Cool Kids Eat Fruit & Veggies

Marketing efforts growing sales of healthier snacks

VENTURA, Calif. -- Kid-friendly characters like Marvel Comics' Spiderman and Mickey Mouse are increasingly popping up on fruits and veggies as part of a move by marketers to make healthier foods cool through packaging gimmicks and tie-ins with children's media properties such as Disney and Nickelodeon, which have been under pressure to sever ties with unhealthy candy and snack brands, according to a recent AdAge report.

Sales of Disney-branded fruits and vegetables have tripled over the past year, with more than 3.1 billion servings sold in North America since 2006, Disney Consumer Products announced this week. The company declined to disclose the exact dollar amount, and broad statistics on kid-friendly produce sales are hard to come by. But there is growing anecdotal evidence that the tactic of marketing fruits and veggies like fun snacks is taking hold, according to the report.

Disney's newest licensing deal is with Ventura, Calif.-based Freska Produce International, which next year will launch mangos in packaging branded with Disney characters. Meanwhile, retail chains like Target and Walmart are striking distribution deals on everything from olives packed in snack cups to freeze-dried fruit.

The notion of kid-targeted fruity snacks is as old as Fruit Roll-Ups, which debuted in 1983. But these days, more parents are seeking snacks that are "as close to the whole fruit or vegetable as possible," Phil Lempert, a food-industry analyst, told the magazine. The demand for wholesome snacks comes as food marketers face pressure to stop advertising unhealthy foods to children. General Mills late last year agreed to remove images of strawberries from its strawberry-flavored Roll-Ups as part of a legal settlement with Center for Science in the Public Interest, which argued the company was "misleading consumers about the nutritional and health qualities of its fruit snacks."

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