The battle against childhood obesity, and to a different degree, the battle to get children to accept healthier products, has heated up in recent weeks. And while the number of healthier products geared specifically to children — along with new products in general — appears to have slowed due to a difficult economic climate, discussion remains rampant on ways to improve health and wellness.

Children and health was an important talking point at the "Make (at least!) half your grains whole" conference held last week in Alexandria, Va. Sponsored by the Whole Grains Council, the meeting brought together representatives of the school food service industry, government and grain-based foods industry in an effort to drive higher consumption of whole grains.

In the case of whole grains, most participants at the meeting agreed children are the gateway to improving the nation’s health. In light of research showing one in five young children are at risk of being overweight as well as a study suggesting consumption of unhealthy food and beverages make children happier, they also agreed the road will not be easy.

It starts with schools

For Serena Suthers, success has come "by starting small and moving slowly." Ms. Suthers is director of school food and nutrition services at Prince William County Schools, Washington. She told participants at the whole grains conference that by slowly adding whole grains to products the acceptability level of the foods was such that the school district was able to keep reformulating the products until many now contain at least 51% whole grain and are widely accepted by children. She said cost continues to be a barrier to whole grain introduction at the food service level, with whole wheat hamburger and hot dog buns in many cases twice as expensive as their white counterparts. She challenged food companies to provide more cost effective whole grain alternatives as well as better tasting lasagna noodles, tortillas and whole grain breadings for nuggets.

One company hoping to make the tasks of Ms. Suthers and other food service operators easier is Minneapolis-based Cargill, which had its new Cargill Healthy Cookie Base bars on display at the conference. The base is packed with proprietary ingredients from Cargill designed to enhance nutrition and sensory appeal, including Grain Wise wheat aleurone, Wheat Select white spring whole wheat, and Oliggo•Fiber. The company hopes to work with the school food service industry to make the products a part of a healthier snacking option for school lunches.


Breaking out with beverages

While whole grains make a dent in food service, fortified beverages are making their mark in the supermarket.

Earlier this month, Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., launched two products designed to benefit children using different stages of their growth and development: Juicy Juice Brain Development and Juice Juice Immunity.

"Nestle Juicy Juice Brain Development fruit juice beverage is one of the few child-friendly products on the market offering DHA, which is associated with brain development (in children under 2), eye and heart health," said Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, marketing manager for Nestle Juicy Juice. "Nestle Juicy Juice fruit juice beverages are different from Juicy Juice 100% juices since they contain 70% juice blended with 30% filtered water, plus added nutrients specifically selected for their benefit to children during different periods of growth and development.

"Juicy Juice Immunity is also among the first nationally distributed kid’s juice beverages that is a good source of fiber (3 grams of fiber per 8-fluid-oz serving). Additionally, Juicy Juice Immunity provides 100% of the Daily Value of vitamin C and 10% of the Daily Value of zinc — essential nutrients for a healthy immune system."

Another company looking to provide a nutritional boost to children through beverage consumption is Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill. Kraft, through its Capri Sun brand, last week announced the debut of Capri Sun Sunrise, a new breakfast juice drink fortified with 100% daily value of vitamin C and is a good source of calcium. In introducing the product, Kraft cited a survey conducted by Experian Simmons and commissioned by Capri Sun Sunrise, that noted while 50% of parents believe their children are getting enough vitamin C and/or calcium in their diets, an overwhelming 88% still prefer their children get more.

"We know parents are looking for breakfast drink options their kids will enjoy and that they can still feel good about serving," said Nora Kalter, brand manager for Capri Sun.

Capri Sun Sunrise contains no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and is available in three flavor combinations: Orange Wake-Up, Berry Tangerine Morning and Tropical Morning. It’s also a Kraft Sensible Solution product.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, April 28, 2009, starting on Page 30. Click
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