USDA spurs firms to use food pyramid in promos

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is launching a new campaign to encourage its partners to use its iconic food pyramid for their own promotional work.

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is launching a new campaign to encourage its partners to use its iconic food pyramid for their own promotional work.

The campaign, called Partnering with MyPyramid: Corporate Challenge, is open to any and all companies and their PR firms interested in incorporating the tenets of the pyramid into their own self-promotion, said CNPP executive director Dr. Brian Wansink, author of the bestseller Mindless Eating and a marketing professor currently on leave of absence from Cornell University. The food pyramid was updated in 2005 to include exercise as part of guidelines for healthy living.

The CNPP will formally announce the initiative at a June 10 press conference that will feature companies that have already partnered with the campaign. Those participants include ConAgra, the Food Marketing Institute, Stop & Shop/Giant, Campbell Soup, US Potato Board, Grain Foods Foundation, Del Monte Foods, General Mills, and Burger King. Porter Novelli is assisting the CNPP on communications work.

Burger King, for example, which works with Edelman, will include MyPyramid in online and in-store marketing and health information. Another participant, an online entertainment company titled Nourish Interactive, created and launched an online educational game for kids called Chef Sous and the Food Pyramid Adventure.

An "action kit" for others interested in joining is available at http://www.mypyramid.gov/.

Jackie Haven, CNPP's director of customer outreach and marketing, noted that the 2005 launch of the site received about 4.6 billion hits in the first few days, and is second only to the IRS as the most visited government Web site.

CNPP director of public affairs John Webster noted that the pyramid is not copyrighted, so any company or individual could technically use or alter it any way they want. With a few exceptions, that has not happened.

There are no costs associated with the use of the food pyramid, although communications plans must be submitted to the CNPP for approval, to ensure they keep within the spirit of the guidelines of the pyramid.

Apart from the food and restaurant industries, the campaign seeks to attract companies from all sectors, including video game makers and others in the high-tech world. CNPP is targeting companies that appeal to a younger demographic and are experienced in communicating with audiences online and in other techniques.

Video games could incorporate messages about exercise, for example, or an online-content provider could send opt-in notices to eat more fruit and vegetables, Wansink said, adding that apparel companies have also expressed interest in participating.

"I'm a big believer that companies can be a big part of the solution," he said. "Some companies [fear] that they'll be told that this is 'too little, too late.' But it's not. This is a chance to get this message out more and more during the day. We'd like to touch people with the diet guidelines' message where they purchase and prepare foods, and where they work and play."

Nourish Interactive founder Maggie LaBarbera said the food pyramid is usually held in high regard by consumers, which makes it a good centerpiece for a campaign. When the message comes from multiple industries, it helps the initiative, she added.

"They say a person has to see a message seven times before they start to pay attention to it," she noted. "So the more we come together and allow people to see a message, the more people begin to understand the message, rather than look past it."

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