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

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic food

Organic chain bans products marketed to kids with cartoon characters
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.

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I Agree With Mom

Posted by Pakalani,

My daughter turned 41 last week. We did not own a television until she was 12. I invented fun foods like turning her milk purple or painting on her pancakes with jam. Her friends thought it was great. I never bought cocoa puffy cereals and even back then was not a fan of sugar. She and her friends drank my fruit shakes and said they were better than store bought sugar filled milkshakes. Part of my reasoning was health, part economical. I was a single parent with one paycheck. She did not suffer or scream for junk food. She also read at college level by 5th grade because she was an early and voracious reader. The other day she emailed me a photo of homemade potato chips cut on a mandolin (I thought at first it was a musical instrument). If I wanted to punish her I would have taken away her books and stopped buying spinach. I totally agree with Mr. Nash. Food can and should be fun, but it has to be healthy. The best example for a child is watching what his/her parents purchase and eat. If it's easier and cheaper to drive through a McDonald's to shut the kid up with a Happy Meal and a big burger and fries for Mom or Dad, the child will do the same thing. Commenter Maggie says Mr. Nash is wrong. I'm only a child expert where my child is concerned, but we enjoyed many breakfasts, lunches, dinners and picnics with healthy, beautiful, great tasting foods without having to purchase cartoon characters on packages. I just don't get Maggie's (Eating healthy SHOULD BE FUN )reasoning. It's more important to put in the time with your child at meals and let them help prepare foods in the kitchen with you. I preferred to give my daughter messages rather than rely on Little Red Riding Hood or Elmo to deliver them . Advertising to children is a billion dollar business and organics want big profits as much as anybody. Good for you, Mr. Nash. You are a rare bird.

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Eating healthy SHOULD BE FUN!

Posted by Maggie,

As an expert in the field of youth development, I know that if you want to make kids LOVE something you have to make it FUN! That's why I'm a HUGE proponent of companies who choose to work to make HEALTHY EATING FUN and who speak straight to our kids in a way that makes broccoli bodacious vs boring!

Want to know why childhood obesity is such a huge problem in our country? It's because very few people have invested the time, money or expertise to communicate with kids about the benefits of healthy eating in a FUN WAY that doesn't just make them want to tune out. The reality is that kids are dying from obesity in our country and this generation is the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. To stop communicating with kids through fun marketing of better for you and good for you choices is a mistake. Companies who make the effort to reach kids with healthy foods should be celebrated not kicked off the shelves.

Using characters to get a message to kids is as old as Red Riding Hood keeping kids out of the woods after dark. Creating characters that communicate to kids that healthy eating is COOL and has great benefits is such a critical step. Adults need to recognize that kids have brains and minds of their own. They should be empowered to learn to make healthy choices and we should speak to them in a way that gets results. We all want our kids to be healthy and happy -- so putting foods out there that are healthy and FUN -- what's wrong with that?

I think this is a knee jerk bold reaction -- that is I'm sure well intentioned -- but the absolute wrong approach.

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I think this is great!

Posted by Farls,

Big companies have always used the "Nag" factor when trying to get consumers to purchase their products. The "Nag" factor has been studied and it the how much your child will throw a fit and scream and yell in the store until you as the parent purchase that item for them. Companies have studied this and they have put it in place to get more purchases on their products. The parent is the one who is purchasing this item and not the child. Therefore I feel the labeling should be informative with correct information regarding the product and not full of BS and cartoons to make the kids go crazy and the parents just purchase it to shut them up. Regardless if it is organic or not I feel labeling on any product needs to reflect the product.

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