By Deborah Cassell
Confection & Snack Retailing

getting fresh: School lunch crunch

Tater tots and chocolate milk. When I look back on my early school lunches, that’s what comes to mind. Later, my memories change to include soda pop, potato chips, candy bars and cookies -- partly because my high school offered “open” lunch, which allowed students to leave campus for the hour (can you say “fast-food frenzy?”) and partly because the cafeteria began supplementing standard lunch tray items with vending machine fare … a slippery slope of a decision, if you ask me.

Today, I’m told, students have mostly free reign when it comes to what they want to eat at school, if not when. (Kids still can’t eat in class, as far as I know.) The result? A childhood obesity epidemic that’s taken our country by storm. One need only turn on the TV, open a newspaper (if you can find one still in publication) or go online for something on the subject.

Google “childhood obesity” for articles,,,,,… the list goes on. And searchwww.cnn.comfor reports such as CNN Fit Nation, in which Dr. Sanjay Gupta “tackles the nation's obesity epidemic in a year-long focus on the issue and search for solutions.”

One of the more interesting items I found on the Web today came  The headline: “Childhood obesity may begin in early infancy.” According to the article, a new study by the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention at Harvard Medical School, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Children’s Hospital Boston reveals that “rapid weight gain during the first six months of life may place a child at risk for obesity by age 3.” (Further results of this study can be found in the April edition ofPediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

According to a recent episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” (, this really is a trend that starts young. The show followed the lives of those suffering from morbid obesity, including an 18-year-old whose weight got so out of control, he couldn’t leave the house, let alone the chair where he spent his days. In elementary school, Billy was deemed “chunky. At its peak, his weight topped out at 800 lbs. The good news: He was finally able to lose hundreds of pounds through major surgery. The bad news: It took him some 20 years to get help. Although this case is an extreme example, it’s proof of the long-term effects of childhood obesity.

As reported in today’s edition ofSweet & Healthy, even manufacturers are weighing in on what’s become a critical issue for our nation’s kids.

On March 31, Mars Snackfood US testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, in support of legislation to revise school nutrition standards to make more nutritious products available to students nationwide.

In 2006, Mars was one of five companies to partner with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation ( -- a coalition started by The William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to “empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices.” Mars and these other manufacturers have worked with the Alliance to encourage the adoption of new school nutrition guidelines that follow the 35-10-35 formula.

In his testimony on March 31, Hank Izzo, Ph.D., vice president of R&D for Mars, urged lawmakers to support 35-10-35, which suggests that snack foods sold in schools have no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% from saturated fat and less than 35% sugar by weight.

As Izzo pointed out, parents may make decisions about food at home, but at school, kids are making choices for themselves, and an updated national school nutrition standard would make it easier for schools and manufacturers to help kids make smart decisions. Mars further notes that “the current federal nutrition standards for foods sold outside of the school meals programs in vending machines have not been updated since the late 1970s.”

Bottom line: Kids are kids. They’re always going to love candy -- that’s not going to change. What must change is how these kids eat day-to-day, and that includes what schools offer them.

That said, parents bear much of the responsibility for their children’s diets. (Case in point: No one is more to blame for Billy’s obesity than his mother, who was guilty of feeding him three times as much food as anyone should consume in one sitting.) After all, Mom and Dad have a big influence over what their little ones eat. (For example, my brother hates Brussels sprouts and has passed that veggie bias onto my seven-year-old nephew. Christian: Listen to Aunt Deborah, and just try one!)

Recently, while babysitting for a couple of three-year-olds, I was pleasantly surprised when, after being offered a choice of snacks, one of them chose raisins … over peanut butter pie. Maybe he heard about the Salmonella scare. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s being raised to make the right decisions when it comes to everyday snacking.

Tator tots and chocolate milk, anybody?

Salmonella streak continues

Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc., one of the largest pistachio processors in the United States, has voluntarily recalled certain bulk roasted in-shell and roasted shelled pistachios shipped on or after Sept. 1, 2008, which were distributed nationwide, due to possible Salmonella contamination. It also has recalled itsSetton Farmsbrand roasted, salted, shelled pistachios, which were distributed in S.C., Ga., Fla., N.C., Va., Tenn. and Ky.

As mentioned in last week’sSweet & HealthyE-Newsletter, Kraft has announced a voluntary U.S. recall of its Back to Nature Nantucket Blend trail mix, which contained pistachio nuts with the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Kraft had identified the source of the contamination to be pistachios from Terra Bella, Calif.-based Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc.

Additionally, the Georgia Nut Co. has voluntarily recalled some of its bulk wholesale and retail products containing shelled pistachio nuts with the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Both Kraft and Georgia Nut Co. say they have not received any reports of Salmonellosis linked to their recalled products, but they are issuing the recalls as a precaution. These cases of possible contamination of pistachios and pistachio products are not connected with the recent recalls of peanuts and peanut butter products.

