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Snack School:

'It's big, it's crunchy, it's food'


It was sales pitch time, and the main problem was the giggles. Sara Leiber McKinney had assigned her 7th-graders at Eagle Rock High School Gifted Magnet to design healthful multiethnic snack foods, complete with packaging and a marketing campaign. More than one jingle singer had a giggle attack when they presented their projects Friday.

The students, who come to the school from as far away as Maywood and the east San Fernando Valley, were divided into 10 teams that could choose to emphasize either a marketing strategy or an original product.

"They really got into it," said McKinney. "Most teams also had meetings outside class. Some students called others at 5 a.m. to make sure they got their part of the job done."

Farmer Fed's Cup o' Veggie was a tasty dish of diced carrots and cucumbers in ranch dressing (ranch is clearly Eagle Rock High's favorite dressing). The Farmer Fed's brand name was perhaps less a marketing ploy by Lisa Hernandez's group than a coup d'etat by Federico De Vera, who made the computer transparency for the label.

Nancy David introduced Jicama Stix, which boasted an original hummus sauce made with Korean toasted sesame oil in place of tahini. Jicama Stix had the catchiest jingle (tune: the Slinky jingle): "Jica-ma, jica-ma, it's big, it's crunchy, it's food./Jica-ma, jica-ma, so why don't you try some, dude?"

Marc Wiele reported trouble coming up with the packaging for Super C (cucumber chunks with a lemon wedge and a packet of lemon-flavored salt). "Originally, we wanted to use M&M packages," he said, "but we ended up buying yogurt and using the cartons."

"Did you eat the yogurt or pour it?" queried McKinney.

"Both," said Wiele laconically.

Elizabeth Donnelly presented Lunchable Veggies, a salad with Italian and ranch dressings in very professional-looking packaging (plastic pastry trays obtained from a supermarket bakery at 4 cents apiece). The jingle (tune: the Meow Mix jingle) went: "Tired of the same old lunches?/Now it's veggies, and it crunches."

Jennifer Han's group had an arrestingly professional product in Veggie Snacks: a line of three raw vegetables, each with its own sauce (cheese for the broccoli, peanut butter for the celery, ranch for the carrots). However, another group using the same brand name, Veggie Snacks, had to go through eight versions of packaging because their zucchini and bell pepper tempura inevitably produced oil spots. Raymond Meza reported that their research suggested that nonoily tempura did not seem to be possible, no way.

Brittany Lee's group played it safe: Tortilla Frenzee was simply tortilla chips with packets of salsa and guacamole. But the packaging was original--big flat triangles with resealable plastic flaps.

Terry Jason Colberg's group was aggressively businesslike. Beanie Baby Beanie Bites had an open pitch to ecologists in its recyclable paper box and a crafty gimmick for young customers: a free Beanie Baby doll in each box.

Colberg reported that the group considered putting coupons for a doll in the package, rather than a doll, but shrewdly calculated that their customers would prefer a Beanie Baby in the hand to one in the mailbox. The Beanie Bites themselves were a clever snack of rigatoni stuffed with spicy bean puree.

Lauren Lattin's group came up with a tasty snack of fried mushrooms named (of course) Shrooms. Along the way they experimented with fried carrots, but their market research indicated that the public found the carrots "kind of gross."

Canek Aguirre's group seemed particularly attuned to the artistic possibilities of the assignment. Pirate Pete's Pickles were merely pickle chunks in a can, but considerable effort had been expended on the pickle-shaped Pirate Pete character. The advertisement, a portrait of the pirate's face, was simultaneously a treasure map.

One way or another, these kids will go far. All giggling aside.

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