A year after kicking off an initiative to improve nutrition at schools in its hometown of Camden, Campbell Soup Co. is getting high marks. And over the next five years, the soup and snack giant plans to invest $5 million in Full Futures, a sweeping effort to make sure students are well nourished and ready to thrive — both in the classroom and outside of it.
Armed with research linking school meals and healthy diets to academic success, Campbell executives saw an opportunity to effect change by leveraging the expertise and resources of numerous partners to advance developments in nutrition programming and cafeteria infrastructure across a school district that serves 11,000 students.
Working in partnership with the Camden City School District, as well as several nonprofit and corporate entities, Campbell set out to improve how kids eat at school through cafeteria equipment upgrades, expanded meal programs, nutrition education, reformulated menus and equitable sourcing of local, fresh produce.
Campbell recently reported on its progress with Full Futures, as well as next steps planned to keep the momentum going during the next four years of the campaign.
By the numbers
- After being implemented at three district schools (Dr. Henry H. Davis Family School, Morgan Village Middle School and Camden High School), 7,550-plus students benefited from menu changes and new healthy food options in school cafeterias
- 35,000 pounds of fresh, local food was delivered to the three schools, including 19 unique food items thanks to a new, local procurement program that reinvested $93,000 into the local economy, supporting 15 farmers and producers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland
- Of the delivered produce, 92% of the vegetables and 75% of fruits were from New Jersey
- Using student input, 29 new recipes (48% of which featured fresh, local ingredients) were developed by Full Futures partner Wellness in the Schools, a lineup that includes nine vegetarian options and 11 vegan options
- 13 training programs for 152 food service staff members were held to teach the newly created recipes and other kitchen skills
- 100 school activities, events and community/family activities were held as part of nutrition outreach efforts; that includes 18 cooking classes for parents and children and six sessions for high school students
With children consuming more than half of their daily calories at school, districts across the country are in a unique position to provide students with opportunities to learn about and practice healthy eating habits.
For the 11 million children in the U.S. who live in households without consistent access to adequate food, school nutrition programs are critical, which is why districts have worked to expand breakfast programs, as well as launch summer and afterschool meal offerings, to help meet those nutritional needs, according to the School Nutrition Association.
“As a food company and convener, Campbell believes we can make a meaningful impact by partnering closely with our communities and sharing our learnings along the way,” said Kate Barrett, director of community affairs and president of Campbell Soup Foundation.
Barrett added, “Program planning started right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and as a result, we had to adapt and adjust our plans. When the program officially began in the 2021-2022 school year, the pandemic was still very much a reality and created challenges that the district and our partners had to overcome.”
“Thanks to the dedication and leadership of the Camden City School District’s School Nutrition Team, the work moved forward, and all our partners showed incredible resilience and innovation during a difficult year. I am so proud of what this team accomplished, and I know this is just the beginning,” she said.
Along with the Camden City School District, Campbell’s Year One partners included the Food Bank of South Jersey, Wellness in the Schools, The Common Market, Whitsons Culinary Group, Center for Family Services, Alliance For A Healthier Generation, FoodCorps, National Farm to School Network, Aramark and New Jersey American Water.
According to Campbell, Full Futures builds on learnings from its recently concluded 10-year Healthy Communities initiative that sought to advance the health of young people in Camden and other locations where the company has operations.
Full Futures is built on four key pillars, each with specific and measurable goals, and the intention of developing a program roadmap to share best practices and lessons learned.
- School nutrition mindset: Updating the district’s Wellness Policy, expanding access to school meals beyond lunch and building nutrition concepts into the core curriculum
- Food service infrastructure: Updating school cafeteria equipment and training foodservice staff in new methods of food preparation
- Nutrition education: Offering cafeteria tastings where students can share their preferences, providing lessons in school gardens about how to grow food and teaching culinary classes to families and caregivers
- Procurement and menu change: Helping the district source local, fresh produce and developing student-centered, culturally inclusive school menus
The success of the procurement program, in particular, with The Common Market, a nonprofit regional wholesale food distributor in Philadelphia, and its farm partners demonstrates “how additional purchasing dollars can meaningfully support farm to school efforts, catalyze economic opportunity across New Jersey family farmers, and increase student access to fresh, wholesome foods,” Campbell noted.
The company also believes such programs should “ultimately become part of state or federal policy.”
Arlethia Brown, the school district’s senior director of nutrition, said the procurement incentive “allowed us to have additional resources to be able to source food locally and to develop partnerships that we may not have had.”
Another accomplishment from year one was the request for proposal for a new food service provider. The school district, with support from National Farm to School Network and its consulting partners, crafted a new food service RFP based on the district’s goals and values and a community survey, which prioritized providing fresh, nutritious meals that students and families were seeking.
As a result, Whitsons Culinary Group was awarded a one-year $9.3 million contract to become the district’s new food service vendor and will be providing “fresh, nutritious and appetizing meals,” including the recipes developed through Full Futures.
Just a few of those new meal items include: asparagus fries, sweet potato hash, vegetarian chili, cilantro rice, zucchini and yellow squash parmesan, orange ginger carrots and tomato soup with homemade tortilla chips.
Full Futures will eventually be used to create a blueprint that can be a customized model for other school districts. And over the next year, Campbell plans to introduce some of those lessons learned in other communities where the company has a presence, beginning with Charlotte, N.C.
In Camden, Campbell expects to grow the program’s footprint to include two additional public schools: Forest Hill Elementary School and Eastside High School.
Other goals for Year Two include:
- Continuing to provide students with fresh food, as well as engage them in nutrition education, and upgrade cafeteria equipment
- Updating the district’s wellness policy to include feedback from students and caregivers
- Introducing “Operation Hydration,” a program that will provide education on accessing safe drinking water and will distribute reusable water bottles to students to encourage them to drink more water
For the next phase, Campbell will continue to partner with the school district, Whitsons Culinary Group, New Jersey American Water, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Food Bank of South Jersey, Wellness in the Schools and The Common Market.