This is a guest post by Lisa Cain, PhD, a.k.a Snack-Girl
If you think something will taste really delicious you will eat it. Most of us would assume that taste is based on using our taste buds, but what about our eyes?
Can you alter healthy food to make children want to eat it? Well, a research group at Yale did a cool study that used some cartoon stickers on food.
The study included forty 4- to 6-year-old children. They tasted 3 pairs of identical foods (graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots) presented in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character.
What do you think happened?
Children signiﬁcantly preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters.
So, the grapes in the photo are on in the produce section of my supermarket with Disney princesses. They probably taste a whole lot better than the ones without the princesses
Christina Roberto, a graduate student at Yale, was kind enough to grant me an interview about her study. As a parent, I found her work to be a great inspiration for getting my kids to eat healthier choices.
[Snack Girl] Why did you choose snack food for the children to rate?
[Christina Roberto] We decided to study snack foods because licensed characters appear frequently on those kinds of foods and it would allow us to study foods with a range of nutritional profiles.
[Snack Girl] Why do you think the kids thought the food with the character images tasted better?
[Christina Roberto] Marketing research shows that positive associations with a product drum up good feelings that are then transferred to the advertised product. This is why seeing a commercial that makes you laugh or has a song you love often makes you like the product being advertised.
In this case, Dora or Shrek typically generate positive feelings for kids which likely influenced their snack taste preference.
[Snack Girl] Do you believe the government should discourage junk food manufacturers from using cartoon images?
[Christina Roberto] I do think the government should play a role in discouraging the use of licensed characters to market foods of poor-nutritional quality to kids. Right now there are no regulations that limit the use of licensed characters on unhealthy foods and most food industry self-regulatory pledges do not include promises to reduce the use of licensed characters to market foods.
The food industry spends $1.6 billion per year on advertising targeted towards youth and 13% of that is spent on character licensing and other forms of cross-promotion of products.
Our study shows how influential these characters can be on kids. I think getting the licensed characters off the packaging of unhealthy foods can level the playing field for parents and help them make the choices they want to make for their kids.
[Snack Girl] How can a parent create a “cartoon” package for a healthy snack (a DIY packaged snack)?
[Christina Roberto] There are plenty of images of popular characters on the internet that a parent can find. Then it’s as easy as printing the image on sticker paper, cutting it out and placing it on the packaging of foods in your home you want to encourage your kids to eat. This is a creative way to do your own marketing of healthy foods!