The world celebrated yesterday when Gerber announced this year's brand "spokesbaby." For the first time in the company's history, Gerber has chosen a child with Down syndrome to be the new face of the brand.
From more than 140,000 entries, 1-year-old Lucas Warren from Dalton, Georgia, won the Gerber baby photo search. While the annual contest officially started in 2010, the baby food company has received countless photos from parents for more than 90 years—ever since Gerber picked a sketch of baby Dorothy Hope Smith as the company's logo in 1928.
As the Gerber Baby, Lucas gets $50,000 and will appear on Gerber's social media channels and ads throughout the year.
"This is such a proud moment for us as parents, knowing that Lucas has a platform to spread joy, not only to those he interacts with every day, but to people all over the country," said Lucas’ mom, Cortney Warren. "We hope this opportunity sheds light on the special needs community and educates people that with acceptance and support, individuals with special needs have the potential to change the world—just like our Lucas!"
Organizations like the National Down Syndrome Society tweeted their support. People celebrated the historical decision, not only because Lucas is so freaking cute but also because having him represent a huge brand can help children with special needs feel included and valued.
But some people are calling Gerber's move hypocritical and slamming the company for not truly being inclusive, especially with their sister company, Gerber Life Insurance Company.
"Be cautious what you support," wrote Bambi Polotzola, the executive director of Disability Affairs for the Governor's Office in Louisiana. "While I’m delighted that this beautiful baby is being showcased, I'm concerned about Gerber profiting off of a child whom they will not even cover with life insurance ... unless they made changes recently. Since a child with Down syndrome is diagnosed at or soon after birth, he/she isn't eligible for life insurance coverage. ... Yet another issue people with disabilities and their families face."
The mom said she purchased Gerber Life for both of her sons when they were born. But when she attempted to increase the coverage, she said one of her sons was denied because he has autism, a condition that doesn't affect life expectancy.
"I'm hoping that this gorgeous little guy will bring this incongruity to light and policies will be changed!" wrote another mom, Tracie Mickey Loux on Facebook. "So, for tonight, I celebrate him but I call out loud and clear to Gerber regarding their exclusionary policy and ask for a change!"
Business Insider reports that Gerber Life Insurance is a "financially separate affiliate" of Gerber, but the two companies use similar branding and marketing. A Nestle representative (Gerber's parent company) told the publication that it issues some policies that cover children with Down syndrome and "issues policies per each child's unique situation."