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PMA, Sesame Workshop seek bright, healthy future for children

Current collaborations between producers of fresh produce, trade organizations and government officials will pave the way for a healthier America in the future.

Last October, First Lady Michelle Obama — honorary chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America — announced that the Produce Marketing Association and Sesame Workshop had joined forces with the organization in a two-year agreement aimed at promoting consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables among children.HealthyKidsFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Big Bird of ‘Sesame Street’ participated in public service announcement tapings in the White House Kitchen. (Official White House photo by Lawrence Jackson) The program is also designed to help parents and families make smart choices.

The “Eat Brighter” campaign piggybacks on the successes of beloved and colorful Sesame Street characters and the highly successful Sesame Street brand to gets its message across. The program is geared towards children ages two to five, their parents and caregivers.

“It’s no secret that many parents have a hard time getting kids excited about eating their fruits and vegetables,” Lawrence Soler, chief executive officer of Partnership for a Healthier America, told The Produce News. “The work that Sesame and PMA are doing helps all of us promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and gives parents and families a powerful, positive tool to help kids get excited about eating healthier foods.”

The program builds upon the earlier successes of Sesame Workshop and its Healthy Habits for Life initiative, which was launched in 2004.  “We are thrilled to join the PMA in this new initiative,” said H. Melvin Ming, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop. “We know the power and appeal our Sesame Street Muppets have to encourage children and their families to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. These healthier choices will lead to a brighter future for our children.”

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. “Diet is the number one cause of mortality and obesity issues in the U.S.,” PMA said on its webpage dedicated to coverage of this important program. “At the same time, fresh produce consumption remains low. As produce marketers, we have the power to do something about it, and we all know sophisticated, targeted marketing works. Sesame Workshop and the produce industry share a common goal and view the intersection of marketing, fresh produce and brand trust as a powerful instrument to inspire children ages two to five, and their parents and caregivers, to choose fresh fruits and vegetables.”

PMA President Cathy Burns said produce marketers, “have the power to influence children’s eating habits. Our goal is to spark a unified movement — helping our industry rise above the advertising noise with a strong voice and one clear message, meanwhile boosting sales and instilling good values to build customer loyalty.”

A special turnkey toolkit has been developed, making royalty-free resources available to retailers. These include use of Sesame Street characters in media placements and in-store signage and packaging. Retailers are encouraged to take advantage of the toolkit as part of their “back to school” promotions.

“Members of the Sesame Workshop-PMA marketing taskforce have dedicated hours of their time to ensure the success and adaptability of the marketing toolkit, and they should be commended for that,” said Todd Putman, chief marketing officer of Bolthouse Farms and chair of the taskforce, in the statement.

Additional details about the toolkit are available at www.pma.com/EatBrighter.

The power of brand equity has been quantified. In a recent study published by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers at Cornell University found that children given a choice between eating an apple, cookie or both were more likely to choose the cookie. But when researchers added an Elmo sticker to apples, the number of children selecting the apple nearly doubled.

“The goal here is grand, but simple — to change the conversation surrounding fresh produce,” said Putnam in mid-July. “Really, it’s to start a conversation, because we know that of all the things families are talking about, eating fresh fruits and vegetables may not top the list. But the USDA recently reported that children of this generation may not outlive their parents because of obesity, and that’s unacceptable. It’ll take a village to turn that around, but now we have a few tools to help us.”

On Feb. 9, 2010, the First Lady launched the “Let’s Move!” campaign. The program promotes healthy eating and physical activity among children. The national call to action includes healthful tips and step-by-step strategies for kids, parents, schools, community leaders, chefs and health care providers.