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Schools in the supermarket

With back-to-school season in full swing, now's the time to plan classroom trips to your store

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The thought of 30 bouncy children milling around the fish counter at one time can send a shiver down any store manager’s spine.

Forget the logistical nightmare; it’s entertaining this troop for 60 minutes that frightens most.

Grocers, however, are seeing more benefits than pitfalls with school trips, especially when healthy eating is the theme.

“Children tell their parents of their experience in-store, what they learned and in many cases, bring them to the aisles and encourage parents to buy the products they now know about,” says Judy Bennett, organizer of school tours at Colemans stores in Newfoundland and Labrador. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know for your tour.

How do I get schools to come to my store? Be proactive. Reach out to the principal, outlining what the tour involves and benefits to the class. “We are now attending PTA meetings to discuss nutrition and health,” Bennett says. “This is a good way to encourage parents to come on the trips.”

Put an employee in charge who’s at ease with kids. “We have someone who co-ordinates the tours,” says Mike Parr, manager at Victoria’s Royal Oak Country Grocer. “She spends 10 minutes in each department, talking about the foods, telling stories like how we cut bread and what foods are good. We then take [the class] to the back to see the big fridges and coolers.”

What’s the best time to have kids in the store? Mornings between 10 o’clock and noon are best, says Parr. Aim for 30 kids max, with up to five chaperones. “We always get a positive reaction from shoppers when they see the children,” he adds.

Tour length can vary. An hour for kindergarten to Grade 4 is ideal, whereas Grade 5 to 8 students can handle up to 90 minutes, says Michelle Martin, the Toronto-based director of Field Trip Factory, which organizes school trips.

What makes a store trip successful? Fun, for starters. After all, these are kids. “I divide the children into groups as they embark on a mini-scavenger hunt looking for a variety of fruit and vegetables,” says Karolina Otto, dietitian at Real Canadian Superstore in Oakville, Ont. “It’s an opportunity to learn about seasonal produce items and their nutritional value.”

Having themes can also work, explains Bennett. For instance, “sustainability is something older kids are learning about in class, so a tour of the fish department is good,” she says.

Don’t discount kids’ interest in nutrition. The bakery, for example, is a great place to discuss grains and fibre, label reading and portion sizes. “We chat about ‘sometimes’ foods and ‘everyday’ foods, especially when passing by the cakes,” says Otto.

Let children sample new foods as well, advises dietitian Jaclyn Pritchard. “Many parents believe their kids won’t eat particular foods, such as broccoli, yet children are open to trying it,” she says. “Give examples of how they could use an item, such as kale, in a salad.”

How do I end the tour? With a goodie bag, of course. Ditch peanut products but do include juice, fresh fruit or veggies and a snack bar.

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