Low Blow

If you look at the cereal section at MOM’s, one cereal in particular sticks out- Clifford Crunch.  It is the only cereal among dozens that has a cartoon character on the box.  Because of the picture of the Big Red Dog, this cereal has been a perennial at our house.  While my wife was shopping with our youngest daughter a few years ago, without ever having tasted it, our toddler went right to it on the shelves and put a box in the cart.

I take a fairly hard stance on this issue.  I think it should be illegal to market to children.

Advertising in and of itself is a rather shady game.  I think most of it is deliberately misleading and, at best, beside the point- focusing more on creating shallow emotional attachments to a product rather than pointing out the merits of the product.  And unfortunately, it works.

This manipulation process begins early when corporations target children.  It’s irresponsible and, in my opinion, unethical.  Let children be children and at least wait until they’re earning their own money before engaging them in the age of consumerism.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my VP of Grocery and told her that I was about to blog on this topic.  I asked her if she is ready to remove Clifford Crunch from our shelves.  She said, “yes.”  I was pretty upset with Cascadian Farms.

I am pleasantly surprised that I just recently received an email from a regional grocery manager…

Subject: Clifford Crunch

Tim –

Is this being discontinued? York is showing as vendor discontinued in that warehouse.

Thanks,                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Claudia

Subject: Clifford Crunch

Yes , Clifford Crunch is being discontinued.  Thanks.


Actually, I’m not all that surprised.  There are many environmental and health benefits to the organics food industry.  The fact that it generally steers away from marketing to children is yet another reason to support the industry.

This entry was posted in MOM's Organic Market, organic foods and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Low Blow

  1. Doug Percival says:

    I guess I must be weird, but a glance at the Clifford Crunch packaging makes me think “shouldn’t this be in the pet food section???”

  2. alyssabdh says:

    Funny how much marketing has become a driver of behavior in our society without anyone barely questioning the wisdom/deception. Two categories of obscene misuse/abuse, in my opinion, come to mind: kids products and beauty products. Food, as a whole monstrous category, would qualify as well. An interesting article I picked up from Food Trust on twitter explains some interesting psychology behind this issue:

    A great tip from this article is that when people are offered a variety (namely 3) vegetables on their plate they will eat more than if they are served the same amount of one vegetable that they like the best. The same principle plagues us with junk food: you get full from your cheeseburger, but now there’s fries so when you get full from that you then eat your cookies. If you’d had only the cheeseburger to eat, you’d have eaten a lot less. Better yet start with 3 vegetable sides and when you’re done with them, see if you have room for your cheeseburger.

  3. Brian says:

    Scott, I’m with you all the way. I definitely agree that marketing to kids should be illegal. We don’t need to turn them into buyers before before they even carry a wallet. Unfortunately, it’s not only on cereal boxes anymore, but everywhere.

  4. Deborah says:

    I know it probably wouldn’t have worked, but did you try letting Cascadian Farms know your objection and your plan to remove it from the shelves? Any chance that would have convinced them to take a cartoon character off a food product?

    And Doug, I agree it looks like it belongs in the pet food aisle!

    • Scott says:

      Hi Deborah. That would’ve been a good idea, but they’ve discontinued it anyway. Maybe it’s because someone else told them they were displeased. Maybe not.

  5. The only time I could see this being marketing as being of benefit, is if this cereal were to be sold in a conventional grocery store amongst all the boxes featuring superheroes, and other characters. It would be sad for a child to be turned-off from a healthy choice because the packaging isn’t as exciting…and on the other hand how cool would it be for a child to choose this amongst the tons of choices of corn syrup laden, artificially colored cereals because of Clifford?

    In general though, I definitely do agree. It is unfair to target a demographic that cannot possibly understand the far-reaching effects of their food choices.

  6. Anne says:

    Unfortunately this isn’t the only organic product with this marketing strategy. My son points out just about every “Elmo” in the store… I believe it’s Earth’s Best brand. It’s in the cereal/juice/baby food aisle, and freezer section (maybe others.) He’s a little too young to want those products due to Elmo, but I’m sure it’s coming!

