ConAgra Foods' Feeding Children Better Foundation

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ConAgra Foods' Feeding Children Better Foundation

1 ConAgra Drive
Omaha, Nebraska 68102-5001
Telephone: (800) 771-2303
E-mail: [email protected]
Web site:



ConAgra Foods, the $14 billion packaged-food giant, created its Feeding Children Better program in 1999 in response to the growing problem of childhood hunger in the United States. In conjunction with the Advertising Council and America's Second Harvest, ConAgra's Feeding Children Better program launched a multitiered public service campaign to increase awareness and understanding of childhood hunger, which, at the time, affected approximately 14 million American children.

The "Child Hunger" public service campaign, which started in 2001, used television, print, radio, Web banners, and pamphlets, reaching 57.5 million people in its first year alone. Created by advertising agencies Bartle Bogle Hegarty of New York and Euro RSCG Tatham Partners of Chicago, both of whom volunteered their services free of charge, the ads conveyed to the public the realities of being poor and hungry. The first part of the campaign, conceived by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, used the tagline "The sooner you believe it, the sooner we can end it" and involved heartbreaking television spots drawn from real-life stories. In "Shared Food," for example, a girl prepared a meager meal for the younger children in her family but neglected to feed herself. Euro RSCG, which took over the account in 2002 and changed the tagline to "Hunger. A choice no one should have to make," created equally poignant TV commercials. "Rent or Food," "Heat or Food," and "Medicine or Food" were all created in an attempt to disclose the terrible choices many poor families had long had to make.

In the end the "Child Hunger" campaign was considered successful. More than $45 million of media was donated to promote the campaign, accomplishing ConAgra's goal of gaining free media exposure for the problem and thus making the other tasks more easily attained. There were 285,250 hits on Feeding Children Better's website (the URL was displayed in all advertising materials), there was an increased awareness that childhood hunger existed in America, and in response to the campaign the U.S. Department of Agriculture donated 9 million lunches to schools in the summer of 2001.


The Feeding Children Better program was established in 1999 by ConAgra Foods, a leading packaged-food company offering such brands as ACT II, Healthy Choice, Kid Choice, Peter Pan, and Parkay. Feeding Children Better—which became the largest corporate-backed program to fight child hunger—was divided into three major components: Kids Cafe, Rapid Food Distribution System, and Public Awareness Campaign. In a combined effort the three divisions were able to donate food, to assist in its distribution to the hungry, and to raise awareness both of the organization and of child hunger in the United States.

To help run Feeding Children Better, ConAgra partnered with the national nonprofit group America's Second Harvest, the largest charitable domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. America's Second Harvest had evolved into a network of more than 200 food banks, which, in total, dispensed food and grocery products to approximately 50,000 charitable hunger-relief agencies. The organization administered Feeding Children Better's Kids Cafes and Rapid Food Distribution System. To operate the Feeding Children Better program, ConAgra also teamed up with the Center on Hunger and Poverty, a research center based at Brandeis University that had long been dedicated to serving the needs of low-income Americans.

Feeding Children Better's "Child Hunger" campaign developed as a result of a hunger-awareness initiative conducted in 2001 by ConAgra Foods, the Advertising Council, and America's Second Harvest. In ConAgra's words (from the Feeding Children Better website), "By educating the public about child hunger, ConAgra Foods' Feeding Children Better program seeks to be a catalyst and encourage others to get involved in the fight against child hunger. The ultimate goal is to insure that American children have the capacity to grow, to learn in school and to reach their full potential."


At the campaign's start 14 million American children had been classified by America's Second Harvest as "food insecure," meaning that they were hungry or at risk of hunger. In a country of great prosperity, this evergrowing problem went largely undetected. "Child Hunger" advertising directly targeted hungry children and their families, letting them know who to contact if they needed food assistance. ConAgra desired to bring attention to this group during the summer months, when the national free-lunch program would reach far fewer children than during the school year. Only about 2.2 million kids would be fed during the summer, compared with 14 million during the school year. For this reason the campaign was released during the summer.

Those who could directly benefit from food distribution were not the only ones targeted by the "Child Hunger" campaign. Raising awareness in all Americans was the goal. Thus the campaign directed viewers to the Feeding Children Better website, where they could become better educated about hunger and, in particular, about child hunger. Providing such information as "Every fourth person standing in a soup kitchen line is a child," "13 million kids live in households that do not have an adequate supply of food," and "One in five children in the U.S. is hungry or at the risk of hunger every year," ConAgra Foods and Feeding Children Better hoped to spread compassion for the poor and to find donors for the program.


There had been a great many other hunger-prevention programs developed in the United States. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) was one such program. A national organization, FRAC was founded in 1970 as a public interest law firm and grew to be a key player in the fight to decrease hunger in America. Like Feeding Children Better, FRAC focused on child hunger. In particular the organization engaged in ongoing research to document national hunger and its effect on low-income families with children.


Results from a 2004 study revealed that nearly half of all the food in the United States went to waste. The University of Arizona study, led by anthropologist Timothy Jones, looked at food loss over a 10-year period and concluded that of all food ready for harvest, 40 to 50 percent never got eaten. Jones stated that if measures were made to diminish waste, each year tens of billions of dollars would be saved—money that, he suggested, could be used to fight hunger via contributions to such programs as America's Second Harvest.

