Objective: The goal was to study how popular licensed cartoon characters appearing on food packaging affect young children's taste and snack preferences.
Methods: Forty 4- to 6-year-old children tasted 3 pairs of identical foods (graham crackers, gummy fruit snacks, and carrots) presented in packages either with or without a popular cartoon character. Children tasted both food items in each pair and indicated whether the 2 foods tasted the same or one tasted better. Children then selected which of the food items they would prefer to eat for a snack.
Results: Children significantly preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters. The majority of children selected the food sample with a licensed character on it for their snack, but the effects were weaker for carrots than for gummy fruit snacks and graham crackers.
Conclusions: Branding food packages with licensed characters substantially influences young children's taste preferences and snack selection and does so most strongly for energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. These findings suggest that the use of licensed characters to advertise junk food to children should be restricted.