Sesame Street characters to market fruits and vegetables, says first lady

First lady Michelle Obama, center, flexes her arms for PBS Sesame Street's characters Elmo, left, and Rosita, right, during an event to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) joined in Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in announcing a 2-year agreement to making healthy choices by using the Sesame Street characters to help deliver the messages about fresh fruits and vegetables. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTONA trip down the grocery store produce aisle could soon feel like a stroll down "Sesame Street."

Under an agreement announced Wednesday by Michelle Obama, Elmo, Big Bird and Sesame Street's other furry characters will be allowed to be used free of charge by the produce industry 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, the nonprofit organization behind the popular children's educational program, 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 the 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," Mrs. Obama was to say at the event. "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 will be the first since a White House summit on food marketing to children that Mrs. Obama convened last month, where she urged a broad range of companies to do more to promote healthier foods to youngsters.

"You all know that our kids are like little sponges -- they absorb whatever is around them. But they don't yet have the ability to question and analyze what they're told," the first lady said at the time.

Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita were joining her for the announcement. Afterward, the first lady was taking them to her produce garden on the South Lawn for the annual fall harvest. They were to be helped by children who attend schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

"We applaud Sesame Workshop for offering to provide their characters at no cost to produce companies and farmers to encourage children to eat more vegetables and fruits," Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.