- Lidl is removing cartoon characters from its private label cereal packaging in Great Britain by spring of 2020, according to Food Ingredients First.
- Cartoon-free branding will be introduced for Honey & Peanut Cornflakes, Multigrain Rings, Honey Rings, Choco Rice, Rice Snaps, Frosted Flakes, Honey Rings, Choco Shells and Cereal Cookies.
- Sara Samedzade-Jagini, consumer analyst at GlobalData, said this alteration will eliminate "pester power"
and allow parents to focus on the nutritional content of their choices, in a statement emailed to Food Dive. “According to GlobalData’s 2019 Q3 consumer survey, 54% of UK consumers pay high/very high attention to the ingredients used in the products they buy for their children. Therefore, Lidl eliminating marketing gimmicks and bring the attention back to nutrition value and wellbeing will help the parents focus on what is important,” her statement says.
Just the mention of the words “kid food” is enough to make almost everyone groan — except maybe children themselves.
Generally associated with high-fat, multicolored, over-sweetened options, “kid food” and its health profile has long been a contentious topic of discussion. In Britain, the conversation has reached the highest levels of government, prompting Lidl to preemptively redesign its boxes. Samedzade-Jagini said in her email government pressure was mounting to ban products featuring cartoon characters on boxes that are high in sugar, salt or fat.
Although such a ban is not yet a part of the conversation in the United States, marketing to children using characters has long been a point of concern. Children's taste preferences often set the agenda for what the rest of the family eats. According to a study from the Food Marketing Institute and Rodale, 95% of parental food and beverage purchase decisions are shaped by what children want.
Coming close behind that consideration is whether items are healthy for children. This reality has created a lucrative market for manufacturers looking to get kids to persuade their parents about the household menu.
To encourage children to request specific brands and products, companies often employ licensed characters on their packaging. According to a Federal Trade Commission report from 2012, the use of cartoon-based advertising accounted for almost 50% of their child-directed marketing for food companies in 2009. The total amount spent that year on food marketing for children and adolescents was $1.79 billion.
The use of familiar and friendly characters as junk food pitchmen is nothing new. For years, Kellogg has had Tony the Tiger on its Frosted Flakes cereal. Kellogg has also used Scooby Doo, Mario, Disney princesses and unicorns on its boxes. For generations, Nestlé has featured a bunny on its Nesquik. Other companies license popular characters. Mondelez launched a Mickey Mouse version of its Oreos to commemorate the beloved character's 90th birthday. Unilever-owned ice cream brands Good Humor and Breyers immortalize characters including Spongebob Squarepants in their frozen treats. Hostess Brands is a veteran in using characters — like its anthropomorphic cowboy Twinkie the Kid — to promote its snacks.
Due to the magnetic effect that these characters have on children, organizations including the American Psychological Association have called for the elimination of food product marketing directly to children. In the U.K., Action on Sugar, Action on Salt campaigners want a ban on cartoon characters on packaging, since they say more than half of 500 products using these mascots were so high in fat, sugar or salt they cannot be advertised on children’s TV programming or London Transport.
A study in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing found rather than influencing a child’s choice between cookies and carrots, characters on packaging influences choice between two brands of similar products. When presented with the choice between a neutrally-packaged, healthy granola-based cereal and General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs featuring Sonny the Cuckoo Bird on the box, for example, children are more likely to reach for the latter.
These cartoon characters also influence the choice of caregivers who, in hopes of pleasing children, tend to select products based on the child's favorites.
Eliminating the animated influencer could allow parents — and children — to focus primarily on nutrition rather than marketing. At the same time, with shrinking margins and increasing competition, big food manufacturers are searching far and wide for ways to convince consumers to purchase their products.
But manufacturers do recognize the country's obesity epidemic and general health is of great concern. Sanjay Sehgal, vice president of nutrition, health and wellness for Nestle USA, said at a panel about kid food in 2016 that everyone — from manufacturers to restaurants to consumers — needs to find solutions to make healthy food that the whole family is eating also interesting to children.