Share Our Strength (SOS), with the motto "It takes more than food to fight hunger," was another leading antihunger advocate. The program, founded in 1984 and based in Washington, D.C., had raised more than $180 million in the fight against hunger and poverty, both in the United States and worldwide. SOS's approach centered on teaching cooking and nutrition classes to low-income families. It also managed a number of corporate-backed campaigns, such as "Charge against Hunger," which operated from 1993 to 1996 and was sponsored by American Express. By donating three cents from every fourth-quarter transaction, the credit-card company raised $21 million for SOS.

Meanwhile ConAgra Foods (a top producer of food in the United States), which provided funding for Feeding Children Better and which in 2004 had sales exceeding $14 billion, faced steep competition in its sale of packaged foods. ConAgra's main competitors were Kraft Foods (with 2004 sales exceeding $32 billion) and Nestlé (with 2004 sales totaling more than $76 billion). Neither megacorporation had backed a major nonprofit in the specific way that ConAgra had with Feeding Children Better, although they had historically given to many charitable organizations, often in connection with nutrition. Kraft, for instance, created a "Kraft Cares" global philanthropy program, which focused on two main areas: hunger and healthy lifestyles. Still these efforts tended to be shorter term and promotion oriented, instead of long-term, nationwide commitments like the one ConAgra had made to Feeding Children Better. Further ConAgra was the only company to run a public service campaign specifically to fight childhood hunger in the United States.


The "Child Hunger" campaign aired in 2001 as a series of public service announcements, with advertisements created by volunteer ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, based in New York City. The announcements' main objective was to raise awareness about hunger, especially child hunger, in the United States and to increase empathy toward parents of hungry children. With the "Child Hunger" campaign ConAgra, the Ad Council, and America's Second Harvest wanted to change the general perception of child hunger as being a result of a lazy parent not doing his or her job. The advertising was intended to reveal the difficult choices these parents had long had to make, such as deciding whether to spend money on rent or food. Further they aimed to expose the damaging physical and mental effects of hunger on children. Another objective was to provide opportunities for citizens to take action against childhood hunger. These would prove difficult tasks, because, in addition to the negative opinions the public had formed about hungry children and their parents, there was an inaccurate national perception that hunger barely existed in the United States.

Using the tagline "The sooner you believe it, the sooner we can end it," the tragic television spots, directed by Joe Pytka of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, were drawn from real-life stories. In "Ketchup Soup" a mother scavenged ketchup packets from take-out restaurants in order to make ketchup-and-water soup for her young family. In "Chicken Pox" a young girl talked her brother into attending school when he had chicken pox just so he could receive his free lunch. Finally "Shared Food" portrayed a girl preparing a meager meal for her younger siblings. At the end of the spot the camera backed up to reveal that the older girl did not eat anything, leaving her portion for the others.

In 2002 Bartle Bogle Hegarty's contract ended, and Euro RSCG Tatham Partners continued the campaign, which took on a different tagline, "Hunger. A choice no one should have to make." The agenda, however, remained the same: to spread the word about childhood hunger in the United States, with a focus on the terrible choices poor families continually have had to face. Additional TV spots were released. In one, titled "Rent or Food," a mother, with her children listening nearby, tried to explain to her landlord that she could not pay the rent because she needed the money to feed her children. Other spots, including "Heat or Food" and "Medicine or Food," depicted the same message.

In addition to television, the campaign appeared in various forms, including radio, print ads, Web banners, and pamphlets. Among the print ads was one about "Julie," who was cold and suffered from what the ad called "Chicken Skin." Every ad directed the audience to a toll-free number, 1-800-FEED-KIDS, as well as to a website, All were made possible through donated media that exceeded $45 million in value. The campaign continued through 2003.


The efforts of Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Euro RSCG Tatham Partners were met with accolades from the advertising industry. Among the campaign's many awards were an International Andy award and a silver EFFIE award, the latter of which judged campaigns on the basis of their results. More importantly the ad agencies and organizations behind the campaign considered it to have achieved its goals.

The campaign's first objective—gaining free media exposure—was exceedingly met. While in 2001 the average Ad Council campaign received $28.6 million in donated media, "Child Hunger" received $45.3 million. Second, the ads also successfully inspired action: from June through December of 2001, the campaign's 800 number received 2,677 calls, while its website received 285,250 hits. By the campaign's end the number of website hits had reached 507,400. Ninety percent of telephone calls had been inspired by the television and radio spots. Third, awareness of childhood hunger in America increased dramatically. In a public-opinion study run by the Ad Council, 50 percent of participants in 2001 said that they believed childhood hunger existed in the United States. In 2002 the number jumped to 87 percent. When participants were asked if they thought that the problem existed in their own community, only 10 percent in 2001 said yes. In 2002 the number increased to 39 percent. The campaign also achieved its goal of generating a collective concern and discussion so that the problem would no longer be hidden. As a direct result of the campaign, in the summer of 2001 the U.S. Department of Agriculture donated to schools 9 million lunches for children in need. On a wider scale the advertising reached more than 57.5 million people, who either read, watched or heard about the issue through means of the "Child Hunger" campaign.


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                                             Candice Mancini