McDonald's Branding Makes Food Tastier for Tots

Kids tend to rate food as tastier when it's wrapped in McDonald's packaging.

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 8:01 PM

Aug. 6, 2007 — -- During the lunch-hour rush Monday, Boston-area mother Jessica Riseberg stands in line at a McDonald's in Newton, Mass. Her 5-year-old daughter stands beside her, clearly excited to receive her lunch in the customary, brightly colored happy meal box.

The ritual is a twice-a-month treat for Riseberg's daughter -- though if the child had her way, it might happen more frequently.

"Every time we pass by an 'M,' the kids say that they are hungry," she said, "even if we have just eaten."

Now, new research suggests branding and packaging could be a big part of palatability when it comes to kids.

Researchers at Stanford University have found that children tend to rate food that is wrapped up in McDonald's-branded paper as tasting better than the same food wrapped in plain paper -- a finding that suggests that even the youngest consumers are heavily influenced by advertising.

The new study was released Monday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The study had 63 children, aged 3 to 5 years old, tasting five pairs of identical foods and beverages -- one in McDonald's wrapping and the other in unbranded packaging. The researchers then asked them a simple question: "Which one tastes better?"

An overwhelming number of the children said the food in the McDonald's wrapping was tastier.

Oddly enough, this applied even to vegetables and milk.

Sixty-one percent of the children in the study preferred the taste of carrots and 54 percent preferred the taste of milk if they were reminded by the packaging that it came from McDonald's.

Study author Dr. Thomas Robinson, professor of pediatrics and medicine at Stanford University, said he was somewhat surprised by the findings.

"I expected we would find some effects of branding in this age group, but not this strong, especially for the carrots and milk," he said.

Food and beverage marketing to children is widespread, representing a $10 billion industry in the United States.