The New Healthy Junk Food, or How to Eat Baby Carrots without Really Trying

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Baby carrots are being rebranded and marketed as a healthy junk food for kids by the carrot farmersBy Kristin Sidorov
Crunchy, dippable, and more than a little irresistible, the latest snack food to sneak into the hearts and tummies of kids probably isn’t what you’d suspect. Step aside cookies, chips, and candy, because there’s an unexpected addition in the vending machine: baby carrots. Borrowing a page from junk-food’s energetic, colorful, and kid-approved advertising gimmicks, carrot sellers have created a marketing campaign aiming to give the little orange veggie the same appeal as its less-healthy rivals.

We’re all used to recognizing bright, crinkly bags and bold, in-your-face graphics as “junk-foody.” And while there has been growing concern over unhealthy food advertisements targeting children, can the carrot industry’s blatant mimicry be the golden ticket we need to get kids on the healthy food wagon?

Only time will tell, but it seems to make sense, and if the test markets are right, it works. Sales of baby carrots doubled in two test markets. Perceptions can be changed: Health food can be cool. After all, carrots have all trademarks of a kid-crazed snack food, right down to their neon-orange hue. Except, of course, the fat and sugar content.

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And while this may be the first time an entire health-food market has unveiled a blanket marketing campaign that deliberately copies junk-food advertisements, it’s not the first time we’ve seen healthier foods packaged and presented to kids in an appealingly fun way: The same has been done with yogurt (hello, Squeezables!), string cheese, and applesauce. Animated characters, bright packaging, and fun colors have helped health foods win over kids for years—just not quite in this fashion. Maybe that’s because we never felt the need to market fresh fruits and veggies before.

But in a world of processed, pre-packaged convenience foods, getting kids to see wholesome and nutritious options might take some strategy. If the carrot industry’s campaign works, maybe it’ll pave the way for other kid-friendly health foods, like apples, edamame, and nuts, to step up their marketing game, too.

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Maggie Scarf is a visiting fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, and a fellow of Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University. She is the author of two books for children and six books for adults, including the New York Times bestselling Intimate Partners. She has made many television appearances (among them The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today show, Good Morning America, CBS News, and CNN) and has been featured in many newspapers and magazines, including People, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and others. She lives in Connecticut with her husband Herb, the Sterling Professor of Economics at Yale, and is the mother of three adult daughters.

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