Marketing for School Nutrition: Drive Program Participation that Will Make Others Jelly

aqua and white bullhorn on pink background marketing for school nutrition

The following post is an excerpt on marketing for school nutrition programs from our FREE toolkit, Make Menu Planning Your Jam. Chockful of handy tips (and ridiculous puns), our toolkit helps you to plan your menus more efficiently while also promoting them effectively to drive even more program participation. Download your FREE toolkit to read more now!

Blueberry jelly jar wearing sunglasses and laying on an innertube in the pool next to a peanut butter jar in black sunglasses laying in an innertube marketing for school nutrition

Can we all agree that summer is the best season of them all? The breeze is warm, the pools are cool, and everything is just a little bit easier. Summer is also a great time to try new ways to create some buzz through marketing your school nutrition program!

The problem: marketing isn’t everyone’s jam. Perhaps the idea of placing a spotlight on your program seems braggadocious. Or maybe you believe your program speaks for itself. Or possibly you think your program is good as long as your budget is balanced. Whatever your reason, it’s time to bring your program under the spotlight.

Before we dive into actual ways to spread the word about your program, let’s take a look at some marketing basics you should consider when promoting your program to the community.

Marketing 101 for School Nutrition Programs

Have you ever heard the saying, “Everyone is a marketer”? While frustrating to professional marketers, sometimes nutrition directors have no choice but to spread the word about what they offer on their own. However, it’s good to have some basic concepts under your belt before getting started. Before we talk tactics, let’s take a look at the five P’s of marketing.

The Five P’s of Marketing School Nutrition Programs

The Five P's of Marketing for School Nutrition Programs LINQ and TITAN logos marketing for school nutrition

When you understand the P’s of marketing school nutrition programs, you can set up the tactics that help you to sell more a la carte items and create more buzz around your entire program. The five P’s of marketing are the following:

  • Product: The goods and services you offer to your target audience.
  • Placement: The distribution of your goods and services.
  • Promotion: Communicating availability and benefits of your product.
  • Pricing: The actual amount for your goods and services.
  • People: Your target audience (students, teachers, parents, community).

By using the five P’s, you’re able to create effective marketing campaigns that are targeted and will entice people to start participating in your program. Once you take the time to consider how the P’s apply to your program,
it’s time to start planning cool ways to get people interested in your menus.

Next, we’ll look at actual tactics you can use to boost participation and educate your community on the benefits of eating at school.

Sticky Marketing Tactics for School Nutrition Programs

We know you work hard to plan school menus that are balanced and meet compliance while also being super delicious. Now, it’s time to draw attention to what you’re offering so more people buy-in. Let’s revisit the five P’s and look at some simple ways to create marketing buzz for your school nutrition program.

Make Your Products Shine

Get students involved with taste tests, cooking contests and focus groups.

All of these help you gain insight from your target audience about the menu items you offer. You can then adjust recipes and items as needed! In addition, the opinions of your customer matter to your program’s success.

Invite families to the school for a meal.

The perception (another P to consider) of school meals isn’t always the best. In fact, a quick Google search reveals that a lot of people ask whether school meals are healthy; the search yields roughly 257,000,000 results.

To help boost the perception of your school nutrition program, consider hosting families for a summer picnic or a three-course meal in your cafeteria. And just like any good restaurant manager would do, you can visit each table and ask if they’re enjoying themselves. This interaction adds personality and helps you to gain further insight on your school menus.

Placement Options for Easier Food Service

Meet students where they are with grab-and-go kiosks.

One of the biggest components of marketing the products for your school nutrition program is placing yourself in front of your customers. Load up a cart with popular grab-and-go items and create a kiosk at busy locations within the school. This tactic is particularly effective if you want to boost your breakfast numbers.

Make your food service remote-friendly.

There is a good chance that some children will continue learning off-campus. And one big takeaway from the pandemic is that things change on a dime. Using a system that works regardless of power outages offers you the unique ability to execute food service anywhere at any time.

Promotion Options that Work

Digital menu boards are an attractive way to draw attention to your program.

Menu boards aren’t just for menus. You can also use them to promote your theme days, create buzz around new products, and make important program announcements. With the TITAN System by LINQ, menu boards are pulled directly from the menu plans and production records, so you’ll never need to enter your menus twice again. All menu changes are automatically updated in real time and appear instantly.

Peanut butter jar with bullhorn making an announcement and jelly hard holding bull horn making announcement marketing for school nutrition
Promote your menu online and offer online pre-ordering.

Let’s face it: most paper menus sent home with students wind up in the trash (if they even make it home!). In addition, some students live in multiple homes due to a variety of circumstances. So, one printed menu simply doesn’t work for them. them. Furthermore, the majority of adults use some sort of device to access school information on the fly, so a digital version is easier for them to access.

When you put your menu online or in an app, families can easily access your information with just a few clicks. And if you offer online pre-ordering, they can select and pay for meals for the entire week. With the TITAN System, families can look at menus online or use the mobile app. With just a few clicks, students can have their meals ordered and paid for.

Send your communications directly to parents using text, email and voice messages.

Keep families in the loop on upcoming theme days or the release of new menus through text, email and voice messages. You can even use this method to send a link directly to drive traffic to your online menu! The TITAN System allows you to easily send messages with one click.

Use social media to connect with families AND promote your program.

Adults spend nearly three hours on their smartphones daily, and a good chunk of that time is spent on social media platforms. Engaging with your audience on this channel is a great way to draw attention to your program beyond the menu. Use platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share photos of delicious meals or fun food events. This humanizes your program and proves your program isn’t like the ones adults grew up with.

Pricing Actually Matters to Students

Pricing is often equated with quality.

As noted by Cynthia Sevier of SNA, students (and their parents) actually DO care about the price of meals and a la carte items. In fact, the price of a given item—whether too high or too low—influences their perception of its quality. The message around pricing should always focus on the value families are getting for the price; students enjoy balanced meals that fill their stomachs and fuel their minds for a modest amount. Now, that’s the greatest thing since sliced bread!

People: Reaching Out to Your Audience

Build meaningful relationships with your students.

This sounds simple enough, but it’s impact is far reaching. When you spend time with the students and create space for their feedback in your program, they feel involved and heard. Children don’t often feel they have much power. Implementing their feedback is a direct way to delight your customer. And believe us when we say that families love hearing the school cares about feedback.

Take on partnerships with local businesses and farms.

Draw attention to your program by working with businesses and farms in your community. As an example, you could partner with a farm to get fresh ingredients for smoothies. Or a local chef or restauranteur could visit and teach students about cooking with fresh veggies. Events like this create the opportunity to drum up media attention as well!

Befriend local journalists and media personalities. 

Public relations is a function of marketing and it helps generate the buzz for your program. Start engaging with your local media outlets and journalists on social media by liking or commenting on their posts. Talk to them about your program. And then, when you roll out a big event, invite them to come and cover it. Beyond creating buzz, it also creates a positive perception for your program!

Marketing for School Nutrition Programs: Boost Participation and Perception

Marketing for school nutrition programs doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or expensive. All it takes is a bit of elbow grease, a little time commitment, and a passion for connecting with your students and the community at large. When it comes down to it, YOU are the billboard for your program. Use your voice and spread the good word!

Download our FREE toolkit to make menu planning your jam! 

WATCH: Nutrition Director Explains Why She Loves TITAN on First Taste TV

We love TITAN obviously, but hearing directly from a nutrition director is so much more valuable. Watch as they explain how the TITAN System helps their program succeed.


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