Disney aiming to sell healthier food to kids

Walt Disney Co. said it is changing the way it sells food to children by limiting the fat and calories in foods bearing the faces of Mickey Mouse and other characters, the company said on Monday.

The move follows the expiration this year of a decade-long exclusive deal Disney had to promote its films with McDonald's Corp.'s fast-food kids' Happy Meals.

It also comes amid a widening media focus on the roughly 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents considered overweight or obese, a statistic that has already prompted top U.S. food company Kraft Foods Inc. to change the way it markets sugary and fat-laden foods to kids.

"You just absolutely have to be pure as freshly fallen snow on this stuff these days," said Bob Goldin, executive vice president at food industry research firm Technomic Inc.

"It is the right thing to do, especially given their incredibly powerful appeal to children and the extreme focus there is around childhood nutrition and obesity," he said.

In a statement, Disney said it has outlined new guidelines for the foods it will allow to carry one of its licenses, and expects most of its licensed foods to conform to the new policy by the end of 2008.

According to the new guidelines, added sugar in Disney-licensed foods will not exceed 10 percent of calories for main and side dishes and 25 percent of calories for snacks. Total fat will not exceed 30 percent of calories for main and side dishes and 35 percent for snacks.

Other guidelines limit the levels of saturated fat and calories allowed in kid-sized portions.

The timetable for implementing the new policies will depend on existing licensing contracts, most of which will expire within the next two years.

According to Goldin, Disney's suppliers will have to reformulate foods or come up with other alternatives to meet the guidelines.

Disney has also pledged to eliminate artery-clogging trans fats from the food served at its theme parks by the end of 2007. Also, beginning this month, kids meals at Disney parks and resorts are being served with low-fat milk, juice or water instead of soft drinks. French fries are being replaced with apple sauce or carrots.

Parents will be able to ask for soft drinks or fries at no additional cost, though Disney said tests showed that about 90 percent of parents stayed with the more nutritious options.

Sanders Morris Harris analyst David Miller said visitors to Disney theme parks will likely spend more money on food — a plus for the company — because prices on items like fruit and whole-grain bread are "higher than stuff that's not good for you."


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