What's for Dinner? These Puppets (and Walmart) Have Ideas

Retailer's partnership with 'Waffles + Mochi' has basket-building potential
The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

What do you get when you pair Walmart with a new Netflix food show for kids, developed with former First Lady Michelle Obama?

You get a gamified version of cooking, for one thing—one that lets kids season tacos, water vegetables and build their own meals from a choice of ingredients. You also get some private-label product placement, showcasing how Walmart-owned brands can fit into healthy, kid-approved recipes.

Those are among the notable features of the new, Walmart-hosted "The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi," an interactive series of 20 online games and activities based on the Netflix show "Waffles + Mochi." "Waffles + Mochi," a collaboration between Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America, debuted in March and follows the global cooking and eating adventures of two puppets, who are joined by Obama and celebrity guests.

On May 6, Walmart announced its own collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America and Higher Ground Productions (the production company founded by Michelle Obama and former President Barack Obama in 2018) in launching "The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi." The "interactive culinary adventure experience," according to Walmart, will "get families cooking in the kitchen to discover the delicious joy of nutritious food." Beyond games, recipes and cooking demos, the site features video clips from the show. 

When kids complete an activity, they receive a badge; with each badge earned, Walmart commits a donation to the PHA's Pass the Love campaign (up to $1 million through May 31) to support food-insecure families. 

Each featured ingredient on the site—tomatoes or a bowl of rice, for example—has a customizable accompanying recipe. The tomato-highlighting recipe, Perfect Personal Salsa, lets kids select the type of tomatoes they want to use and offers a choice of additional ingredients, such as cucumber, mango or Organic Great Value-brand no-salt-added whole-kernel corn.

"Customers can visit their local Walmart for all of the fresh, healthy ingredients they need to whip up any one of the experience recipes," Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart stated in a news release. At a time when consumers still are making and eating more meals at home than they were pre-pandemic, simple, kid-customized recipes could provide a welcome dose of inspiration and fresh answers to the daily "what's for dinner?" question

Consumers view the kitchen as a place where they want to be inspired, said Jonna Parker, principal with Chicago-based market researcher IRI, in a May 5 webinar on winning health-focused consumers. "How can you win when fresh is everywhere?" she asked. "Help them make the meal."

For health-seeking consumers with young children at home, tools, recipes and ingredients proffering help in putting healthful meals that kids will actually on the table or into lunch boxes eat can be a powerful point of connection and engagement—and that has implications for retailers and suppliers. 

"I’ve long said that supporting parents and helping our kids build healthy habits isn’t just a job for nonprofits or governmentsthe private sector has a critical role to play as well," said the former first lady, who 11 years ago launched her signature Let's Move campaign to combat childhood obesity and encourage healthy lifestyles, in a Walmart news release. "That’s why I am proud to see Walmart continuing to lead the way with 'The Hidden World of Waffles + Mochi,' a wonderful food adventure that not only educates families on how to make quick and easy meals at home, but also teaches kids that they can give back to their community at any age."

Walmart isn't the only grocery retailer looking to offer creative, personalized cooking inspiration: Cincinnati-based Kroger in October launched ChefBot, a Twitter-based AI tool that lets customers write out or take a picture of ingredients they have on hand and send the message to the @KrogerChefbot account, which will then provide recipe suggestions based on those ingredients. Chefbot is now a finalist in the 2021 Shorty Awards for creative use of technology in retail and e-commerce. 



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