Can you “package” healthy food to make children want to eat it? A research group at Yale tried to find out the answer in a study by using some cartoon stickers on food.
The study included forty 4- to 6-year-old children. They tasted 3 pairs of identical foods presented in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character, say, Shrek. The surprising finding was that children significantly preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters.
The reason is simple. Marketing research shows that positive associations with a product evoke good feelings, which are then transferred to the said product. However, up until now, this finding has mostly been used by unscrupulous junk food manufacturers to market their products. According to Christina Roberto, a graduate student at Yale, 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.
“The government should play a role in discouraging the use of licensed characters to market foods of poor-nutritional quality to 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,” said Christina Roberto.
Until the food industry cleans up their act, parents can do their own “marketing” for healthy foods. There are plenty of images of popular cartoon characters on the internet. Simply print the image on sticker paper, cut it out and place it on the packaging of foods you want to encourage your kids to eat.