The Checkout

Pirates of the Caribbean Cauliflower...Argggh!

The Walt Disney Co. announced yesterday that from now on it would associate its characters and brand with foods that meet certain nutritional guidelines. The move is part of a larger effort by media, food, and beverage companies to do more to combat childhood obesity.

The announcement doesn't necessarily mean no more Incredibles Super Sundaes.
Disney will keep licensing indulgence foods such as birthday cakes. The company's goal is to limit the amount of such items to 15 percent of its licensed products.

Disney got high marks from a few kids marketing critics. But most wondered whether the giant media conglomerate would also pull junk food advertising from its networks, which include ABC and the ABC Family Channel. (FYI: The DIsney Channel doesn't accept outside advertising.)

Disney's response was it could have a bigger impact putting restrictions on how it licenses its characters than changing the lineup of commercials during three hours of Saturday morning cartoons.

Licensing is no doubt a powerful marketing tool. The way one parent put it, when it comes to deciding what junior is going to have for dinner, it's mom and dad versus SpongeBob. And Nemo. And Dora. And, hell, even Winnie the Pooh. Kids don't read nutrition labels. They only see their favorite cartoon characters.

Disney and Nickelodeon are going to find out if that's true by putting Mickey Mouse on boxes of "fruit dippers" and putting Dora the Explorer on bags of organic edamame.

To me, this is the most interesting part of the whole enterprise. Will kids start shoveling soybeans into their mouths as if they were M&Ms, just because their favorite cartoon character is on the packaging?

I'm a bit skeptical. I loved Snoopy as a kid but I wouldn't have traded carrots for Doritos if the entire Peanuts gang had been etched into each orange stick. Then again, I haven't been grocery shopping lately with anyone under the age of 30.

Calling all parents out there: Who's got more juice? You or SpongeBob? Will putting The Incredibles on broccoli make it edible to your kids? Can Jack Sparrow make your kids like cauliflower?

By Annys Shin |  October 17, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Kids Marketing
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"Calling all parents out there: Who's got more juice? You or SpongeBob? "

Um, parents have more "juice". Last time I check, parents did the grocery shopping and picked what foods to keep in the house. If my kids ask for something, if we don't deem it appropriate, we don't buy it. Sure, they cry and beg but boundries is an important lesson.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 17, 2006 7:29 AM

SpongeBob gets into your home only if you let him. Don't let him.

Posted by: Steve | October 17, 2006 8:20 AM

The bottom line is that it's gotta taste good. If it doesn't, those edamames aren't coming home more than once, because nobody will be eating them. (Now me, I LOVE edamames - I'd even eat them if you put Dick Cheney's picture on them).

Posted by: KiKi | October 17, 2006 8:27 AM

"SpongeBob gets into your home only if you let him. Don't let him"

Yes, I agree, but...If I have healthy options for my child that *also* have a character on them, that certainly helps smooth the battle.

For example, I have told my (almost 8 yr old) daughter that she can't have anything with high-fructose corn syrup. She loves yogurt and has learned to read the labels for that. She is always disappointed that she can't get the Go-gurt or Danimals--a "kid-friendly" healthy option would be welcome in our home. Not only would she enjoy it, the yogurt without the HFCS tends to come in larger containers that are too big for a kids lunch box serving.

Nothing wrong with making healthy food fun!

(And, I do think that my daughter would want to at least try the edamame with Dora on it--and that's the hardest part, getting them to try it!)

Posted by: parent of 2 | October 17, 2006 8:29 AM

To Parent of 2, have you tried the Stonyfield Farm squeezable yogurts? They are the same size as the other tube yogurts but don't have the HFCS. My daughter loves them.

Posted by: Non-debtor | October 17, 2006 8:36 AM

I maybe showing my age, but I remember my brothers eating tons of spinach because Popeye did and it made Popeye strong.

Posted by: Terry | October 17, 2006 8:58 AM

I loved Popeye as a kid and hated spinach -marketing only goes so far. Good one about the edamame Kiki!

Posted by: Rosslyn | October 17, 2006 9:11 AM

This type of marketing has worked for years in the sugar-loaded breakfast cereal racket. Tony the Tiger, Snap Crackle and Pop, Stawberry Shortcake are a few I can think of right now on half a cup of tea. Ever notice supermarkets stack that stuff on low shelves so knee-high kids will see it and whine for it? Captain Crunch, Count Chocula, Fruit Loops -- you can go into sugar shock just walking down the aisle. Cereal makers used to put toys inside their boxes to add to the attraction. The more nutritious stuff is on the higher shelves so adults can see it. BTW -- I still own my original Ranger Joe Ranch Mug made by Hazel Glass; it's at least 50 years old now. Ranger Joe was a cereal back in the early 1950's sold in big cellophane bags, not boxes.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | October 17, 2006 9:18 AM

I'm always amazed by parents who tell me their kids will only eat certain things - as though this happened through no fault of their own!

