Small food company tackles the fast food giants over kids' sport player awards

Fast food giant McDonald's has dominated the children's sport food voucher market for years, but several high profile Kiwi athletes are championing a healthier option.

McDonald's have thrown food vouchers at junior sport in New Zealand for over 20 years. The multi-million dollar corporation sponsors Football New Zealand, with their deal including player-of-the-day food vouchers at kids' matches.

One Kiwi small family-owned business, the Tasty Pot Company, is leveraging its product through player of the day vouchers to change this trend with what it says is a more nutritional option for kids.

Black Caps captain Kane Williamson, All Black Damian McKenzie and Tall Black Tom Abercrombie are some of the sportspeople who have tried the product and since signed up as ambassadors to launch the name as a healthy option for children after sport.

But Tasty Pot Company owner Natalie Vivian says it is impossible to break the market when bigger companies have more money to pay their way in to the centre of children's sport. The Tasty vouchers given out are 'buy one and get one free'.

"We were actually being called by quite a few parents who were a little bit up in arms about this whole McDonalds and Burger King owning player of the day.

"What's quite sad is they [fastfood outlets] are almost like hooking in these young children.
"We can't even compete with that, we don't pay anything for this. We are trying to do the small stuff well."

Williamson, McKenzie and Abercrombie have their faces on the Tasty Pot player of the match certificates that Vivian and her husband/business partner Andrew Vivian are giving to kids' sport. They say their products are all natural and healthy.

But she says there are not many sports where McDonalds isn't present.

"Damian McKenzie has credibility on a certificate rather than McDonald's which has no real connection. Kids would love having Kane on the fridge or Damian."

Burger King New Zealand head of communications James Woodridge said the company does supply certificates for children's sport, but has removed food vouchers as an option as part of reducing any commercial enticement for children to its product.

McDonald's New Zealand head of communications Simon Kenny says the company's 20-year relationship with children's sport is a healthy one.

"McDonald's has supported junior football for nearly 20 years through the Small Whites. As part of this we provide vouchers for the player-of-the day certificates for children and their parents." 
Kenny confirmed the company does pay to have its food vouchers at children's football as part of its sponsorship deal with Football NZ. The vouchers are also given at other codes in junior sport, but there is no official relationship with those sports.

"Our franchises are asked for sponsorship by local sports teams, community groups etc every day."
He says that on average a child will get one or two certificates a season and they can choose from a grilled chicken snack wrap, a donation to Ronald McDonald House or a cheeseburger. Parents can also get a free cup of McCafe coffee.

The majority of the sponsorship money for New Zealand Football goes into resources, he said.
"The majority of parents tell us they appreciate support we provide to New Zealand's most popular junior sport."

All Blacks nutritionist Katrina Darry told Stuff she applauded what the Tasty Pot Company was doing and said it was "absolutely positive" that children's sport was leaning to healthy alternatives.
"At the end of the day my philosophy is around using real food so (that's) anything that uses real food to create a meal or to create a snack option. Anything without additive preservatives and processed foods is an absolute positive."

Darry did not want to comment about McDonald's involvement with children's sport.
"What is a really positive move is if we can get companies like Tasty Pot to be doing that kind of promotion with sports teams."

The family-owned business started seven years ago when the Vivians returned from living in the United Kingdom. They had seen the ready meal market was huge there, so wanted to bring it back to New Zealand.

"There was really nothing of great quality that was affordable, convenient, healthy and ticked all those boxes with the taste perspective also."

The company grew quickly, winning an award at the NZ Food awards and having the Silver Ferns and New Zealand Sevens nutritionist Tracy Kirkcaldy call them out of the blue to ask for players to have their product on the run. So the Pot Company began feeding these sports professionals "behind the scenes", Vivian said.

They now have connections in high performance to Team New Zealand, the Black Sticks, Tall Blacks, Black Caps and All Blacks, through McKenzie approached them on his own accord.

"You get to know them really well, even with Damian and Kane now we text them after matches, we've got that really lovely relationships going on. They're just real good sorts, they are really good role models and love the idea of supporting grassroots sports."