Superheroes Rescue Healthy Food, Too

Discussion
Sep 28, 2012

Food and drink manufacturers figured it out long ago. Stick pictures of kids’ favorite characters — or games or prizes — on packs of your product and you will sell more.

What could be simpler or more obvious? And while manufacturers have been using this strategy for years, researchers at Cornell University insist the same approach can work for marketing — wait for it — healthy fruit and vegetables.

Stores may see vegetables as boring and not make much effort to spell out their benefits, but there is now evidence pointing towards the value of being proactive.

As long ago as 2005, Cornell’s team found that "sensory perceptions of descriptive foods are better than plain dishes with no fancy descriptors." Plain old carrots became more popular when renamed "crunchy yummy carrots." Performance soared to super levels as "X-Ray Vision Carrots."

Trying out plain versus exciting names on 147 children ages eight through 11 in "five ethnically and economically diverse schools" resulted in 66 percent eating the X-Ray Vision carrots as opposed to 32 percent eating those labeled "food of the day" or 35 percent eating unlabeled carrots.

A second study added "Power Punch Broccoli," "Tiny Tasty Tree Tops" and "Silly Dilly Green Beans." This time, the team studied food sales in two neighboring NYC suburban schools, with the catchy titles added at one school during the second month.

Researchers described the results of the first study as stupendous, emphasizing that "the fun, low cost nature of the change makes it all the more enticing." In the second study, results were likewise said to be "outstanding." Vegetable purchases grew 99 percent in the treatment school, while in the non-treatment school vegetable sales declined 16 percent.

One similar but unscientific effort was started by a Florida couple and their family physician who invented a superhero with powers derived from eating vegetables. Books featuring Mitch Spinach are aimed at three to 10-year-olds, but no evidence is available about Mitch’s impact being anything other than entertaining.

Cornell’s study, summarized by British industry magazine, The Grocer, will be published by Preventive Medicine in full under the title Attractive Names Sustain Increased Vegetable Intake in Schools.

Can something as simple as clever marketing be the answer to getting kids to eat vegetables and other healthy food? Would the same technique work for adults?

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7 Comments on "Superheroes Rescue Healthy Food, Too"


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Dan Berthiaume
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Dan Berthiaume
9 years 7 months ago

From observing my own small kids’ reactions to any product featuring a certain dimwitted, but lovable yellow sponge, yes, using characters would entice kids to eat healthy food as well as sugary junk food. The use of celebrities and especially sports stars to promote healthy food would probably provide a boost among adults, but not as dramatic.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Shocker! Many parents have used some form of clever marketing to get their kids to eat their vegetables. I recall the spoon that becomes an airplane as it enters the hangar (mouth). Then there was Popeye the cartoon character who proclaimed, “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach!” And so it goes.

Tom Redd
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

Advertising is effective way to generate demand for any product. Children identify with superheroes and colorful characters as they let their imagination roam freely. So no surprises on the increased consumption based on sensory perception cues — but the magnitude is definitely significant.

Adults are a bit more sophisticated (though not by much) than children in what they accept as valid sensory cues and superheroes have to compete with more “interesting” cues. Not sure how well the recent Nutty Superhero (Kellogg) that “seek out people suffering from dull breakfasts and put the fun back into cereal bowls everywhere.” Personally, it didn’t work for me, but I think those who made the superhero smoothy spot might have something there.

Stan Barrett
Guest
Stan Barrett
9 years 7 months ago

For adults, probably no. For children who don’t see adults eat veggies, probably no. For those children who see adults eat veggies, it could work. However, I encourage everyone who has kids in elementary school to visit their kids during lunch and try not to be appalled at the amount of fruits and veggies tossed into the trash by the kids. I have no good answer to this issue, just an obversation. Maybe starting them on silly dilly green beans in first grade will help.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 7 months ago

Thanks, Joan, for presaging my thoughts about Popeye and his spinach. “I’m strong to the finish ‘cuz’ I eats me spinach.” If Popeye can’t sell veggies, what “Silly Dilly” slogan can?

Healthy fruit and vegetable consumption is the responsibility of parents, plain and simple. With our kids, we simply included broccoli, asparagus, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, spinach, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, lettuces, fruits and berries, a variety of salads, and other crops in their regular diets. There was no push-back from them, and they continue to include these in their regular diets in their thirties. We didn’t refer to ourselves in the third person (“Daddy and Mommy say they’re good for you”), and we didn’t end every sentence spoken to our children with “Okaaaaaay?”, asking for their approval. We just presented the vegetables next to the pot roast and porkchops. Ketchup makes everything taste good.

Except lima beans.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 7 months ago

No. And, no. It hasn’t yet. And it won’t. Ever.

John Crossman
Guest
John Crossman
9 years 7 months ago

We all need more vegetables anything that works is good. For adults, I recommend actors that speak to the targeted age group. All people are looking for themselves. Role models of eating healthy and encouraging it is a good thing.

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