Chef Michel Roux Jr hosts TV show First Class Chefs on the Disney Channel UK & Ireland
Mike Stagg, senior vice-president and general manager for retail in UK and Ireland (and the head of digital commerce in Europe, the Middle East and Africa) reveals that – with the global obesity crisis in mind – The Walt Disney Company is using its much-loved characters to encourage children and families to adopt a healthier diet. Produce Business UK looks at how this multinational entertainment firm’s long-term, global, healthy living agenda is happily giving fresh produce increased exposure and even creating new possibilities for buyers
As those parents who are desperately still rationing their children’s “trick or treat” bounty a month after Halloween can confirm, “little monsters” tend to consume junk food much more willingly than fresh fruits and vegetables. However, as Disney’s Mike Stagg reveals: “A kid is more likely to eat a piece of fruit if it’s got a sticker of one of his/her favourite characters on it than a cupcake that doesn’t have one at all.”
He explains that Disney, which also supports the Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel franchises, is therefore proactively using this knowledge – garnered from its own market research – to influence children’s food choices. “We know that our characters resonate with families – I’m sure that you can remember the first Disney movie that you watched either as a child with your parents or as a parent with your children. It’s this generational connection that really sets Disney apart from many other organisations and puts Disney in a unique position to use our characters to influence behaviour.
“It’s for this reason that we have set ourselves a challenging global healthy living agenda focussed on using the power of characters to help inspire families to eat more healthily and become more active.”
Nutrition guidelines: an opportunity not a threat to business
Stagg reveals that Disney’s aim to create future, healthier generations started a decade ago (in 2006) when CEO Bob Iger announced a complete review of the entertainment conglomerate’s food guidelines. He established a nutrition guideline policy (for children aged three years and over) and stipulated that by 2020, 85% of the foods that Disney licenses globally would be compliant with the new guidelines.
Since then, the company – which has some 40 offices worldwide – has taken many strides to help achieve this vision.
This includes the creation of several new initiatives in the UK, such as the creation of bespoke nutritional guidelines (that are renewed and regulated on a regular basis) for UK and Europe. Stagg says: “These are formed by the EU pledge (nutrition criteria), [and standards from] Efsa, Ofcom, and WHO. They focus on promoting fruits, vegetables and wholegrains whilst managing calories and levels of sugar, salt and fat.
“The aim of these guidelines is to help encourage our suppliers and licensees to produce and promote nutritious foods to help address occasions that are often a struggle for mum and dad. For example, breakfast, snacking, and keeping kids hydrated through the day.” Stagg admits that, for many of the firm’s licensees and suppliers, the enforcement of these standards has been challenging.
“Creating a celebration cake for a child’s party that complies with our guidelines was never going to be straightforward but I’m pleased to say that by working closely with our licensees and our suppliers we’ve made good progress,” he says. In fact, Disney has this year worked with Finsbury Food Group to create a cake for Disney’s celebration cake range that contains less sugar and fat than its previous version. Moreover, the multinational entertainment firm has worked with Danone to create a range of Star Wars-themed water bottles.
Starting up a conversation
Besides working with food and drink companies, the last few years have also seen Disney supporting and encouraging behavioural change in the UK through its multi-media content because, as Stagg points out, “It’s not all about food – it’s also about creating content.”
Stagg reveals that the firm has therefore developed “a huge pipeline of content that will encourage kids not only to eat healthily but also to get more active.” Fresh produce is noticeably present in these platforms.
Last year (2015) saw, for instance, the introduction onto the Disney Channel UK & Ireland of a new children’s cookery show, First Class Chefs. The show was hosted by Michelin star chef Michel Roux Jr and encouraged schools from around the country to compete and create “wholesome, healthy and tasty foods. The winning schools received a grant from Disney,” says Stagg, “and I’m pleased to say that series two [First Class Chefs – Family Style] will be shown in 2017.”
Meanwhile, a website for parents named Disney Inspired has also been developed as a platform for both family activity ideas and recipe ideas. Fresh produce features heavily in many of the Disney character-themed foods on the website, such as Maui’s Big Breakfast (bananas on toast), Doc McStuffins’ inspired Doc’s Blueberry-tosis Smoothie, a Finding Dory-inspired Coral Reef Fruit Platter, and an Inside Out rainbow pizza.
Further support was given to families in January this year 2016 when the firm created a UK-based campaign named #healthiereverafter to: “start a conversation with parents to understand how Disney can offer support – that we can encourage kids to eat healthily and get active.” Stagg adds: “We created 60 second films that aired on all of our media platforms… showing parents and kids discovering healthy food and getting active together.”
The force is strong
Stagg asserts that the corporation’s stories, characters, media platforms and nutritional guidelines can be “a force for change” – emphasising that the firm wants to find [new] partners to work with because “we genuinely think that we can effect change.” Given Disney’s emphasis on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, its healthy living agenda could feasibly present new avenues of opportunity for fresh produce buyers – and superheroes.
Mike Stagg was speaking at IGD’s The Big Debate in London in October.