Would cartoon characters entice kids to eat…carrots?

What if Dora the Explorer’s picture appeared on a pack of carrots? Would kids be more likely to eat them?

How about if Shrek pitched apple slices? Would kids prefer them over fruit roll-ups?

Kids like carrots with characters

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, not many studies have explored whether  character licensing (placing images of popular movie or TV characters on packaging) affects the eating habits of kids.

But a recent study may show just how powerful cartoon branding can be. Researchers looked at the preferences of 40 children ages 4 to 6. They tasted three pairs of identical foods (graham crackers, gummy fruit and carrots) in packages either with or without a popular cartoon characters.

Dora can sell any snack.

Turns out that the kids thought the graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks tasted significantly better when characters appeared on the package.

But unfortunately, the effect was not quite as significant for carrots.

Study authors suggest that the use of licensed characters on junk foods should be limited first, rather than putting them on healthy foods simultaneously.

However, for all three snacks, when kids were asked which they would prefer for a snack, they overwhelmingly chose the snack with a character.

No character with carrots...not so much.

That suggests characters influence a child’s food choices no matter what kind of food is in the package.

It’s great news for snack food companies and cereal manufacturers, who profit from marketing to small children.

But despite the efforts of some companies to put licensed characters on healthy foods, the vast majority of cartoon characters still appear on junk food products.

Find out more about cartoon characters and junk food marketing in the Wellness section of Time.

Do you buy character products for your kids?