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Organic grocery chain CEO bans products marketed to kids with cartoon characters: 'I think that kind of marketing is sleazy...'

By Hank Schultz, 24-Jan-2013

Related topics: Cereals and bakery preparations, Food labeling and marketing, Markets, Beverage, Confectionery, Snacks

A Washington D.C. area organic food store chain has pulled all products from its shelves that are marketed directly to children via the inclusion of images of cartoon characters from children’s books, films and TV.

Scott Nash, founder and CEO of MOM’s Organic Market, a 10-store chain with outlets in Maryland and Virginia, said he believes such marketing is fundamentally wrong.

“If you got into a conventional food market, half the cereal aisle has got characters on the boxes,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.

“I think that kind of marketing is sleazy.”

“In the organic food industry, there’s aren’t a lot of products that do this.  It only affected maybe a few dozen products in our stores.  It’s more the principal of the thing,” he said.

MOM’s will discontinue products ranging from Dora the Explorer frozen soybeans to Elmo juice boxes.  They  will be replaced with organic alternatives in cartoon-free packaging, the company said.

Nash said MOM’s is focused on providing quality, healthy products and building a relationship with customers on that basis.  He objects to using means to boost sales that don’t rest on those foundations.

“Advertising is a shady game. It focuses on creating a shallow emotional attachment instead of pointing out the merits of a product. Unfortunately, it works – and young children are particularly susceptible," Nash said.

“It’s marketing to a population is that is easily manipulated.“

Daughter begged for Clifford-branded cereal

Nash, who is a father of three, said he first noticed the pervasiveness of this type of marketing when his three-year-old daughter begged her mother to buy a breakfast cereal co-branded with Clifford the Big Red Dog.

The company cited a recent report by the FTC  that showed that major food and beverage brands spent $1.79 billion marketing to children in 2009, including over $80 million on licensing fees for cartoons and other popular characters.

"Using beloved media characters to sell kids on a particular brand of food is wrong, even if it's healthy food," said Susan Linn , Director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. "Children should not be trained to pick foods based on the cartoon on the box. We congratulate MOM's for taking this courageous stance on behalf of families and urge other companies to follow suit." 

Staying true to mission

MOM’s stated company mission is to “Protect and restore the environment.”  As such, Nash said he is against buying into a system that inculcates children with a materialistic, consumerist mentality at a young age, even if it might induce their families to buy and use more healthy products.

“It’s an ends and means kind of question,” Nash said. “There are some people who say, it’s OK if you do it on good products; let’s just get (this type of marketing) off the bad products.

“Maybe slapping a picture of Elmo on a box of whole wheat waffles will make kids eat more whole wheat waffles.  I just don’t think it should be done that way,” he said.