From Yuck to Yum

GETTING KIDS TO EAT VEGGIES DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A STRUGGLE

Getting kids to eat their vegetables can make for some inventive adult solutions: Make up cute names like “X-Ray Vision Carrots” and “Power Punch Broccoli.” Invent a game that rewards eating vegetables with prizes to make mealtimes more fun. Bribe the little darlings with promises of their favorite dessert. In a pinch, get stealthy and hide vegetables in foods your child likes.

The latter is the route that entrepreneur Allison Fowler and her business partner, Charles Philip, chose when they came up with the idea of “Sneakz Organics,” a line of chocolate milkshakes with hidden vegetable nutrition.

“Our magical mix of organic milk, veggies and other ingredients disguises the veggie nutrition,” says Fowler. “The resulting flavor is creamy, yummy and chocolatey.” Each 8-ounce package contains simple, clean, organic ingredients with names everyone can pronounce and an emphasis on simple, natural flavors. Naturally, the drinks are free from bad stuff like genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and synthetic hormones.

The path that led from Alcalá Park to supermarket shelves was somewhat circuitous: After graduating from USD with a degree in economics in 2002 and earning an advanced degree in communications from USC’S Annenberg School of Communications, Fowler found herself in the brand-management field. A sports enthusiast who’d spent four years as a USD rower, she had long been committed to living an active lifestyle.

Her interests came together during her first four years out of college when she worked in brand marketing and product development for the Miller Brewing Company, developing Miller 64, at that time the lowest calorie beer on the market. That career path was likely inspired at least in part by her father, Ron Fowler, who ran a beer distribution company and today is chair of USD’s Board of Trustees.

The next stop on her journey was a four-year stint at the food company Kashi, in the organic snacks division. Working on developing Kashi products that appealed to kids led to her interest in children’s nutrition. That’s where Fowler met Philip, who worked in several management roles there, including sales, customer marketing and innovation.

As partners, Fowler and Philip found their skill sets to be complementary, with her communications skills balancing well with his expertise in sales and finance. They started brainstorming ways they might develop their own line of nutritious products for kids.

“We thought if we take food forms and flavors that kids know and love, that they are comfortable with, put in the vegetable nutrition and mix it with milk — which every kid loves and moms put in their lunch boxes — then the vegetables’ bitter notes would be masked by the cocoa,” recalls Fowler.

Thus was their big idea born: taking vegetables from “yuck!” to “yum!”

“We knew, once kids tasted and loved the milkshake, they wouldn’t be scared away by sweet potatoes and broccoli because that’s what’s in their favorite drink.”

But how would they get kids to even try it? After all, good-for-you food is only good if it gets eaten.

They started by coming up with a fun name, a mascot, and colorful packaging. Fowler and her creative mom, Alexis, played around with the word “sneaky” and came up with the brand name “Sneakz,” as well as a mascot, “Bandit the Fox,” whose favorite game is “hide ‘n’ sneak the veggies.”

Targeted at kids between 2 and 8 years old, the Sneakz brand debuted in January 2013 on the shelves of natural food grocer Jimbo’s. A year and a half later, Sneakz can be found in more than 1,000 stores, including Sprouts Farmers Markets, Bristol Farms and Whole Foods.

For Fowler, it’s all about changing the way children think about food. “Anything that goes into a kid’s lunchbox or gets eaten by a kid — that we can put this yummy nutrition into — is one small step forward in helping transform people’s diets.” — Delle Willette ’64

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