Feed your kids a variety of healthy foods, don't have candy/chips/snacks in the house, and you will raise good eaters. Sure - my kids will eat any junk food they get their hands on - but - there isn't any in the house. So instead, we eat carrots (cooked and raw), lots of veggies and fruit. My friends laugh when I say "Who wants an apple for dessert!" - but the kids say "I do!"

The funny thing is - they do try to get me to buy them the branded items, but - most of the time they don't like it. (Especially the yogurts!) Like others have said, don't have it in the house and nobody will eat it. Limit what shows they can watch - (I prefer PBS off the DVR so that I can fast-forward through the "sponsorship commercials") - to limit their exposure to products. And - if they have to go shopping with you - avoid the cereal aisle! My 5 & 2 year olds are still only getting cheerios at home.

Last night - they each ate an entire artichoke - and strawberries for dessert.

Good luck to everyone - sometimes it does seem like they are out to get our kids hooked on all this junk - it is a war - but we can win it!

Posted by: GS | October 17, 2006 9:24 AM

I see nothing wrong with SpongeBob on healthy foods! As one of the previous posters said, the hardest part is to make kids try new foods, and having a cartoon character on the box definitely helps.

Posted by: Elle | October 17, 2006 11:40 AM

"Disney's response was it could have a bigger impact putting restrictions on how it licenses its characters than changing the lineup of commercials during three hours of Saturday morning cartoons."

Disney is flat out wrong (or lying) on this. Kids internalize commercials so much. They are much more likely to be in front of the TV on Saturday morning than they are to be in the grocery store with Mom or Dad doing the shopping. They are just not willing to forego an enormous revenue source for this principle. I'm sure the licensed snack and food products are a far smaller portion of their gross receipts.

Posted by: A mom | October 17, 2006 11:44 AM

Agree with "A Mom" - when I was young, I accompanied my mother shopping and told her what to buy by reciting the information I learned from commercials: product names, slogans, etc. (If only my memory was that good at age 31!)

Thankfully, my mother only occasionally gave in, and I soon learned that the youth character-branded products never tasted good.

Posted by: A Child | October 17, 2006 2:22 PM

My daughter definintely wants whichever product has the Disney Princesses on it. That said, she's 3- so I still have some control over which products make it into the cart.

Posted by: Rock Creek | October 17, 2006 2:44 PM

I'll share a secret: I think Sponge Bob is kind of funny. If he wants kids to eat beets or bon bons, who cares? Our role as parents is to SHOW kids how to make good choices, not just lecture them or ban "bad" foods. Parents DO NOT control everything school-age kids eat -- ever watch/hear about kids switching lunch items with each other? Ever see the carrots and grapes rot in the lunchbox for lack of interest? Striving for balance is a lot easier than becoming paranoid and teaches kids food is not something to stress out about, just eat moderately, kick the soccer ball around the park and read a book. It's really not that difficult...

Posted by: In Favor of Balance | October 17, 2006 2:46 PM

Just a little tidbit, my 4 yr old eats edamame like popcorn. It's fun to eat, I give it to him for a snack, or when he really didn't like dinner.

I haven't tried giving something to him that he hasn't tried before, but I can say that he loved seeing Curious George on his banana the other morning.

Posted by: Valerie | October 17, 2006 2:56 PM

Rock Creek said "That said, she's 3- so I still have some control over which products make it into the cart."

Until she is 18, you have 100% control over what goes into the cart.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 17, 2006 3:26 PM

"Until she is 18, you have 100% control over what goes into the cart."

That may be true, but when you have teens or even preteens in your house, controlling the cart does not mean controlling their diet. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. The best we can do is to be good role models for our kids and point them in the right direction but they will take matters into their own hands. It would help to have healthier options on the market.

Is there any good reason to have HFCS in foods? NYC just banned trans fats. How about HFCS?

