It’s a very common practice amongst mom bloggers to accept products from companies to review or promote to their audiences. The bloggers get everything from candy bars to mattresses and vacations for free and the brands benefit because, for what is usually no more cost than samples of their product, they get a lot of highly influential publicity.
This weekend, some of those mom bloggers came under quite a bit of fire from their peers. Several moms were invited by Kentucky Fried Chicken to visit the restaurant’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky to learn about their new “healthy” kids meals and in turn promote them to their followers using #KFCKidsMeals on Twitter. That’s pretty standard, but where eyebrows raised on this publicity event was that the company invited the moms with their kids.
The health of our children is a hot button issue right now, and the #KFCKidsMeals hashtag was practically high jacked by moms condemning both KFC and the participating moms for subjecting their children to what is no better than chemically laden, nutritionally void food.
Leah Segedie, known best as @BookieBoo and the leader of Mamavation, was one of the moms on the outside of #KFCKidsMeals tweeting in. Any time you intersect kids and nutrition you’ll find Leah, and this campaign was no different.
“I basically took control of it to make sure it was done in a fair way without attacking the bloggers involved,” she told us. “But I can’t control what people write on their blogs, obviously.”
Leah spent this weekend tweeting out questions to the moms involved. She wanted to know about MSG, sodium, carcinogens, and other chemical ingredients in the food. Who better to ask than the people sitting right inside KFC HQ? As far as we could tell, no one got back to her with those answers; although, one tweet implied that the company would get in touch with her.
Why does she care? Well, she notes that 40 percent of today’s children will have cancer at some point in their lives. “When I see brands that are contributing to that statistic try to make themselves look like they are heroes for cutting calories, I call that lying through marketing. It’s disingenuous and it’s wrong to try and sell a message of health that simply is not true.”
She called this health washing, and she’s not the only one calling out KFC for it. Kathie Melocco, on her site of the same name, is warning bloggers about health washing. “Brands who try to play in the health space must be careful not to misrepresent their facts. It doesn’t matter if you are KFC, a tube of toothpaste or a startup, the issues are all the same. Using bloggers’ children to push your message is just wrong!”
Leah says when KFC decided to move this promotion to the open forum that is Twitter, she called them on it, and brought with her a legion of loyal, fellow-mom followers.
While we believe several moms attended the event, only three were clearly identifiable on Twitter amongst all of the anti-KFC tweets going through. @VeraSweeney, @RealMomReviews, and @MomStart were all contacted about this story, but none replied. KFC told us via a press release (the company wasn’t available for further comment at the time of publishing) that they consider this a “thinking moms” kids meal, “one that is equal parts balanced options and interactive fun for their kids.” The company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jason Marker, commented in the release that “By pairing our freshly-prepared chicken choices with delicious, convenient fruit and KFC’s famous sides, we’ve created a meal with balanced and kid-friendly options.” The only fruit available is a pureed pouch of apples and the green beans, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes leave a lot to be desired from a nutritional perspective.
What do these new meals really look like? Vera Sweeney tweeted out a photo of the revamped kids meals while appealing to the mom who is too busy to feed her kids anything other than a fast food meal.
— Vera Sweeney (@VeraSweeney) March 23, 2013
“This message is dangerous to all of us because at the end of the day, if you are going through the drive thru for what I call a ‘desperation meal’ you should feel a little guilty about it,” commented Leah. A busy working mom of three children herself, Leah isn’t unlike a lot of moms who are just too pressed for time. I’ll throw myself in that group, too. “It’s part of what being a mom is about. We feel guilty when we give our children things that may harm them. When KFC tries to take the guilt out of it by selling them a false sense of security, they take away a very powerful tool we have that was instinctively put there to protect our children.”
The new Li’l Bucket meals are marketed as starting at 210 calories. As someone who is health conscious and gets as much nutrition out of every meal as I can, I can say that it’s an appealing number. But there aren’t any fresh fruits or vegetables in those meals (green beans marinated in salt and MSG don’t count for me). A squeeze pouch of applesauce would have been more impressive as fresh-sliced apples.
Another #KFCKidsMeals participant, Skye Moyer @RealMomReviews, posted a photo of the four protein sources available in the kids meals and asked which our kids would choose.
— Skye Moyer (@RealMomReviews) March 21, 2013
The KFC Ingredients in Question
Sure, there are “healthier” options in these meals, but the fact remains that the ingredients in most of the menu items are carcinogens (namely anti-foaming agents, carrageenan, and hydrogenated oils) and are nutritionally void. If KFC really wants to get moms on board with truly healthier kids meals, Leah explains exactly where they can start.
