To Make Healthy Cereal Taste Better, Just Add Penguins

Can the art on a cereal box make kids think food tastes better, or think that it's healthier?

Hey kids, look closely at these cereals. Which is better?

Well, researchers at the Annenberg School of Communication sat down 80 kids, aged four to six, in front of a cereal box (including those seen above) produced by the faux Annenberg Mills. They showed them the packaging and gave them a bowl of cereal. Then, they asked kids to rate the taste of the cereal with a smiley face or a frowny face.

The study, published in the March issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, found that Healthy Bits beat out a similar cereal labeled Sugar Bits—with or without the happy little penguins. So it looks like messages about healthy eating habits are reaching these kids, who, at least in a clinical setting, want something labeled "healthy" over something labeled "sugar."

But here's where the penguins come in. When the researchers added penguins to the packaging, Sugar Bits rated as high as Healthy Bits.

Children who saw characters on their cereal box reported significantly higher taste ratings than children whose box did not feature the characters. Thus, with the simple addition of popular media characters to the cereal box, children enjoyed the cereal more.

So cartoon characters really do make a difference. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that Vidalia Onions sell better when Shrek is involved, according to the Wall Street Journal. A crazy-looking jackrabbit has helped re-brand baby carrots.

But as the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity showed in another study published in Pediatrics, kids "preferred the taste of foods that had popular cartoon characters on the packaging, compared with the same foods without characters...but the effects were weaker for carrots than for gummy fruit snacks and graham crackers."

Together, these studies may go to show that kids will forgo sweet, sugary stuff unless there's a Cap'n, Tony the Tiger, or happy-footed penguins. Unfortunately, it seems the same cannot be said for onions and baby carrots.

Top image: Matthew A. Lapierre/Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine © 2010 American Medical Association (via Shots). Bottom image: Crispin Porter + Boguskyhas, via

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