Corporate shills, or just moms looking for a good snack? You be the judge.
Reporting from Los Angeles and Fort Wayne, Ind. - On most days, Andrea Deckard can be found in her home office, digging through stacks of coupons and grocery receipts for money saving tips and recipes that she can share with readers of her Mommy Snacks blog.
That is, when the stay-at-home mom isn't being wined and dined by giant food companies.
Earlier this year, Frito-Lay flew her to Los Angeles to meet celebrities such as model Brooke Burke and the Spice Girls' Mel B, while pitching her on its latest snack ad campaign.
More recently, Nestle paid to put her and 16 other so-called "mommy bloggers" -- and one daddy blogger -- up at the posh Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, treated them to a private show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood and sent packages of frozen Omaha Steaks to their families to tide them over while the women were away learning all about the company's latest product lines.
In return, Deckard and her virtual sisterhood filed Twitter posts raving about Nestle's canned pumpkin, Wonka candy and Juicy Juice drinks.
"People have accused us of being corporate shills," said Deckard, a Monroe, Ohio, mother of three whose junkets have also included a free trip to Frito-Lay's Texas headquarters. Deckard, noting that she is up front with her readers about such trips, said they are educational for her and her fans, and "just fun."
Besides, she added, "it's not like I sold my soul for a chocolate bar."
Others aren't so sure. As food companies big and small scramble to woo parents-turned-bloggers, nutrition activists worry that the food industry is funding an advertising campaign for its products without consumers realizing it.
"This is very shrewd marketing," said Barbara Moore, chief executive of Shape Up America, an obesity-fighting nonprofit group. "The expectation that the industry players have is that people they are wining and dining will write about their products positively."