How should a restaurant market to kids?

Today, Panera Bread announced a unique commitment to the wellbeing of children: they will not use toys, characters, or other enticements to sell their kids’ meals, and they’re challenging other restaurants to do the same. Their pledge is part of a broader Kids Meal Promise, which aims to reshape the way people think about kids’ food. For us, it’s an important and exciting step toward ending child-targeted marketing.

You hear a lot from us when corporations exploit children’s vulnerabilities in order to build brand loyalty, and food marketers are some of the worst offenders. They bombard kids with TV commercials--on average, children see 11 food and beverage ads per day. They target kids in schools, sending corporate mascots into classrooms and using teachers to lure students to restaurants. They tie their products to children's media empires, putting popular characters on packaging to entice kids to nag for branded products. And they use toys to sell kids’ meals, encouraging children to make food choices based on external rewards.

When marketers use these unfair tactics, they interfere with parents’ ability to help their children develop healthy eating habits. This is true whether the foods being marketed are cookies or carrot sticks: when kids make food choices based on manipulative advertising, they’re learning that food is just another form of entertainment, not a core component of physical and emotional wellbeing. 

We applaud Panera for recognizing that kids’ healthy eating habits aren’t just about what they eat, but also how and why. Without gimmicks and giveaways, children can learn to choose foods for the right reasons. And parents and kids alike can enjoy meals where the focus is on food and family, not cartoon characters and toys.

We were pleased when Panera approached us to discuss their Kids Meal Promise, and we’re looking forward to continuing the conversation about ending kid-targeted marketing in the food industry and beyond. In the meantime, we urge more companies to follow their lead.

How should a restaurant market to kids? Not at all.

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