A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down “Sesame Street.”
Michelle Obama announced Wednesday that the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational TV program will let the produce industry use Elmo, Big Bird and Sesame Street’s other furry characters free of charge to market fruits and veggies to kids.
The goal is to get children who often turn up their noses at the sight of produce to eat more of it. Under the arrangement, Sesame Workshop is waiving the licensing fee for its Muppet characters for two years.
As soon as next spring, shoppers and children accompanying them can expect to see their favorite Sesame Street characters on stand-alone signs and on stickers and labels on all types of produce regardless of whether it comes in a bag, a carton or just its skin.
An “unprecedented step,” Obama said of the agreement. “And they’re doing this free of charge. Yes!” she told the audience at the State Dining Room.
The first lady cited a study published last fall in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in which Cornell University researchers gave more than 200 boys and girls ages 8 to 11 the choice of eating an apple, a cookie or both. Most kids went for the cookie. Asked to choose again after researchers put Elmo stickers on the apples, nearly double the number of kids chose the fruit, she said.
“Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle,” she said. “Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips.”
The agreement between Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association is the latest step by the private sector to support “Let’s Move,” the first lady’s nearly 4-year-old campaign to reduce childhood obesity rates in the U.S.
It also is the first announcement since a summit on food marketing to children that Obama convened at the White House last month, where she urged a broad range of companies to do more, faster, to promote foods with less salt, fat and sugar to youngsters.
Afterward, Obama joined the Muppets and elementary school students at her garden on the South Lawn for the annual fall harvest.
Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, said waiving the fee is not normal practice and that it’s too early to say how much revenue would be lost. But she said the deal gives the company another way to use the characters to pitch to families the show’s healthier-eating messages. “It would be a shame not to use them to that end,” she said of the Muppets.