Can you Judge a Food By It’s Cover?

Can you Judge a Food By It’s Cover?

Adapted From: Food Share’s Food Media and Marketing Unit
Age: Grades 5+
Key Learning: Understand how marketing affects food choices, understand the meaning of health claims, nutrient content claims, and hooks
Equipment: 2 cereal boxes (different brands)
Type: Standalone activity. Follow up with raisin taste testing if time permits.


Fact: Cereal is one of the top 5 food products marketed to children. Using two or more cereal boxes, discuss advertising techniques used in food marketing. A study conducted by Yale University showed that cereal advertised to children generally contains 85% more sugar, 65% less fibre, and t60% more sodium than the cereal advertised to adults. (Harris, et al, 2009)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is the target audience and how can you tell?
    Think about the font, the colour scheme, the images, what’s on the back of the box, the placement in the supermarket, the price and any additional text on the box.
  2. Which of the two companies/brands do you think spent more on their advertising? Explain why.
  3. What “health claims” are evident? (e.g. “Cheerios May Reduce Your Cholesterol!”)
    The Claims are when there is a suggested relationship between the food and reducing/improving a specific disease or health-related condition.
  4. What “Nutrient Content Claims” are evident? (e.g. “Fat-Free”)
    Nutrient Claims are when there is a statement about the amount (or, lack) a nutrient in the food. They do not mention diseases or health-related conditions.
  5. What “hooks” are present to draw consumers into buying the product?
    For children, there might be free toys, games on the back or competitions to be won.
    For adults, there might be competitions, recipe ideas, “bargain” deals (e.g. 20% more!)
  6. What might the advertising, health claims, nutrient claims and “hooks” be trying to distract the consumer from seeing/recognizing?
    For example, if a product is “low in fat”, check the sodium and sugar levels!