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Safeway Aims 'Healthy' Products at Kids, Using Cartoon Characters

Make no mistake: Safeway's house-branded "Eating Right" products are generally healthier than are most processed or frozen foods. But make no mistake about this, either: They aren't health foods.

safewaySeveral of the products are loaded with salt and preservatives, and some contain a surprising number of calories, given the marketing behind them. Still, the product line, while perhaps not always living up to its billing, can certainly be included in a healthy diet.

It's one thing to market such somewhat-better-for-you foods to adults, but now Safeway plans to expand the line to children with "Eating Right Kids," which, when introduced next year will bear the likenesses of Warner Bros. cartoon characters such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

It's hard to know how healthful the products will really be â€" they won't be available until later this year. But, as Safeway no doubt knows, marketing directly to kids is an especially tricky business â€" especially when it comes to food. For many people, doing it at all seems vaguely creepy, which is why so many consumer-watchdog groups -- some of them formed with the sole purpose of monitoring how it's done â€" spend so much time and effort working to counter it.

Such campaigns have removed soda machines from many schools, moved McDonald's to increase the amount of (relatively) healthy foods it offers, and gotten cereal makers like Kellogg's to create more healthful products.

To protect itself from criticism, the best thing Safeway can do in this case would be to make the Eating Right Kids products as truly healthy as possible. For instance, it should avoid loading them with salt, sugar, fat or preservatives while playing up the fact that they contain whole grains, are "high in protein," or are relatively low in calories.

Many of those consumer groups say they want food producers to offer healthier foods. Actually offering such foods will make it easier for them to swallow the direct-to-kids marketing strategy.

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