By the spring of 2014 kids and their parents will see their favorite Sesame Street buddies encouraging all of us to eat fruits and vegetables.
Challenged by research done at Cornell University, which gave 220 boys and girls ages 8 to 11 the choice of eating an apple, a cookie or both, Cornell found most kids went for the cookie. But after researchers put stickers with an image of Elmo on the apples, and again asked the kids to choose, almost twice the number of kids chose the Elmo apples.
How do you get kids to eat good food? Michelle Obama, the First Lady, announced at the White House that the Sesame Workshop has agreed to give two years of character licensing, free of charge, to the Produce Marketing Association, as part of her campaign to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity.
“Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo—and Rosita and other popular Sesame Street Muppets—up and down the produce aisle,” Mrs. Obama said, “Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips.”
In her blog, Smart Eating For Kids, health expert Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN wrote “Any parent who’s ever taken a child grocery shopping knows the power of marketing. If a child sees a product with a beloved character on it—Dora, Elmo, Spongebob, you name it—that child will immediately want it. There is no question about it: food marketing works. My daughter (who turns 2 tomorrow) is obsessed with anything and everything Elmo.
First, I gave my daughter an apple with the Elmo sticker and asked her to hold it up so I could take a picture of it. She ignored me and immediately went in for a bite. My 4-year-old son was literally chomping at the bit, wanting to try it, too. Of course, it was the last apple in the house, and certainly the only one with an Elmo sticker, so they were forced to share. Here’s my son, taking a bite, warily eying his little sister, who is circling like a vulture. Then, it became too much for my little one to handle and she dove in to try to snatch it. This resulted in the Great Apple War of 2013, complete with them screaming and hitting each other, all faster than I could put my camera down. Over an apple. An apple! Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.”
The Produce Marketing Association has 2,500 members worldwide in the production, retail, distribution, and food service sectors of the fruit, vegetable and floral industries.
It’s hard to overstate how big the Sesame Street partnership with the produce marketing Association is, for growers, packers and retailers of fresh produce. Sesame Street characters are beloved by children, who mercilessly use what marketers call pester power to persuade their parents to buy certain products.
Under the deal, there is no limit to how many produce companies can use the Sesame Street characters over the next two years as long as the products they’re marketing are fresh, with no added sugar and free from choking hazards.
Sesame Workshop says it has long been committed to the health and well-being of children. By not charging the produce industry, Sesame Workshop is forgoing millions of dollars in licensing fees. “The power of Sesame Street to help families make healthier choices” said a spokesman, “is priceless.”
Shel Haber is a television art director, graphic artist and co-publisher of The Nyack Villager.