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Is It A License To Print Money?

There has been a recent explosion in the use of cartoon characters and produce. In addition to long-established uses such as River Ranch and its use of Popeye on spinach or Ready Pac, which merged in Tanimura & Antle’s use of Bugs Bunny on carrots, Nickelodeon just announced an expansion of its licensing program with Grimmway Farms, Boskovich Farms and LGS Specialty Sales to include Borton & Sons, Reichel Foods and Seapoint Farms so that SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Avatar, The Backyardigans and the characters from Blue’s Clues can be on a broader range of produce.

In addition to the original clementines, spinach and baby carrots, Nickelodeon’s characters also will appear on packages of bulk packs of apples and pears, cherries, Nick Stix Carrots and dip, apple and dip and both organic shelled edamame and thaw-and-eat organic edamame pods.

Ready Pac announced it is bringing Tweety Bird and the Tasmanian Devil into the fold and launching a new line of products developed for children. Disney has two separate, and somewhat conflicting, programs. It is doing a healthful food program featuring “Chef Mickey” and other Disney characters with over a 100 items at Kroger that includes fresh-cut vegetables with dip and has licensed the Disney Garden brand to Imagination Farms, which is a non-transactional produce company working to develop a line of produce to be marketed with Disney characters. Imagination Farms has announced alliances with Ito Packing and Crunch Pak.

The effort is enormous and it is bringing branding and attention to children to a department that has been lacking for both. But it is unclear if these characters actually increase produce sales to consumers. The problem is this: most retailers still only carry one brand of any produce item. So if these characters are producing incremental sales, it is still pretty much a mystery.

One thing is for sure, though: The shippers with these programs gain access to retailers to talk about the programs. To many a shipper, that makes it worth it all by itself.

Here is a question: Can this explosion of kid-themed produce justify a redesign of the produce department with a special “Kid’s Produce Stand”? And would such a use of space pay off?

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