Broccoli: The Elmo Factor

Elmo 1

As a followup to this morning’s post on why nobody is marketing broccoli to kids, reader DL offered this link:

The Atkins Foundation seeks to positively impact disease prevention and health management worldwide by supporting nutritional research and educational programs. Established with a $40 million endowment in August 2003, the Foundation, which is managed by National Philanthropic Trust, provides grants to support scientific, evidence-based and clinical research that examines the role of metabolic and nutrition protocols in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other major health issues confronting our society today. Sesame Workshop will use the Foundation grant to fund a replication and expansion of the “Elmo/ Broccoli” study to see whether the Muppets from Sesame Street influence food choice. This study will be similar to the initial one, but research experts will be using real foods, rather than pictures, to see if children actually eat foods that have characters associated with them. […]

Findings from Sesame Workshop’s initial “Elmo/ Broccoli” study indicated that intake of a particular food increased if it carried a sticker of a Sesame Street character. For example, in the control group (no characters on either food) 78 percent of children participating in the study chose a chocolate bar over broccoli, whereas 22 percent chose the broccoli. However, when an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli and an unknown character was placed on the chocolate bar, 50 percent chose the chocolate bar and 50 percent chose the broccoli. Such outcomes suggest that the Sesame Street characters could play a strong role in increasing the appeal of healthy foods.

This is arguably a reason that existing studies of subsidizing healthy foods may be misleading. Advertising dollars tend to flow to high-margin products and vegetables don’t fit the bill. But if subsidies turned broccoli into a high margin item, that would spur investment in broccoli marketing which, in turn, might do more to boost consumption than any price change at the margin.