Veg Power is spear-headed by Peas Please, a collaboration between think tank the Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland, Food Cardiff and the WWF. It has secured a broad cross section of support, including the backing of celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as well as advertising executive and founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarty Sir John Hegarty.
"I'm a parent and like everyone else, I want my kids to have a proper balanced diet, packed full of lovely veg! But we all know that encouraging kids to eat more greens can be a challenge, so we need to get them really excited about veg by celebrating all the beautiful, colourful, fun things you can do with them." - Jamie Oliver
"80% of our children are not eating enough veg and it's impacting their health. There's endless junk food advertising but why aren't we marketing the good stuff to our kids? Let’s do something really amazing. Let’s power up the next generation with vegetables!" - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
On Tuesday, Oliver and Fearnley-Whittingstall spoke to the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee to discuss the impact of marketing on childhood obesity as part of the #adenough social media campaign.
Veg Power was launched as a crowdfunder today (3 May) with the aim of raising €113,450 (£100,000). This cash will be used to fund the group’s early marketing work but the ultimate aim is to prove the concept that marketing can be used to increase vegetable consumption and secure external funding.
Dan Parker, a former food marketer turned founder of campaign group Living Loud, is assisting the Food Foundation. He told FoodNavigator: “Our mission is simple, to get the UK to eat more veg, and that means increasing consumption, best measured in veg sales.”
Veg Power highlighted the successful PR campaign from British Summer Fruits as evidence of the potential impact targeting advertising of fruit and vegetables can have. Since British Summer Fruits launched their PR campaign in 2002 the annual sales of berries has risen from €419.8m (£370m) to €1.43bn (£1.26bn).
“Advertising works, which is why companies spend so much money to promote their products. People buy happiness not health, so this is no longer about the health message and cartoon vegetables with smiley faces. It’s about making veg cool and contemporary in a way that means kids don’t need to be bribed with dessert to finish their greens,” Parker said.
“In our first year, we'll be operating on a modest budget to make the case to government, supermarkets and growers to invest greater sums in marketing veg in the years ahead.”
‘Come on Mr Gove and Mr Hunt’
Peas Please stressed the impact that under consumption of vegetables has on population health. According to the organisation, 80% of children in the UK are not eating enough vegetables, while low veg consumption contributes to 20,000 premature deaths every year in the country.
Changing eating habits at a population level could therefore deliver “huge savings” across the National Health Service by cutting the cost of treating diet-related disease. Currently, the NHS spends €11.3bn (£10bn) a year on treating type 2 Diabetes alone.
Parker said that Veg Power is already “in discussions” with the UK government and called for Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Environment Secretary Michael Gove to throw their weight behind the initiative.
“Come on Mr Gove and Mr Hunt, if we can get the UK to eat more veg it will be a massive boom for farming and a life saver for the NHS.”
Parker revealed that Veg Power has secured backing from some food manufacturers but noted that the group still has to "to coordinate PR" and was therefore not able to reveal which companies were getting involved.
No retailers have yet signed up to the drive. “We are in discussions and many of them including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, [the] Coop and Lidl have made fantastic pledges in support of Peas Please, so we know they share out dedication to getting the UK eating more veg.”
Parker stressed that delivering a positive message around vegetable consumption “is the most important thing we can do”.
“Our health professionals and nutritionists know what we need to do to turn around the obesity and NCD crisis. Most people, particularly parents know they need to eat less junk, more veg and get more active. But we’re failing to communicate that message. We need to stop lecturing people and start inspiring and supporting them.”
The Veg Power marketing initiative will initially focus on “kids and parents” and plans to extend to “do more” to support low income families and young adults.
In the first year, Parker said that there will be a “strong emphasis” on digital and social because it is an impactful and cost effective way to reach this audience. The group will also create a book full “tips, fun, facts and recipes to inspire kids and support parents”.