    • Scott says:

      Yes- I noticed that about Earth’s Best. I think I’m going to take Deborah’s suggestion from above regarding the Elmo co-branding. We’ll consider pulling the product as well.

  7. I have a few thoughts on this, but it all begins with parent responsibility. I started from before my children could talk, discussing ingredients in food. When my children started talking and would let me know that they wanted the cereal with the panda, or Clifford on the front, I would read the ingredients out loud. While the organic cereals were by far healthier than the artificial cereals, I would pick up a comparable cereal to the cartoon cereal & compare the sugars…telling them that NO (again…NO), we will not buy this cereal/cookies/crackers/juice, because it has too much sugar and isn’t good for you. Neither of my children ever threw a fit. I simply made it clear that there wasn’t room for negotiation. We do the same thing when they watch TV. They rarely get to watch it, so when they do, all of the kid-targeted commercials are enthralling to them. I’m in advertising, and discuss the marketing strategy, and then the product that’s being sold. We discuss whether the product is something the want to eat/have…and whether they think that the ad accurately reflects the feeling of consuming the product (ie: Do you think that consuming Sunny D gives you the energy, or the feeling of riding a skateboard in a videogame with bumping beats. They were smart enough at 3 to say no).

    I understand the issues with marketing to children, and I do agree…but It also drives me absolutely crazy to watch an overweight kid consuming a soda & large box of candy, with a side of nachos at the laser tag spot, while the parent says “I know he shouldn’t be eating that, but he was starving, and really wanted it. I just wasn’t up to an argument.” There’s a problem in the making!

    Thanks for letting me vent!

    • Anne says:

      Good idea! Thanks!

    • Scott says:

      Indeed, parents and their children would be better off if they took more of a stand in their children’s diets. The corporate child-targeted marketing exploits this weakness, which I think is unethical regardless of who is ultimately responsible for their children’s diets.

  8. Jane says:

    Good for MOMs! Very happy you guys are not like the typical grocers. It is hard to avoid. If it isn’t a known cartoon figure, it’s crackers in the shapes of cute bunnies. It is good opportunity to teach kids that they are being manipulated. Kids can handle the truth and they can actually make good choices if we teach them. Still, I’m happy you decided to remove it. Push back has to start somewhere.

  9. Marie says:

    Check out the campaign for commerical-free children. http://commercialfreechildhood.org/
    They do great work in helping protect children from marketers.

    • Scott says:

      Love that group, Marie. I’m familiar with them. btw- I am on the Board of Directors of a group called The Alliance For Childhood. Our main goal is to instill “play work” back into childhood, reduce media/technological influences at the young ages, and create less of an emphasis in standardized testing.


  10. miss4tune says:

    As a mom I’m not horribly offended by this. I take each bit of unnerving marketing as an opportunity for a “teaching moment” 😉 My kids have begged for numerous infomercial products and we’ve even bought a couple only to find (prove) they are not really as great as they look on TV. While most breakfast cereals are not very good for us, these you are pulling or considering pulling are nutritionally better than the conventional alternatives you have pictured above. I don’t have a problem saying NO to something that is marketed towards my kids (even though I agree the practice is deplorable) because I know better, and I need to teach them to resist this because it is everywhere in the world! I also think people who are beginning to upgrade their food choices may have an easier time getting their kids to eat Clifford Crunch than another brand, and aren’t we sometimes encouraged to make other types of foods look fun and enticing for our kids so they’ll eat them (sandwiches & fruits & veggies cut w/ cookie cutters in fun shapes, etc). And where do we draw the line? Is Koala Crisp ok because it’s not a character on TV, or dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets?

