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Well, I knew I was going to get some grief for this…

MNB reported on Friday that Ahold-owned Stop & Shop has unveiled a new recipe contest for kids that could reward the winner with a grand prize of $10,000 in savings bonds. According to a press release issued by the company, “The contest encourages children ages 7 – 14 to create a nutritious and delicious recipe using milk, cheese, or yogurt and can be for a snack or meal … The contest is being presented by Stop & Shop, 3-A-Day of Dairy, Dannon, Cabot and Garelick…to help promote the health benefits of dairy products in an everyday diet. ”

My comment was that I liked the idea of encouraging kids to cook … but “at the risk of seemingly overly cynical (who, me?), I would suggest that an even better contest would be to establish a nationwide search for a 7-14 year-old child who knows what the hell a savings bond is.

“The people running this contest need to start talking to young people rather than over-the-hill marketing experts who clearly have their heads in the 1950s. And elsewhere. This contest is really constructed for the kids’ parents, which sort of misses the point. You want to get kids interested? Offer them a $5,000 gift certificate to an Apple Store and a $5,000 iTunes gift certificate. But savings bonds?


MNB user John Servidio wrote:

What is wrong with a Savings Bond? Why can’t Stop & Shop encourage both a healthy diet as well as a strategy of long-term investment and savings? Aren’t they really two sides of the same coin? Our youthful culture of instant gratification at the expense of time honored traditions of thrift and moderation is really the problem we are facing. I think it demonstrates enlightenment for the people at Stop & Shop to want to encourage and instill these values in our youth. We need more programs like this, and less that support the mentality of the “gotta have it now” generation.

And MNB user Lee Emdur wrote:

I couldn't disagree with you more about the Stop & Shop recipe/bond contest. Even if what you wrote about savings bonds being an antiquated prize is tongue-in-cheek, you are taking an unnecessary shot at Stop & Shop.

Let me get this straight — a savings bond is very "1950s" but $5000 Apple Store spending sprees for kids should be encouraged? Great message. We live in an age of rampant consumerism, negative savings rates, mushrooming credit card debt and ballooning student loan obligations. I applaud Stop & Shop in awarding a savings vehicle for parents and their children that can be used for their education. I would argue that parents don't need to get more "stuff" for their kids, rather they need help (especially in this economy) in planning for their higher education. Kudos to Stop & Shop for being in tune with this sentiment. I think you are the one out of touch here!

Regarding your dissatisfaction with constructing this contest for the parents — that is the whole point! Parents make the shopping decisions when it comes to what grocery store to visit. I would guess that the average 10 yr old won't step foot in a grocery store to purchase a full order on their own for at least 8-10 years. This contest is wisely targeted to parents and I would imagine that many of them will appreciate the chance for a savings bond. And you know what else, that child -- who may not fully understand the prize now -- will appreciate it down the line when they are figuring out how to pay for their college education, and making his/her first trip alone to the store to pay for their own groceries.

I say give Stop & Shop a break on this one and give them the benefit of the doubt once in a while!

You may disagree with me on this, but I think that savings bonds are largely products given to children by grandparents and maiden aunts, and that they are pretty much irrelevant to kids’ lives. Sure, it’d be nice if they thought about “time honored traditions of thrift and moderation,” but most kids do not worry about that stuff.

(By the way, if you think kids have little or no role in what stores parents choose and what products they buy, I’d argue that you are mistaken. Kids have an enormous role…since most parents want them to actually eat the products we buy.)

If you want kids to get interested in cooking, you have to offer them something they want. Offering kids savings bonds is like offering me a year’s worth of Brussels sprouts.

Now, if you tell me that the chain is offerings kids an iTunes gift certificate, and a savings bond that their parents can tuck away for them, I’m okay with that. The kids can focus on the iTunes and the parents will feel better about the money.

Last time I checked, contest prizes were supposed to appeal to the people you actually want to participate in the contest.

By the way, here’s another potentially radical thought. Savings bonds are really only good for one entity – the US government. At this point, there are more than $15 billion - $15 billion worth of unredeemed yet matured savings bonds out there. People have them, don't know they have them, and the government doesn’t have to pay them off. (If we all decided to cash in the savings bonds that our grandparents gave us on the same day, I suspect that the presidential candidates might have to rethink their economic platforms.)

There are tons of better ways to earn interest than with US savings bonds, which I continue to believe are not just irrelevant to kids’ lives, but generally irrelevant to real life in 2008 America.

MNB user Bob Warzecha had some thoughts on this issue:

You're probably right that Stop & Shop should provide the winner of their recipe contest for kids something other than a savings bond.

When my nieces and nephews were born I would buy them stock in a company such as McDonald's or Proctor & Gamble and enroll them in the company's dividend reinvestment plan. Then for each special occasion (birthday, Christmas) I would purchase additional stock in their account. Each time I would get a call from my brothers who thanked me profusely for the gift. This would go on until the child turned 7 or 8 when I would get a call from the child who would say dejectedly "Gee, thanks, Uncle Bob for the stock". I knew then it was time to stop buying stock and start buying the gadget du jour for the present.

And another MNB user wrote:

Obviously, you are a child of the 50's with your formative years in the sixties slang for the 50's term of "Gee Whiz". I know what a savings bond is because I was born slightly after the end of the last little ice age...but your thoughts about marketers thinking younger (more creatively and innovatively) was "right on"!

To build on this, I would suggest that if I am right that savings bonds are largely products given to children by grandparents and maiden aunts, it is worth asking whether this is the image Stop & Shop wants to have in the minds of young people who will be their future customers? If the chain wants to seem old and stodgy and of another generation, just keep it up with the savings bond strategy.

That’s just not the way I’d go.

KC's View: