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Food cops urge Disney to remove its characters from candy packs

October 30, 2012|By Karen Kaplan | This post has been updated. See the note below for details
  • Mickey Mouse, Lightning McQueen and other Disney characters should not appear on candy packaged for Halloween and other holidays, according to nutrition experts at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Mickey Mouse, Lightning McQueen and other Disney characters should not… (Los Angeles Times )

The Food Cops have set their sights on Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Tinkerbell.

In an open letter issued Monday, top officials from the Center for Science in the Public Interest asked Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger to stop allowing the company’s characters to appear on holiday treats. Offending products include Pillsbury Halloween sugar cookies with images of Cinderella’s glass slipper baked right in and packs of lollipops, fruit chews and candy rolls featuring Disney stars like Buzz Lightyear.

The letter, which was emailed to Iger and posted on the CSPI website, begins by commending Disney for its recent decision to stop allowing advertisers to market unhealthful food to kids on its TV and radio stations as well as its Web properties. Overall, Disney requires that 85% of the food marketed with its characters meet certain nutrition standards.

But that remaining 15% leaves a loophole big enough for Lightning McQueen to drive through, write CSPI director Michael Jacobson and director of nutrition policy Margo Wootan.

“While we understand that some children want Disney-themed birthday cakes, the use of characters to promote holiday candy runs counter to Disney’s commitment to responsible marketing to children,” they wrote. “With so many holidays following one after another — Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter — such treats are not only available for special occasions, but rather have become a part of everyday marketing promotions throughout much of the year.”

Depending on the season, Disney fans with a sweet tooth can buy chocolate candies in the shape of “Cars” stars Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater (who wear Santa hats on the package), Valentine’s Day box sets featuring Disney princesses and fairies, or a Mickey Mouse Easter basket.

Jacobson and Wootan propose this solution: Eliminate the use of Disney characters on all candy and seasonal treats “of poor nutritional quality.” Instead, Disney could do more deals like the one it now has with Paramount Farms pistachios. The packs of nuts adorned with characters from the Tim Burton movie “Frankenweenie” contain only 20 calories and 20 milligrams of sodium, the pair say.

Wootan said Disney officials acknowledged receipt of the CSPI letter but have not yet replied.

Members of Disney’s public relations staff in Burbank have so far declined to comment on the letter.

[Updated at 9:20 a.m., Oct 30: Disney sent the following statement to The Times early Tuesday morning: "Disney inspires kids and families to lead healthier lifestyles through comprehensive nutrition guidelines and food advertising standards that were a first for a major media company.  For those special occasions where families enjoy celebrating with our characters, we reserve a mere 15% of our overall  licensed food business for specialized items like birthday cakes, holiday and Halloween treats."]

This summer, the nutrition watchdog group sent a letter to DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg asking that his studio stop allowing characters from “Madagascar 3” to appear on various packaged cracker sandwiches made by Nekot Cookies.

As for how to deal with Halloween, CSPI recommends that households drop the candy and offer trick-or-treaters items like pencils, temporary tattos, dried fruit and sugar-free gum instead.

You can read the letter to Disney here.

Return to the Booster Shots blog.

Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan

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