Kroger, the largest US traditional supermarket group, is going into partnership with Disney’s Mickey Mouse and the stars of Toy Story, Monsters Inc and The Incredibles, in the entertainment company’s most ambitious effort to date to realign itself with the cause of healthy eating.

The retailer, which operates about 2,400 supermarkets across the US, is to introduce more than 100 Disney-branded products, starting this year with items that will include packaged fresh fruit, cheese, vegetable dips, and a range of snacks and staples such as peanut butter, pasta and granola bars made with more nutritional ingredients.

Mickey Mouse himself will appear in the role of chef and farmer in store signs, and will give the thumbs up on nutritional labels. The products, branded as Disney Magic Selections, will largely have no trans fat content, with a goal of being entirely trans-fat free by the end of 2007.

The deal is the most wide-ranging negotiated with a retailer’s private label food products by Disney.

It also marks the first time Disney has extensively engaged in developing a line of branded goods, rather than licensing existing products to food companies. “We have been closely involved in the product development with them,” said Harry Dolman, who heads the food, health and beauty division of Disney Consumer Products.

The range will be “affordably priced”, according to Mr Dolman, in contrast to previous initiatives targeting premium food products. “That nowadays is not such an interesting proposition to consumers,” he said.

Disney, which this year ended a marketing agreement with McDonald’s, the fast-food restaurant, currently licenses packaged fruit and vegetables in Europe with Tesco, Carrefour and Metro.

The initiatives come at a time when entertainment and food companies are facing growing public concern over the influence of their marketing on childhood obesity, and related litigation risks.

Viacom and Kellogg’s are currently facing the threat of legal action over marketing to children, led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Earlier this month, Viacom’s Nickelodeon channel announced it would extend the licensing of Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and other characters to packaged apples, pears, cherries and organic edamame beans, following a deal last year to use the characters on spinach, baby carrots and clementines.

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