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Berry, Brent, and T. McMullen. 2008. "Visual communication to children in the supermarket context: Health protective or exploitive?" Agriculture and Human Values, 25(3): 333-348.
In light of growing concerns about obesity, Winson (2004, Agriculture and Human Values 21(4): 299-312) calls for more research into the supermarket foodscape as a point of connection between consumers and food choice. In this study, we systematically examine the marketing of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals to children in Toronto, Ontario supermarkets. The supermarket cereal aisle is a relatively unstudied visual collage of competing brands, colors, spokes-characters, and incentives aimed at influencing consumer choice. We found that breakfast cereal products with higher-than-average levels of sugar, refined grains, and trans-fats are more likely to feature child-oriented marketing in the form of spokes-characters, themed cereal shapes/colors, and child incentives on cereal boxes. These forms of visual communication are consistent with a "health exploitive" pattern of targeted marketing to children in the supermarket setting. Only one aspect of visual communication is consistent with a "health protective" pattern of marketing to children-cereals shelved within reach of children aged 4-8 had less sugar per serving and were less likely to contain trans-fats than less reachable products. We discuss the implications of our findings for the measurement and regulation of marketing to children in North American supermarkets.