To help educate primary and junior school children across the London Borough of Havering about the rewards of healthy eating, the in-house HES Catering Service developed Veggie Run, the first council-created app in England designed to teach children to dodge unhealthy foods through digital game play.
The app’s healthy personalised ‘Crunch Bunch’ characters and key messages were then aligned to the in-school catered lunch offer, promoting the benefits of eating a healthy catered school meal. Pupils and schools who engaged with the app or ate healthy schools meals then had the opportunity to win tangible sporty prizes.
Havering, like many councils nationally in 2018 was facing a childhood obesity epidemic. Across this East London borough one in five children was starting school either overweight or obese, and by Year Six this figure had escalated to one in three. Also, nearly a fifth of five year olds in Havering evidenced dental decay, largely as a result of consuming too much sugar in their daily diet.
The HES Catering Service reviewed a study by The School Food Plan (2013) which identified only 1.6 percent of packed lunches met the government’s criteria on a nutritional lunch. This was believed to be having a negative impact on children eating healthily.
Develop an over-arching healthy living campaign that supported the rollout and implementation of Veggie Run, the first Council-created app in England designed to educate children aged four-11 year olds about dodging unhealthy foods through digital game play. The six-month objectives of the campaign were:
- Increase the uptake of healthy school catered meals by 10 per cent for children aged from four to 11 years in Havering primary and junior schools during summer academic term.
- The Veggie Run app to be downloaded more than 10,000 times by July 2018
- Increase physical activity opportunities for Havering children aged from four-to-11-year-olds.
To meet the above objectives, Veggie Run and the newly developed in-school ‘Crunch Bunch’ offer launched in April 2018. The aim of the campaign was for parents and children to download and play the Veggie Run app and for pupils to eat a healthy school catered lunch.
The app was designed to educate children to dodge unhealthy foods and earn rewards by choosing fruit and vegetables. Digital rewards could then be converted into tangible sporty prizes, which benefited pupils and schools. Sporty prizes included bikes, school coaching lessons and swimming vouchers which were donated by Everyone Active and sports equipment which was donated by Quorn.
As the campaign targeted parents and children there was a two pronged direct marketing approach, target parents by ensuring every school in the borough received digital toolkits; enabling them to share assets and updates directly with parents and carers via their direct communication channels. Secondly ensure Veggie Run’s Crunch bunch characters were easily identifiable for children so that they linked playing the app at home with eating healthily in school. The HES Catering Service created new ‘Crunch Brunch’ character themed menus, in-school branded visuals, delivered Veggie Run and Crunch Bunch assemblies, hosted in-school recipe and colouring competitions and introduced branded merchandise.
Before the campaign could go live, we needed to gain buy-in from the education sector within the borough, as they were essential advocates in ensuring key messages reached the target audience, of children aged four – 11 years old, parents and carers.
The Veggie Run external Marketing budget was £4000, this covered all promotional material and advertising. Campaign visuals were displayed on 96 JCD Decaux boards across the borough, external council boards, and adverts in traditional print media, email marketing including paid content, advertorials and app links.
Social media targeted parents in the borough to either download the app, purchase school lunch credit or generated awareness about pupil successfully winning sporty prizes. Veggie Run received support from Change4Life which helped the campaign generate positive PR in and outside of borough. Local media supported with numerous stories, as well as BBC London Radio covering the launch by discussing the benefits of Veggie Run during a live breakfast interview with Vanessa Feltz, Catering trade publications covered with positive editorial, plus CYP Now supported with a good practice case study.
- School catered meal uptake during summer term 2018 increased 14 percent, when compared to summer term 2017; this exceeded the original objective by 4 percent.
- Veggie Run app downloads reached nearly 13000 exceeding the initial target by 3000.
- Additional lunch sales exceeded £300,000 within six months.
- Increased school catered meal uptake meant the number of packed lunched decreased by 136,363 in one term.
- HES Catering awarded 120 bikes to pupils, 250 free swimming vouchers. Two schools received free equipment, plus others received professional coaching sessions or free access to sports facilities
How is the new approach being sustained?
As one of the main objectives is to increase sporting opportunities for children, Veggie Run has now partnered with the premier league West Ham United Foundation. They will deliver their Healthy Hammers programme to 2400 pupils from over half of the primary and junior schools in the Havering during 2018/2019 school academic year.
The in-school catered meal offer continues to introduce new meal plans, and now includes ‘Molly’s Cora Carrot Cake’ a recipe developed by a six year old pupil which incorporates healthy food and a ‘Crunch Bunch’ character.
Veggie Run user engagement is continually evaluated, and app updates continue to address player feedback.
Continually engaging with the educator sector was critical, addressing their concerns over required teacher input helped to make the schools direct advocates of the campaign. Providing schools with monthly e-newsletters, digital toolkits and content enabled the campaign to directly reach parents and children via Parent mail and school social media channels.
Kayley Johnson, Marketing Manager