- As Campbell Soup ends its popular school rewards program this year, Labels for Education, critics of these types of fundraisers are voicing concern about how they impact a child's health, according to a recent article in the Washington Post.
- General Mills’ Box Tops for Education and Tyson’s Project A+ are still in use across the country, and remain a popular way for teachers, parents and schools to raise additional funding.
- Critics of these programs view them as a way to market junk food to kids, and establish poor eating habits that can be carried over into adulthood. Some also view these reward programs as a way to establish brand loyalty with children, while skirting federal nutrition requirements that keep these products from being sold on school grounds.
Box top and label clipping school fundraisers go back decades. Campbell Soup started its Soup Labels for Education Program 42 years ago, establishing a new way for schools to raise extra funds. Since then, General Mills, Tyson Foods, Coca-Cola and other large CPG companies have joined in with similar programs. Campbell Soup is ending its Labels for Education program this year, citing dwindling participation.
The concept is simple. Parents buy food or beverage products bearing a special stamp on the packaging, which they have undoubtedly been told to look out for by their children, school and teachers. Each clipped label can mean anywhere from 5 cents to 38 cents for the school to spend on that particular manufacturer’s rewards, ranging from colored markers to ipads.
Critics of these programs acknowledge they’re an effective way for schools to get supplies that are sometimes cut from already cash-strapped budgets. However, they’re highly critical of the types of foods these stamps are attached to.
A recent study by researchers at Harvard University's found only a third of the products with the General Mills Box Top label met federal nutrition requirements for sale in schools. The concern is that the food products aren’t healthy enough to be sold in the cafeteria, but General Mills can advertise them to kids through their Box Tops for Education program.
Companies that operate these programs deny the fundraising tools are brand marketing programs. However, children are often encouraged by their teachers and schools to collect as many box tops or labels as possible. These labels aren’t only found on foods such as Toaster Strudel and Reese’s Puffs Cereal. They’re also available on healthy products, like yogurt and Cheerios, and even non-perishables like paperware and office supplies.
The food manufacturers behind these programs insist they’re being marketed to adults, but critics don’t agree. Children are motivated to bring in as many labels as possible to help their school, and likely look for these goods when hitting the supermarket with their parents. It's likely that moms and dads, wanting to help their child's school, would be more inclined to purchase these products, and in doing so establish a closer relationship with the brand.
The root problem critics of the programs are trying to address is childhood obesity. According to the American Heart Association, one in three kids and teens in the U.S. is overweight or obese. Getting them hooked on chips and cookies in the name of getting their school a new playground isn’t helping, critics say.
The programs core concept isn’t the issue. It’s the nutritionally poor products connected to them. If food companies want to reduce the criticism, they may consider making more non-food items, like paper towels and garbage bags, eligible for inclusion. They also could modify the food items to include those that meet the Smart Snacks standards acceptable for sale in schools. Lastly, schools could take it upon themselves to cut children completely out of the process and communicate directly with parents about the programs.
It’s unlikely that government regulators will get involved with these rewards programs. While it’s less than ideal to have kids pushed to buy tortilla chips and sugary cereal, it's unlikely that changes will be made to these initiatives anytime soon given their general popularity, unless Big Food companies feel pressured to act.