Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Breakfast for Learning needs to Learn the word NO!

Remember Breakfast for Learning?

They're Canada's,

"leading national non-profit organization solely dedicated to child nutrition programs"
They also happily take money from the folks who make Nutella who then use Breakfast for Learning's good name by leveraging their partnership to inspire co-branded sales.

When I called them out on this practice, Wendy Wong, Breakfast for Learning's President and CEO wrote to me to tell me that I misrepresented things and that their,
"relationship with Nutella does not mean that we endorse their product".
Well an anonymous tipster out there read that post and sent me a 2009 press release from another Nutella/Breakfast for Learning co-branding.

This was a press release that appears to me at least, to have been put out by Breakfast for Learning as that little blurb at the end of the release steers back to Breakfast for Learning and not to Nutella or Ferraro.

What'd the release say? Well among other things it called Nutella a,
"long time breakfast staple"
and then sent readers to a Nutella based now defunct website www.nutellabreakfastchallenge.com, to,
"learn about the top five reasons kids should eat breakfast, find easy recipes for on-the-go families and learn tips to encourage kids to eat breakfast."
There was also these quotes from Wendy Wong,
"Through participating in the Better Breakfast Challenge, families are helping ensure that students across the country get the proper nutrition they need for healthy development"

"With the current economy and rising foods costs, we are seeing a greater reliance on child nutrition programs. By signing up for the Challenge, parents can help their own children develop life-long healthy eating habits, as well as make an investment into a bright future for thousands of others who rely on our programs.
And while the website's now gone dark, I think it's fairly safe to say that it recommended Nutella as part of a nutritious breakfast and as a life-long habit.

So is Nutella nutritious?

A few months ago Journalist Marie Allard from French newspaper La Presse decided to compare it to No Name Chocolate Icing.

What'd she find?

Compared with Nutella, per tablespoon the chocolate icing had 25% fewer calories, and 27% less sugar.


So I decided to write to Wendy and ask her two simple questions.

I asked her,
"Given Nutella is basically nutritionally interchangeable with chocolate icing, I’m wondering too if you might comment why you and Breakfast for Learning would want to support its use in breakfast? Would chocolate icing based breakfasts be better than no breakfast in the eyes of Breakfast for Learning?"
Initially she ignored the questions (I'd asked a few others - get there in a second), so I asked it again differently,
"To flesh the question out – if the makers of chocolate icing wanted to donate money to Breakfast for Learning and to recommend it be spread on bread for breakfast for children, would Breakfast for Learning allow that?"
Her answer?
"To be honest, I do not really find it very constructive to respond to purely hypothetical questions like the one you have posed. BFL does not endorse any products period, the reality is that we are simply trying to ensure that children have access to breakfast and without our financial assistance many may go without."
How these types of co-brandings aren't endorsements is really beyond me, but to Wendy, things are crystal clear. Here's another of my questions followed by her answer,
"Wondering if you might have some comments for me as to whether or not the press release I’ve included constitutes promotion of Nutella by Breakfast for Learning?"
Her answer?
"In any donor driven campaign Breakfast for Learning is simply the recipient of funds. The quote attributed to me, was in support of the Nutella’s financial commitment to Breakfast for Learning and the importance of eating breakfast."

While there may be some shades of gray in public private partnerships with Big Food, I really would have thought that Wendy's answer to the chocolate icing question would have simply been, "No". The fact that it wasn't, and the fact that Wendy at least publicly denies the reality that co-branding misinforms parents and stains her and Breakfast for Learning's credibility and integrity, is more than astounding, it's tragic.

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  1. Anonymous9:39 am

    Check out what is written at the top of the Nutella jar.

    "Buy a jar, fuel a day."


  2. Anonymous11:14 am

    I'm waiting to hear about your children's sugar-free Halloween.

  3. Actually, it's Alexandra Leduc, nutritionist that compared Nutella with chocolate icing on her blog, which Marie Allard quoted in her article in La Presse.

  4. Hi Dr. Freedhoff
    I was involved as a volunteer with Breakfast for Learning in the late 90s to early 2000. It was a time when it was 'grass roots', were a bunch of mothers got together and made wholesome muffins in our home kitchens. The school my children went to, did not have a kitchen or church near by for the kids to go to, so we created a bin program which would go to each classroom (every child could have something, so as to not make a kid stand out that didn't get breakfast). We made a deal with a local farmer who delivered apples to us. We talked to some local stores and they gave us cheese for a very low cost. So each bin would have, apples, individually wrapped cheese and wrapped good quality muffins. The bins would be picked up after lunch and washed and cleaned. We wouldn't put up advertising about the farmers or the stores who donated, but the mothers and the kids would send out thank you notes and art to show our appreciation. We had a really organized group of mothers and this worked for many, many years. Then Breakfast for Learning got big, with Board of Directors, government intervention and a 'well oiled', 'grassroots' program was no good anymore. Moms could not make food at home. Then they wanted to bring fridges into schools because 'The Dairy Board' wanted to get involved and more rules upon rules and paper work came into effect. It became so insane that it was hard to get volunteers and the whole thing crashed. Occasionally I meet up with these mothers who started the program (before I even got involved) and we shake our heads at how ridiculous Breakfast for Learning has gotten. It seems that this program has lost it's focus or goal; child who do not have any breakfast, not supporting corporations. Wow, where has common sense gone?

  5. Anonymous: A sugar free halloween has nothing to do with this post, which you should probably read before posting snide comments. However, I will fill you in: If I am reading correctly,(and I'm sure I am)Yoni is objecting to the fact that breakfast for learning, an organization that is supposedly committed to childrens nutrition programs, is endorsing a product that is nutritionally equivelant to chocolate icing.(not really a breakfast staple, wouldnt you agree? I would imagine that, if Yoni allows his children to trick or treat (which I would find completely acceptable, as he himself endorses a lifestyle full of normalties like eating out, in moderation) he does not allow them to have free reign over their chocolate, and I can guarantee you nobody at Yoni's house is spreading a mars bar on their morning whole wheat.
    I would love to hear Yoni's thoughts on the comment thread, its an interesting one today.

  6. If you want to read the inital comparaison about Nutella and icing you can read it here!


  7. Hmmm. Not a fan of Nutella, not at all. Candy masquerading as nut butter, no thanks.

    But I can't accept that a product made with nuts and milk is nutritionally the same as no-name chocolate icing, which last time I looked is pretty much modified palm oil, HFCS, and artificial flavour & colour. No matter what the woefully inadequate nutritional breakdown on the label might say.

    Someone commented on Ms. Leduc's blog that she made her own with nuts, cocoa, milk and a (little) bit of sugar. Nutrition up, no doubt; calories down, doubtful. But that's not the only way to keep score, is it?