Kids seem to respond to licensing of product
The Associated Press
August 31, 2007
The cartoon characters that normally inhabit your
grocer’s cereal aisle are on the move.
Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and the
Disney and Sesame Street gangs are among the many
children’s favorites who in recent years have taken up
residence in the produce section.
Which is why you now can tempt your tots with Dora
edamame, SpongeBob broccoli and Winnie the Pooh
The folks behind these licensing deals say that
plastering produce with popular characters is win-win
- growers and retailers are noting a boom in sales,
the companies that own the characters extend their
brands, and children are encouraged to eat good foods.
But not everyone is sold on the idea that Tweety Bird
grapes are a good idea.
“Do we want our children to learn to choose food based
on whether it is labeled with a certain character?”
asked Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a
“We miss the chance to help them learn to choose based
on the food itself.”
Until about five years ago, the few recognizable brand
names in the produce section didn’t exactly inspire
clamoring by children. Meanwhile, the cereal and
snacks aisles were a riot of collaborations with
cartoon and movie characters.
But as concern about child obesity has grown, food
companies have faced mounting pressure from
regulators, Congress and parents to end the aggressive
marketing of sugary and fatty foods to children.
And that pressure has produced results. Eleven of the
nation’s largest food and drink companies recently
announced sweeping changes in how they market to young
children, including limiting the use of licensed
characters to healthy foods.
That has entertainment companies looking for new real
estate in the grocery store, and the fact that produce
is about the only food health officials want children
eating more of makes fruits and vegetables prime
“I’ve seen a significant increase (in licensing
programs) in the last five years,” said Kathy Means,
of the Produce Marketing Association. “A lot of it is
being borne by efforts to market healthier products to
children, because there is a childhood obesity problem
and we know that eating right is a big component to
fixing that problem.”
Branding produce in this is a move that 10 or 20 years
ago would not have been possible.
The trend toward more convenience-driven precut
produce packed in boxes and bags makes it easier to
use licensed characters.
“Now they have a place to put the brand. There is only
so much real estate on produce stickers,” Means said.
Borrowing from the cereal-aisle playbook has been good
Growers and retailers have seen sales of produce
increase 11 percent to 44 percent when they sell it in
NASCAR-branded packaging, said Jack Bertagna of the
Castellini Group, which licenses the NASCAR trademark
“NASCAR fans are so loyal, they are absolute
fanatics,” Bertagna said. “They are willing to pay
more because of the brand.”
At the Hannaford Bros. Co. grocery chain in Maine,
licensed produce outsells conventional by about 10
percent, said spokesman Ben Amato.
Hannaford recently used Sesame Street characters to
introduce a different variety of apple each month.
Though it’s clear that American children need to eat
more produce, critics of character-driven marketing
say that this trend isn’t the answer.
“It works both ways,” Linn said. “SpongeBob is
promoting some fruit, but he is also promoting his TV
show, and we know that screen time is a key factor in
Means sees no downside to promoting healthy food.
“If SpongeBob is their favorite show, I think it’s OK
to watch it, as long as they’re not sitting there all
day. There may be other motivations at work, but from
my perspective, if it’s selling more produce to kids,
that’s good,” she said.
“The outcome is still the same. We are getting kids to
eat fruits and vegetables,” she said.
Victor Strasburger, a New Mexico pediatrician who
wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics policy on
marketing, said that this sort of branding is more
palatable to him when the characters that appear on
produce don’t also show up on unhealthy options.
“I’m sure I’m not the only mom to buy the Disney
carrots because her 3-year-old demanded it,” said Cara
Bernosky, a mother of two and president of IMC
Licensing, a Louisville, Ky., agency that represents
companies looking to license their brands.
“It’s a good effort, but I don’t know that it’s going
to have a lasting effect of truly making fruits and
vegetables more tasty for youngsters,” she said.
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