Posted by: Anonymous | October 17, 2006 5:30 PM

I know that I developed bad eating habits early in life, and I have worked hard to overcome that. My parents always had cookies, chips, and soda- generally bad stuff like that, and they would normally be too tired to care to monitor what I had to eat. Pair that with a dad who always "grazes" (i.e. walks back and forth through the kitchen and grabs a handful of chips), I had to teach myself to eat better things. As a girl, you learn this in your preteens when you become conscious of your weight and are constantly compairing yourself to other girls your age. This can lead to serious eating disorders so common nowadays, and I think it's something that can be avoided with better eating habits. For everyone who has already posted, please forgive my young age, as I am nowhere near being a parent, but I would have to advocate for BETTER PARENTING to solve the problem of healthy eating habits. Do it at an early age and keep all the bad snacks out of reach or out of the house - you might feel better about what you eat, too.

PS: If you think that characters on food will get your kids to eat the healthy stuff, I say go for it - why not buy stickers to put on the cheaper stuff to fool them? ;-)

Posted by: college kid | October 17, 2006 6:02 PM

There's more to childhood obesity than overeating and the choice of food itself-food is used by many parents as rewards or punishments. Some parents often put their own fears into their children as if the kids today don't have enough pressure to go through.

Unless your child is living in a bubble, the child will come across sugar coated goodies more often than you would like. Sure you'd like your child to grab the apple but what is the harm if the child grabs the M&M's instead?

Parents often have the misconception that eating fruits and vegetables are the best choices. Several fruits and veggies are high in natural sugar and there are no labels to inform the consumer about the absorbtion rates or the affects on our bodies.

It's important to learn proper nutrition and everything can be eaten in moderation. Even a diabetic can have a candy bar as long as their intake of carbs, fat, sodium and sugar is adjusted to account for what they have eaten.

Kids need to be kids and letting them have candy or a Ho-Ho isn't going to make them obese. Their attitude about eating should be just as important as what they eat. It isn't "BAD" to eat sweets nor is it "WRONG". If a child sneaks that cookie before supper, it's not going to ruin the child's supper. Only if the parent thinks that!

Having kids help with putting together the meals and lunches is a great way to start. If a kid doesn't like broccoli, it wouldn't matter to them who was on the package, they won't eat it. The kid doesn't want to try it? So what! No big deal and don't make it a big deal.

"There are starving children in Africa", "You can't leave the table until you finish all your food" and "You will go to bed hungry tonight if you don't clean your plate" are dumb lines that some parents have used(including mine) and still use. Eating a meal shouldn't be a bartering zone or a battleground.

Neither should there be a concern if your child picks that candy bar instead of an apple. There's probably more sugar in the apple than the Snickers granola bar.

Posted by: momma-mia | October 17, 2006 10:47 PM

For the poster who wrote about kids switching things at school during lunch - my son just started kindergarten - they are really strict about not allowing the kids to share any food.

I was there on the third week of school to have lunch with him, and the little girl next to me had finished her school lunch of cheese sticks and said she was still hungry. I offered her my unopened cheese from my school lunch and all the kids around us said "oh - you can't give her your food - you aren't allowed to share!". (It seems like they are doing it for allergy reasons).

So - at least in kindergarten - no swapping food or snacks.

Posted by: GS | October 18, 2006 9:18 AM

My kids eat everything but a few veggies that I don't even like! I think not being exposed to tons of commercials helped out (we were more of a video family--remember Barney?). If you don't keep it in the house, they can't eat it, so you don't feel bad (and I do, can't help it) for saying no. I do, however, have lots of heathy alternatives. After dinner last night my 9 year old asked me if she could have a banana like she expected me to say no. That old saw about a horse to water is only partially true. Give that horse a good workout, and he will drink because he is thirsty! Anyway, I am the parent, I buy the groceries, and things with trans fat of HFCS do not make the cut. Also, there is a BIG differnce between that apple and candy bar. It's not just the sugar. It's calories, fat, fiber and preservatives. If you are trying to create healthy habits in kids, letting them think that it is equally healthy for them to eat candy as it is fruit is crazy. As for vegetables, a child sometimes must be presented with a food 10-15 times before they get used to it. The thing about crap like ho-ho's is that they are full of not only sugar (42grams), but also 17 grams of fat, 12 of which are saturated, which is not the good kind. Three in a pack. And lots of calories. An apple has around 3 grams of fiber and only 60-70 calories. And no saturated fat. An apple also will not send a normal person into a sugar coma, but a small package of skittles will put me out. And the kids starving in Africa? Nobody uses those anymore. There are somethings that you shouldn't have in moderation.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 18, 2006 10:27 AM

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