If true, it would be promising evidence that healthy eating habits resonate with kids, though "disconcerting that the mere presence of a character on food packaging seems to override this judgement," they added.
Another possibility was that kids expecting sugary cereal were disappointed by the flavor whereas those expecting healthy cereal were pleasantly surprised by it.
However, this explanation drew skepticism from Lapierre, who noted that unpublished findings from the study pointed to no change in ratings of wanting parents to buy Sugar Bits after tasting the cereal, suggesting that ruined expectations might not account for the effect.
Whatever the reason, policymakers should be alert to the implications, the group argued in the paper.
"Not only do appealing and familiar trade and licensed characters manipulate young children's subjective judgements," they concluded, "the resulting heightened preference for food products featuring these characters is likely to contribute to unhealthy eating habits and increased materialism and parent-child conflict."