“They need to take out the carcinogens, MSG, hydrogenated oils and cut back on the sodium levels. It’s not about how many calories the meal contains, it’s about WHAT the meal contains,” she said. What’s in those meals is concerning, whether you’re a kid or the mom.
The American Heart Association says that a 6- to 11-year-old child’s sodium consumption is 3,000 milligrams per day, when the maximum should be 500! A single serving of KFC’s macaroni and cheese yields 830 milligrams of sodium – and that’s before you’ve gotten to the rest of the meal. The drumstick has 290 milligrams, the extra crispy tender has 315 milligrams, the bites have 440 milligrams, and the sandwich has 590 milligrams.
What’s Lurking in KFC’s Li’l Bucket
The Macaroni and Cheese is made with nearly 60 ingredients. SIXTY! Partially hydrogenated oil, or trans fat, makes four appearances on the ingredients listing. Carrageenan is used, which is derived from red seaweed with molecular qualities similar to plastic and is used in processed foods to create a creamy texture and better mouth feel. Particularly, carrageenan is known to cause gastrointestinal inflammation.
The Lil’ Bucket Chocolate Crème Parfait has 50 ingredients, with more trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup on top of corn syrup. As well, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids are included. As delicious as that sounds, the Don’t Eat That app suggests it’s a problem ingredient because of its link to GMOs and allergies.
The bun alone on the Chicken Little sandwich has nearly two dozen ingredients, which is just a big starchy nutrition-void lump of bread with high fructose corn syrup. That gets topped with a piece of fried chicken, mayonnaise and a few shreds of iceberg lettuce.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is also rampant in KFC’s recipes. Your kids meals aren’t safe from this toxic ingredient, as MSG can be found in the crispy strips, green beans, gravy, original recipe chicken, popcorn chicken, and potato wedges. These “excitotoxins,” as Susan Schenk, author of Live Food Factor, has called them, says that these addictive chemicals are responsible for stimulating the brain in to thinking the food is delicious and can “bioaccumulate” in the brain and down the road lead to health disorders like Alzheimer’s and infertility. For young kids, asthma and headaches have been linked with MSG’s many side effects.
Leah reflected on the days when KFC’s entire marketing message was their ingredients. “It used to be 14 herbs and spices, real eggs and powdered milk instead of 50 fillers and carcinogens,” she said. “They’re making a killing on us. Literally.”
The #KFCKidsMeal Fall Out
These moms in attendance for the #KFCKidsMeal event certainly have more work cut out for them than just promoting a KFC Li’l Bucket and sending some sales to their local drive-thru. Louise Bishop of @MomStart, another attendee, pointed this out in a little social media self defense.
I’m really bothered by the fact people are so mean and judgmental about my decision about where and what I eat #kfckidsmeals
— Louise Bishop (@MomStart) March 24, 2013
Who are the moms who pack up their children and take them to a fast food giant’s home turf? “I think KFC purposely preyed on mom bloggers that wouldn’t question this,” pointed out Leah. “[KFC] took advantage of [the moms] and they should be ashamed of themselves. If they wanted a conversation about healthier choices to be taken seriously, they should have invited mom bloggers that were in to health.” Jessica Gottlieb, another vocal Tweeter on the anti-KFC side this weekend, backed that up.
FYI the reason I dislike #kfckidsmeals as a hashtag is because they’re tricking moms into thinking they’re doing something good.
— Jessica Gottlieb (@JessicaGottlieb) March 24, 2013
Vani at FoodBabe.com was also vocal this weekend about #KFCKidsMeals. Last fall, after raising red flags and criticisms for Chick-Fil-A, the company invited her to their Atlanta headquarters. “No matter what you think about this company politically (you know what I think), change has to start somewhere and this is why I accepted this invitation,” she wrote. Her four-hour conversation with key corporate employees didn’t result in everything she had hoped it would, but she was able to express to them in person concerns that moms have over GMOs, MSG, antibiotics, high fructose corn syrup, anti-foaming agents, and other concerns over their ingredients.
That’s a positive way to keep this conversation moving forward for better ingredients and better food than can actually be marketed as “healthy.” What KFC did was like putting lipstick on a pig, analogized Leah. They made a big deal about lowering calorie counts, adding pouches of apple puree, and flavored water drink pouches that are anything but pure. Your kids can now get a Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters pouch in which the tropical punch flavor has high fructose corn syrup and Splenda. I think I’ll stick to ordering water for my tot.
“It’s wrong, and because lots of people are worried about childhood obesity more than carcinogens, it’s a dangerous message,” said Leah.
Don’t take any marketing message at face value, whether it’s from a mom or a corporation, or a corporation funding a mom. We all have to be more educated about what we feed ourselves, but especially our kids. Companies like KFC won’t make real change until our voices are loud enough to demand that this is not acceptable.
images via Yahoo and KFC