    I actually find the hidden deceitful practices of many conventional brands who have organic divisions and are playing both sides of the GMO issue equally if not more offensive and damaging to our children, and wondered if you would consider pulling the the brands that are doing so? : http://www.cornucopia.org/wp-content/themes/Cornucopia/downloads/prop37-poster.pdf


  11. muebelhoer says:

    Thank you for making the decision to remove Clifford Crunch. The hardest part about going to a conventional grocery store with a 4 yr old is the cereal aisle with all its cartoon character boxed lining the aisle. We are teaching our daughter that a decision on purchasing an item is made based on nutrition not because of the cartoon characters on the box. We feel this way about all of the food that we purchase not just cereal. For Cascade Farms to market an item specifically to a child, whether the cereal is healthy or not, is wrong and I am glad that you have made the decision that you have because now I won’t have to explain why we are not going to purchase the cartoon cereal at the health store. She’s a smart kid and knows that good for you stuff comes from MOM’s.

  12. Scott says:

    A general update on this issue: We have made a list of all of the products that we sell that market to children (not very many, actually). The debate rages on with MOM’s offices, as it does on this blog. Where do we draw the line? It looks like we’ll be drawing that line based on options- i.e. “Is there an option to the product(s) that we’ll be removing?” For Clifford Crunch, we had plenty of alternatives. For something like our frozen edamame (which has Dora The Explorer on it), the options are fewer (although, we still think we’ve got one). Stay tuned…

    • June Siegel-Hill says:

      I have a 10 year-old son who has never asked for the kids’ packaging. Teach them how these products are made; teach them where their food comes from; show them videos of slaughterhouses; show them the misery of cows and chickens on factory farms, etc. We’ve raised a healthy vegan boy who knows exactly why he doesn’t eat cereal with cartoon characters, meat, dairy, or eggs. We teach him about nutrition every day. We put a lot of effort into our plant-based meals, and have shown him great variety in our cooking. He has never been attracted to the packaging aimed at kids because he knows better. It’s all about education. Put your kids on the right path.

  13. June Siegel-Hill says:

    Just one more thing to parents of young kids: It’s easy to get your kids to enjoy edamame without the Dora the Explorer packaging. There are ways to make any veggie fun. My son craves edamame as a snack. Whatever work you put into your kids’ eating habits now will pay off for a lifetime. My son is almost 11 and a green smoothie with kale is about the best treat on earth.

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  20. Missing Clifford Crunch... A LOT! says:

    Isn’t it a good thing that the children gravitate toward the healthier cereal that has a cartoon character on it? My family is very irritated that Clifford Crunch is off the shelves. That was a favorite in our house. If you don’t want your kids eating unhealthy cereals or whatever else then don’t shop at stores that sell that kind of stuff or simply don’t buy it. It’s pretty easy to be a parent rather than blame someone/something else for your issues.

    • Scott says:

      Regarding your missing of Clifford Crunch “A LOT”- the product was discontinued by Cascadian Farms, as the original blog post states. And your point that the ends justify the means (that advertising to kids products that are healthy is OK) isn’t a general principle that I agree with- it is a slippery ethical slope. Finally, it’s a strawman argument you make that people are blaming others for what their kids eat. Nobody is saying that. What we’re saying is that it’s unethical to market to children and we’re taking a stand against such behavior. See the difference?

  21. Rose says:

    I agree with “missing Clifford Crunch a lot!” Scott, you are blaming others…you’re blaming Cascadian Farms for putting a cartoon character on their box. I think Clifford on the box is cute, and if you don’t want your children to eat it, then don’t buy it. It’s your job as a parent to say “no”. I appreciated that Cascadian Farms was trying to draw kids to a healthier cereal. It was one of the best tasting healthy cereals out there. I wish they would have just changed the box and kept selling the cereal, then all would be happy.

  22. alex b says:

    i really have to agree with the dissenters here. you are the parent and you are the one that needs to set the rules. my children are under-weight due to being premature and dont like to eat much. but they did like clifford crunch. that dog helped to catch their eye and they were willing to try it. we never buy conventional cereals…and ideas like yours caused the company to stop making a product that my kids actually liked. sucks for us. even if i agree with your point in general…my kids dont even know who clifford is…and even if they did, he is a character from a book…not some idiotic blockbuster movie with no plot…thusly i would say clifford crunch by using the character from a book, was promoting reading….is that advertising? what a shame.

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