There may be consumer confusion if packaging of less nutritious snack food sold in schools is altered to look like their healthier counterparts—such as the Smart Snacks—which may compromise student nutrition and safety as well as affect perceptions on the food brands and the schools.
In the peer-reviewed Childhood Obesity journal, the researchers made a comparison of how parents and students graded look-alike Smart Snacks to the store versions of the same snacks with intent to purchase, healthfulness, and taste as their basis.
Indeed, what they discovered was consumer confusion, according to the journal’s article, Effects of Offering Look-Alike Products as Smart Snacks in Schools, authored by Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA and Marlene Schwartz, PhD, both from University of Connecticut, Hartford; and Maia Hyary, MPA, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.
Most of the participants in the study mistakenly believed of seeing Smart Snacks being sold in stores.
The researchers warned that these look-alike Smart Snacks could lead consumers in believing that they have the same nutritional standards as the same brands sold in schools.
The journal’s editor-in-chief Tom Baranowski said that this research underscores the confusion that parents and students experience while looking at “nutritionally different versions of similar food items” sold in stores against those sold in schools.
“The fact that students rated the healthier versions of the snacks as equal in taste to the unhealthy versions is an important milestone for healthy snacks. Hopefully this article will lead to a national discussion about what types of foods parents, students, and citizens in general want offered in schools,” said Baranowski, who holds a PhD at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.
Recall that the U.S. Department of Agriculture established nutritional standards in 2013 for foods and beverages being sold in schools and later labeled these products meeting the standards as Smart Snacks.
Effective September 2014, the label helped make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods and drinks in schools, thus banning sales of regular soda, high-fat chips, candies, and other products with poor in nutrients during school time.
Responding to this, some of the food producers eventually reformulated their products to meet the standards of Smart Snacks.