Cartoons Help Jump-Start Healthier Lifestyle

April 7, 2007

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, nearly one out of every five children between the ages of 6 and 11 is classified as overweight, double the rate of 20 years ago. Teenagers fared even worse, with about 17 percent considered overweight, more than three times two decades ago. The CDC also reported that more than half of overweight children and teens have at least one other risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Healthy eating habits start with children, so marketers are partnering with Disney, one of the most recognizable names in cartoons, to make fruit and vegetables more attractive to kids.

Imagination Farms

Imagination Farms was formed about a year ago with one simple goal: to increase the consumption of produce among kids, chief executive officer Matthew Caito said. The company rolled out the first of its Disney-branded products this summer, which included fresh-cut and whole produce.

“Our objective is to take childrens’ fresh produce experience beyond meal or snack time. We want to help them learn about nutrition and recognize the values and flavors fresh produce has to offer.”

By introducing Disney characters into produce merchandising, the company’s goal is to involve children in their food and make eating fruits and vegetables fun. Some of the products already available include stone fruit and blueberries with the Mickey & Friends label from Ito Packing, Reedley, Calif. Ito Packing was the first supplier to begin shipping the Disney produce.

“The excitement at the retail level has been impressive and we are happy to help introduce consumers to this high quality, wholesome brand with a full assortment of stone fruit,” said Craig Ito, president of Ito Packing.

Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak began shipping fresh-cut red and green apples in August with Imagination Farms. The apples are packed in a clamshell with five 2.8-ounce bags. The company will begin shipping bags of red and green fresh-cut apples in a 14-ounce bag in October.

Tony Freytag, director of marketing for Crunch Pak, said creating a package that is attractive to children makes parents’ jobs easier.

”If it can be their idea to eat something that is easy, it’s much easier than parents trying to force them,” Freytag said.

“We want to move the nag factor from the cereal aisle to the produce aisle,” Caito said.

By introducing children to healthy food, his company was “elevating the eating experience from just a meal,” he said, to “something mom feels good about.”

“Disney’s very excited about this,” Caito said, because Disney and the produce industry make a great team.

When a company is associated with kids, it only makes sense to have healthy products.

There are about 65 items on shelves or in development, and Caito said he expected 100 by the end of the year. By the end of 2007, Imagination Farms hopes to have 200 produce items. Retailers can purchase from any of the categories, but those that buy from multiple categories have the option of having Imagination Farms build a space specific to the Disney Gardens products, which Caito called “a destination of innovation.”

The company has also created a destination on the Internet for children. The Web site, www.imagination-farms.com, offers kids the chance to win a Dell computer or a year’s subscription to Disney Magazine. To enter the sweepstakes, they take a quiz after reading about the history and nutrition of fruit and vegetables.

Caito said a line of organic produce with Disney characters was being developed.

Supermarket Branding

Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. has teamed up with Disney to carry an exclusive line of branded products in its 2,400 stores nationwide, including Krogers, Ralphs, Fry’s, Fred Meyer, King Soopers and Dillons.

Kroger expects to have about 100 items in the “Disney Magic Selections” line in 2006, growing to more than 200 by the end of 2007. The new line includes snacks, meals and staples with Disney and Disney-Pixar characters. Fresh fruit in snack-size packages, breakfast items, cheese and yogurt are already available, and products coming soon include frozen and canned pastas in Disney character shapes, fresh and frozen meals, cut vegetables with dip, granola bars, fruit cups, applesauce, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly.

Different Disney characters will be used for products in three age ranges: infants, toddlers and kids, said Clint Hayashi, manager of corporate communications for Disney Consumer Products. Infant products will have some of the classic Disney characters on them, such as Dumbo and Pinocchio. Toddlers will find characters from Bear in the Big Blue House, and children older than 6 will see some of the newer Disney characters from The Incredibles, Disney Princess and Monsters Inc.

One of the goals of the partnership is to offer healthier products. By the end of 2007, all of the Disney-branded products will contain 0 grams of trans fat, and Kroger is working to control calories, fat and sugar in its branded snacks and meals. The Magic Selections line will have a Mickey Mouse thumbs-up on the packages identifying the health benefits of that item.

Hayashi said the products would help Disney associate with a healthy lifestyle “in terms of offering parents healthier options and good breadth of choice.”

Advertising for the Magic Selections line will include aisle displays and signage showing Mickey Mouse as a chef and a farmer that promote fresh meals and produce. Kids are also directed to a Disney Web site that promotes a healthy lifestyle with “creative and fun activities.”

Disney in Europe

Disney has been licensing food products in Europe for years, and recently partnered with marketers and suppliers there to sell satsumas with Winnie the Pooh and Friends stickers attached. They are marketed as sticker book collectibles and are on a continuous price promotion to make them accessible. The satsumas are sold individually or in packs of six at Tesco supermarkets, which operates nearly 1,800 stores in the United Kingdom. Tesco announced in June that it planned to open 100 stores in California.

Winnie the Pooh resonates with U.K. consumers and the promotion has been “incredibly popular,” said Rochelle Gosling, vice president of corporate communications for Disney Consumer Products. She said one reason is the author of the children’s stories, A. A. Milne, was from the United Kingdom.

Gosling said regional strategies can be effective in Europe, but some images cross all boundaries. Mickey Mouse, for example, could be recognized anywhere in Europe. In France, Mickey’s image can be found on everything from tomatoes to pizzas in the shape of the character’s head.

The new line is part of Disney’s five-year strategy to expand its products into healthier markets, Gosling said. The company is coming to the end of a 10-year deal with McDonald’s in Europe, which is not being renewed.

One of the goals of the food, health and beauty division of Disney Consumer Products is to “expand into the healthier areas,” Gosling said. The company wants to cover the range of food goods, but will still be branding sweets because “there are always childrens’ birthdays.”

Gosling said the fruit offerings had been successful across Europe, and there has been interest from retailers in carrying apples and bananas with the Disney brand. They were also looking at fresh-cut options like apple slices to carry the Disney name.

Some of the products that are already available on the continent with Disney images include:

• Fruit smoothies featuring “The Incredibles” and “Toy Story” characters.
• Bottled water and flavored water with “Finding Nemo” images.
• Fruit drinks featuring the Disney Princess line, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Pocahontas, Ariel, Belle, Mulan and Jasmine.
• Snack Pack Milk available at Tesco stores with six characters from “The Incredibles.”
• Dried fruit with Winnie the Pooh and Friends and Mickey and Friends characters on the packaging.

In France, Mickey Mouse’s image appears on tomatoes, bananas, apples and this month will begin appearing on kiwifruit. The Mickey Mouse-branded produce is found at Champion stores in France.



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