy foods, have kids plan a menu, get them to do something.

Stand behind your Guiding Stars.  I’m all for helping people make healthy food choices, and I like the simplicity of your Guiding Stars program.  I bet you worked hard to assign good-better-best nutrition labels.  Explain the system to your staff, and make sure every item that qualifies for a label gets one.  If there are categories of food that don’t get ranked, make sure they have labels explaining that.  Without a clear explanation, I got distracted by the number of processed foods with stars (like Whole-grain Frosted Mini Wheats) and the number of whole foods lacking them, and stopped trusting the system at all.  (Seriously, Hannaford?  Egg whites in a carton get three stars, but organic, cage-free eggs don’t get any?)

Update your materials. Thanks for all the information about the food pyramid.  Did you realize that the USDA dropped the food pyramid last June in favor of the MyPlate program?  It’s easier for kids to understand, and it applies to every meal rather than the whole day.

Be honest about your stock.  You sell some horrifically unhealthy “foods.”  That’s just true.  People buy them, and that’s good for sales, and that’s all fine and good – except it’s not.  If you’re going to offer nutrition tours to kids, you need to admit that.  You’ve gone to the trouble of creating a “Nature’s Place” organic section, but you didn’t even mention it to the kids.  Why not?  You offered a taste test between organic and conventional baby carrots, but you didn’t explain the difference or why shoppers might choose one over the other.  Why not?

Identify your goals. Are you offering these nutrition tours because you care about helping kids make healthy choices?  Because it’s good publicity?  Because it makes you feel better about all the crap you sell?  Or is it just something Corporate told you to do?

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  It just that kids are impressionable, and they listen to what authority figures tell them.  My family eats well.  We get our vegetables from local farmers and put tons away for the winter.  We get our local, pasture-raised meat from friends who run their own butcher shop, and eggs from friends who keep chickens.  We make our own bread.

We also shop at Hannaford, and you better believe that my daughter will be looking at your Guiding Stars.  She wants to know why we get 1% milk instead of skim (fat is bad, you know), and she’s worried about the olive oil we cook with (oil is bad, too).  I want her to think about her food and make healthy choices, but I don’t want her on the road to an eating disorder.  Neither should you.

Food shouldn’t be this complicated, but it is.  If you’re going to be part of the conversation, be clear about what you’re saying.

Happy eating,

Kathleen