Many food manufacturers advertise with cartoons, especially on snack and candy packaging, to directly address children as a target group. The BEUC – European Consumer Organisation recommends governments should take action against this. Lidl UK is already one step ahead.
In the areas near the checkout counters of supermarkets, it is particularly noticeable: There are snacks and sweets everywhere. Depending on which film has just come to the cinemas, the main characters decorate the packaging. In recent years, long-running hits include Star Wars and Frozen.
Unhealthy pestering items
These so-called pestering items are placed here and designed in this way to appeal to children who are waiting at the checkout with their parents. If the marketing concept works out, reinforced by the boredom of waiting, they then exert pester power on their parents to buy the product of their desire by whining. But there are also products that are placed in the regular assortment of the retailers and have their own iconic cartoon characters. Examples are the Haribo Gold Bears and the potato snacks offered by the Pom Bear brand. The supermarket’s own brands, especially for cereals, also make use of specially created cartoons for packaging design.
The BEUC position paper “Cartoon Characters and Food: Just for Fun?” deals with all these products. It focuses on the use of cartoons and licensed characters from films and TV series for marketing food to children. It is based on a study that examined 100 products from 13 countries and found that the packaging of healthier products featured significantly fewer children’s motifs such as cartoon heroes than products with high sugar, salt and/or fat content.
Ban on cartoons against obesity
The position paper makes a connection between the sharp increase in child obesity in recent years and the marketing of sweets and fatty, salty snacks using cartoons and popular cartoon characters. The association therefore calls on industry and trade to commit themselves to avoiding cartoons and licensed characters on packaging of unhealthy foods. It also urges the entertainment industry to only sell character licenses to foods that are classified as healthy by the WHO. In the absence of action by industry and retailers, BEUC recommends that European governments ban the marketing of unhealthy foods to children under 16.
Lidl UK is a pioneer
In order to reduce the pester power exerted on parents and to combat the obesity of children in the UK, Lidl UK, in line with BEUC demands, will in future refrain from using cartoons on the packaging of its proprietary brand cereals. Lidl Germany has not yet published any announcements in this regard, but the company has introduced the Nutri-Score on the packaging of its private label products and has committed itself to reducing the sugar and salt content of its proprietary brand products by 20 percent by 2025.