Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Targeting Children in the Cereal Aisle: Promotional Techniques and Content Features on Ready-to-Eat Cereal Product Packaging

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Targeting Children in the Cereal Aisle: Promotional Techniques and Content Features on Ready-to-Eat Cereal Product Packaging

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Background: Despite recent and heightened concern about the marketing of food to children as a health issue, there is little previous research describing the product packaging characteristics of specific products intensely marketed to children. Purpose: In order to better understand food marketing tactics targeting children, the purpose of this study was to examine the promotional techniques and content features of ready-to-eat (RTE) cereal packages. Methods: A content analysis of 122 cereal product packages assessed front panel characteristics, premium offers, cross-promotions, activity features, characters and celebrities, web sites, and other content features. Results: It was observed that cereal packaging contains a wide variety of features likely to enhance the impulsivity of children to choose a particular product at the point-of-sale (e.g., children's characters, appears ready-to-eat, games and other fun activities),. Discussion: The product packaging practices of food companies selling high sugar products, including presweetened cereals, is one area that needs serious examination in setting forth public policy measures surrounding the issue of food marketing to children. Translation to Health Education Practice: These findings are useful in the context of the planning of health education and public policy interventions which aim to reduce children's (and their parents') susceptibility to aggressive food marketing tactics.

BACKGROUND

The marketing of food to children and youth is an important health and nutrition issue, particularly in view of the fact that overweight and obesity rates have risen in children. (1) Food companies cleverly use product packaging to create visual appeal, attract children's attention, and build brand loyalty and as a marketing tool to entice consumers (parents and children) to buy a product at the point-of-sale. (2,3) Product packaging is used as a vehicle to offer sales promotion techniques, such as premiums and cross-promotions, with popular TV and movie characters to enhance the marketing of food products targeting children. (4) Sales promotions are a significant part of the U.S. marketing environment with spending for sales promotions now exceeding that for advertising. (5) In the U.S., $3 billion is spent annually on packaging designed specifically for children. (6) The products lining the shelves of supermarkets' frequently use children's favorite characters to market food directly to children and research has shown this to be particularly effective in assisting children's advertising slogan recall and ability to identify products. (4,7) Product packaging marketing teaches children to recognize brands and "pester" their parents to buy. (8,9) By two years of age, most children can recognize products in supermarkets and ask for them by name. (1) Household purchase decisions are increasingly being made together by parents and children, where parents as gatekeepers choose the product category and children choose the brand (e.g., "we need to buy some cereal, which one would you like?").

Breakfast cereal is the third most popular item sold at grocery stores, following soft drinks and milk, and 40% of all breakfast consumed in the United States includes one of the 400 kinds of cereal available in the American marketplace. (10) Ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals represent about 90%-95% of cereal sales and children represent the largest sector of the RTE cereal market. (11) The cereal market aisle is larger than any other section of most grocery stores, much of which is dominated by numerous varieties of presweetened RTE cereals targeting children. (2) This area of the supermarket has tremendous aesthetic appeal for children displaying hundreds of brightly multicolored boxes/ packages of cereal with cartoon-like characters and other visual features competing to get children's attention. (12,13) The RTE cereal industry is highly concentrated, with the top four competitors, Kellogg, General Mills, Post, and Quaker making practically all of the branded RTE cereal in the U. …

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