As a result of these findings, the FDA and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) are investigating Salmonella contamination in pistachio products sold by Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, Inc. The contamination involves multiple strains of Salmonella and may be the cause of several illnesses reported by consumers, the FDA says.

The FDA will provide a searchable database atwww.fda.govto inform the public of tainted products.

For more information, please contact the following:
Kraft: (866) 538-8280,
Georgia Nut Co.: (800) 914-4110,
Setton Pistachio: (888) 228-3717,
FDA: (888) INFO-FDA,

Mars Snackfood US's Hank Izzo, v.p. of research and development, testifying before Congress.

Mars Snackfood US testifies before Senate regarding 35-10-25 formula for schools

In testimony yesterday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Mars Snackfood US’s Hank Izzo, vice president of research and development, testified in support of  legislation revamping school food nutrition standards. Izzo urged lawmakers to support the so-called 35-10-35 formula, which means that snack foods sold in schools would have no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% from saturated fat and less than 35% sugar by weight.

“Updated national school nutrition standards will ensure that children have access to a broad selection of healthier products,” he said. “Schools operate in a unique environment that warrants special treatment when it comes to nutrition standards. At home, parents make decisions about food -- but at school, children often make decisions about what to eat for themselves. 

“An updated national school nutrition standard will make it easier for schools and food manufacturers to work together to ensure children make smart decisions about the foods they consume,” Izzo added. “It also will provide some peace of mind to parents, knowing that the products for sale in schools meet nutrition guidelines.”

The current federal nutrition standards for foods sold outside the school meals programs in vending machines have not been updated since the late 1970s. In 2006, Mars was one of the first five companies, which included Kraft Global Foods and PepsiCo, to partner with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a coalition started by The William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association, to empower kids to make healthy lifestyle choices. Mars has worked with the Alliance to encourage the adoption of new school nutrition guidelines that follow the 35-10-35 formula. It’s also developed a line of healthier products calledGeneration Max, which meets the 35-10-35 guidelines. 

For more information,

Mastix Medica acquires Koko's Confectionery's private label division

Mastix Medica, a manufacturer of tableted functional food and nutritional supplement products, has acquired the private label division and pressed tablet factory of Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty Co., which currently manufactures tableted chewing gum and mints for contract manufacturing and private label customers, along with its own novelty candy products. Using Koko’s Confectionery’s 28,000-sq.-ft. tableting facility in Baltimore County, Md., Mastix plans to continue growing the confectionery business by developing custom formulations that incorporate nutritional supplements into the category. Eventually, the company plans to manufacture and market its own healthcare products.

Additionally, Mastix expects product differentiation in the functional food, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical sectors to become even more important.

“To meet these market needs, Mastix is focusing on developing products in emerging, underutilized dosage forms like orally disintegrating tablets and tableted chewing gum,” said Robert Estey, CEO of Mastix Medica. “Our directly compressible chewing gum tablets are an excellent delivery vehicle for nutritional supplements and, longer term, for pharmaceutical products.”

Koko’s Confectionery & Novelty now will focus on manufacturing edible novelties for the confectionery industry.

“While our private label division is very strong, we realized that in order to provide those clients with the best services and products, they would be better served by Mastix as they can provide the nutritional supplements and unique product additives that are being demanded in today’s marketplace,” says Steven Kovens, executive vice president and a principal of Koko’s Confectionery. “Koko’s did not have that expertise.”

For more information,

Hilton Soy Foods launches Omega3 SoyButter to replace peanut butter

The number of children with severe allergies to peanuts is growing and so is the concern over food safety due to recent Salmonella scares. As a result, Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Hilton Soy Foods has introducedOmega3 SoyButter, a product that is advertised as tasting, smelling and looking like peanut butter.

In addition to containing Omega-3 and essential oils,Omega3 SoyButteris all-natural, with no fillers or artificial ingredients. Made with Canadian soybeans, it also is non-GMO and kosher.Omega3 SoyButteris produced in a stainless steel, closed-loop system to assure food safety and quality, and to prevent microbiological contamination.

For more information,

sweet of the week: Newman's Own Organics Signature Chocolate line

Aptos, Calif.-based Newman’s Own Organics launched its very first line of organic chocolate bars in 1995. Fourteen years later, the company is expanding on that idea with its newSignature Chocolateline featuring redesigned packaging. The USDA-certified organic and Rainforest Alliance-certified chocolate bars come in six varieties: Dark (54% cocoa), Espresso Dark (54% cocoa), Orange Dark (54% cocoa), Super Dark (70% cocoa), Milk (34% cocoa) and Mocha Milk (34% cocoa). A 2.25-oz. bar retails for $2.99, while a 3.25-oz. bar retails for $3.69. For more information,