WASHINGTON — A trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down “Sesame Street.”
Under an agreement being announced Wednesday by Michelle Obama, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children’s educational program will allow the produce industry to use Elmo, Big Bird and “Sesame Street’s” other furry characters free of charge to help market fruits and veggies to kids.
The goal is to boost consumption of fruits and vegetables among children who often turn up their noses at them.
Sesame Workshop is waiving its licensing fee for two years under an arrangement with the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit organization that supports the first lady’s nationwide “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.
Starting as early as next spring, eggplant could be brought to you by Elmo, Big Bird could be pushing beets and the Cookie Monster could become the Celery Monster. The produce association will develop guidelines for how members should use the characters.
Shoppers and, any children who accompany them, can expect to see their favorite “Sesame Street” characters on bagged, boxed and individual pieces of produce.
“Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle,” Michelle Obama said. “Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips.”
The collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the produce association will show kids that “fruits and vegetables don’t just make us feel good, they taste good, too,” she said.
Sam Kass, the executive director of “Let’s Move,” applauded Sesame Workshop for agreeing to waive its licensing fee, which is a major source of income.
“For them to step in and do this is a really big thing,” said Kass, who also is an assistant White House chef.
Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, said it was too early to say how much revenue would be lost. Westin said waiving the licensing fee is not normal practice, but that the deal gives the company another outlet to push the healthier-eating messages that appear on its program.
“It would be a shame not to use them to that end,” she said of the “Sesame Street” characters.
Larry Soler, president and chief executive of the partnership, said kids younger than 5 don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, and that it gets worse as children get older. He said the agreement hopefully will “drive excitement” and interest in fruits and vegetables that might not otherwise be there.
The announcement was the first since a White House summit on food marketing to children that the first lady convened last month, where she urged a broad range of companies to do more to promote healthier foods to youngsters.
“Sesame Street” characters Elmo and Rosita joined her for the announcement. Afterward, the first lady took them to her produce garden on the South Lawn for the annual fall harvest. They were helped by children who attend schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.