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Would you buy Mickey Mouse produce?

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  June 19, 2012 09:09 AM

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Source:  The Walt Disney Company
Mickey and friends may soon be coming to a produce aisle near you.

Recently, the Walt Disney Company became the first major media company to introduce new nutritional standards for food advertising pitched towards kids on their television, radio, and online programming.  These new guidelines not only promote fruits and vegetables but also advocate limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.  By the end of 2012, a "Mickey Check" (see below) will appear on licensed character healthy food products and select products at Disney's Parks and Resorts.
Source:  The Walt Disney Company


The next stop is the supermarket.  To date, more than $2 billion servings of Disney licensed fruits and vegetables have been sold in North America since 2006.  According to a media spokesperson at the company, the public will be seeing more Disney licensed fruits and vegetables including pre-portioned snacks bags and fresh produce in the produce aisle.  Do Toy Story characters, Buzz Lightyear and Woody, sell bananas?  The answer is:  they could.

According to research published in Pediatrics, licensed characters on foods can not only influence a preschool-aged child’s food choices, but also preference, for the taste of a food.  In this study involving 40 children, ages 4 to 6 years old, researchers asked each child to taste, and then rate, identical packages of pairs of graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots. The only difference between the pairs of snack items was that one of packages had a sticker of a licensed character stuck on the front label.

The results showed that the kiddies significantly preferred the snack with the cartoon character on the label, as compared to the same food without the sticker. The stickers also had an influence over the perceived taste of the food, as the children were significantly more likely to rate the taste of the graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks with the licensed character higher than the exact same, paired equivalent. The researchers concluded that licensed characters on unhealthy foods should be limited and possibly advocate for healthy foods.  The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity made a similar suggestion in their Report to the President. The Task Force recommended that all media companies limit the licensing of these child-friendly characters to only healthy foods and beverages.

Could licensed characters be used to help improve children’s diets? We only have to look to the very successful, Got Milk? Campaign to see how Hollywood influences consumer choices. When the dairy industry noted a decline in milk consumption among Americans in the 1990’s, they painted milk mustaches on celebrities and milk sales increased.  If licensed characters were removed from the less healthy foods, and only plastered on Mother Nature’s finest in the produce aisle, perhaps kiddies would be screaming for Buzz Lightyear bananas. "It could be a grabber and could make the produce more appealing to the child," according to Dr. Keith Ayoob, an Associate Clinical Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. 

If the goal is to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies, a key factor is going to be price.  According to Disney, the fresh produce with the licensed character will be priced competitively compared to Mother Nature's finest found without the character. That's good news as a banana is a banana, Buzz Lightyear or not.

 What do you think? Post your comments.
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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