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Popular characters on food packaging may determine taste preferences of children

Wednesday, March 23, 2011 by: Jeanne Grunert
Tags: food marketing, children, health news

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(NewsTarget) A new study released on March 7, 2011 in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine indicates that including a popular children`s media character on cereal boxes has a noticeable impact upon children`s preferences for the cereal. Research conducted by Matthew A. Lapierre, M.A., and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia indicate that children are more inclined to choose and prefer a breakfast cereal featuring a popular character on the box.

"The results of this experiment provide evidence that the use of popular characters on food products affects children`s assessment of taste," the study`s author concludes. "Messages encouraging healthy eating may resonate with young children but the presence of licensed characters on packaging potentially overrides children`s assessment of nutritional merit."

The study was conducted using a random sample of children ages 5-7 at a northeastern suburban shopping mall in 2007. The researchers tested a nutritious cereal poured from two boxes; the boxes were identical except for images of two movie characters easily recognized by children but not currently used to endorse a commercial brand of cereal.

Results indicate that children, who viewed the cereal box depicting the popular characters, liked the cereal better than the identical cereal sampled from boxes without the characters.

Similar research conducted by Dr. Thomas N. Robinson, M.D. and colleagues and published in a 2007 edition of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine indicated that identical fast food placed in branded, versus unbranded, packaging was more appealing to children in the same age group as this study when the packaging contained a familiar logo and colors.

The study`s authors believe that the evidence from their own research combined with numerous previous studies provide evidence that children`s food choices can be manipulated by the use of popular characters.

Ready-to-eat packaged breakfast cereals are one of the largest and most lucrative food products lining grocery store shelves. The Cereal FACTS report released by Yale University states that cereal manufactures spent $226 million in 2006 alone on marketing to children. Such staggering sums add up to a tremendous amount of media focused on persuading the youngest members of the family to demand processed, sweetened breakfast cereals.

Given that children`s breakfast cereals contain "85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60% more sodium" than adult cereals, according to the Cereal FACTS reports, (and the United States is experiencing an epidemic of childhood obesity and obesity-related illnesses), parents must be knowledgeable about how their children`s tastes and predictions may be manipulated by clever marketing strategies. On the other side of the argument, advocates for healthy eating may take this information and use it to brand more nutritious products in ways that make such products appealing to youngsters.


1. "Media Character Use on Food Packaging Appears to Influence Children`s Taste Assessment." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Vol 165 (No. 3), March 2011, pages 229-234

2. "Effects of Fast Food Branding on Young Children`s Taste Preferences." Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161(8):792-797. Abstract accessed at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/ful...

3. "Cereal FACTS" Food Advertising to Childrens and Teens Score", www.cerealfacts.org, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University

About the author

Jeanne Grunert is an award-winning writer, editor and marketing expert. She writes about home, garden, health and business for publications worldwide. Her latest book, The Tripartite Marketing System, is available on Lulu.com and Amazon.com Learn more about her work at www.sevenoaksconsulting.com

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