“We are glad to see Labels for Education coming to a close and are calling General Mills to do the same,” Colin Schwartz, a senior policy associate at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told BakeryandSnacks.
He qualified his statement by saying nutrition and health experts believe programs such as these are designed to sell foods high in fat and sugar, such as cookies and crackers, to young kids.
“The vast majority of products [associated with school rewards programs] can’t be sold in schools... they don’t fit the federal nutritional guidelines,” he said.
“Junk food marketing is a problem in many schools and it takes on many different forms. Label redemption programs like Labels for Education and Box Tops for Education are just another form of marketing.
“General Mills is [using its program] to market their sugary cereals to schoolchildren.”
End of an era
In a statement, Campbell Soup said its program - which will end in May - has contributed more than $110m in supplies to schools across the US over the years, but saw a considerable decline in participation recently.
“It is at the point where we have no choice but to make the very difficult decision to wind down the program,” said the company.
Mollie Wullf, General Mills’ spokesperson, said its Box Tops for Education program allows schools to purchase physical education and playground equipment, “which is costly and difficult to fund through other means.
“Schools also use funds to help offset educational field trip costs and buy much-needed supplies ranging from library books to technology and musical instruments.”
According to the company, its program has around 70,000 K-8 school participating members to which it has contributed over $868m.
Wulff added the program also incudes healthier products and non-food items.
“General Mills includes a wide variety of food and non-food items in the Box Tops program, including Annie’s organic foods, Yoplait Go-GURT, Cheerios and Chex cereals, and non-food items like Ziploc sandwich bags, Kleenex tissues and Lysol products.
“No product logos or brand images are used as part of the program… All components are specifically directed to parents and other adults,” she added.
Asked if Box Tops for Education might follow the same route as the Labels for Education program, Wulf said: “We are committed to supporting schools and communities through the program as long as participation remains strong.”
Healthy snacking acquisitions not enough
Aligned to current trends, General Mills and Campbell Soup have enhanced their healthier snack portfolios through a series of acquisitions. Recently, General Mills acquired Annie’s and EPIC Provision, while Campbell Soup swallowed Snyder’s-Lance, to name a few.
However, Schwartz contended that, while “these companies are rightfully purchasing better-for-you brands... the majority of their products are unhealthy.
“What they must do is to end programs like Box Tops or only label foods that are healthy,” he said.