Marketing free school lunch in the summer

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Low-income kids fall behind during the summer, not just academically, but in health and nutrition as well. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),

“During the school year, 21 million children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch. But when school is out, many of the children relying on these school meals go hungry. Summer Meal Programs help close that gap. Summer Meals give children the nutrition they need so they are ready to learn when they return to school.”

How do communities reach these 21 million children when they aren’t in one handy location such as the neighborhood school? A strong marketing approach is key, and the USDA has the toolkit you need.

The Summer Meals Program toolkit thoroughly documents the marketing and business plan, as it were, for distributing meals during summer break from school.

This is a strong model of how to cover all the marketing bases in the social and public sectors. Even if you don’t work in education or nutrition, look at this as a template or an example. If you were going to establish a new chapter of your non-profit, a new subsidiary for your social business, or a new product line, could you document the endeavor as thoroughly as the USDA has, so that someone on the other side of the country could replicate your model?

The Summer Meals Program toolkit covers the four pillars of marketing, plus one:

  • Product: The section “Vending and Serving Quality Meals” section describes how to plan and serve meals, including incorporating farm produce.
  • Pricing: The section “Program Planning, Budgeting and Administration” covers how to price summer food programs to funding organizations and agencies.
  • Distribution: The sections “Partnering for Success” and “Increasing Participation” detail how to reach different locales and demographics.
  • Promotion: The section “Marketing and Communications” has tools for branding, public relations, social media, and advertising. (I do have to pick on the use of the word “marketing” here. Marketing is so much more than promotion and communications.)
  • Policy: The section “Regulations and Policy” cover the legal aspects of summer food programs. For public and social organizations, policy concerns are always central to any program. This is one way that the private sector can learn from the public and social sector.

One outcome of being able to replicate is scale. For the USDA to reach millions of children in need across the country, it needs a model that scales. As described in The Business Solution to Poverty series, a business model that can be replicated by far-flung and independent teams is a key to scaling ways to end poverty and its effects. (In some ways, it’s no different than a business that gives its franchisees a plan for building and operating a business.)

Your challenge may not be as daunting as feeding millions of dispersed kids in the summer, but you can certainly take some cues from the marketing mindset of this USDA program.

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