November, 2014

Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis

Fruit Is In Top 3 UK Kids' Snacks

By Kirsty Nolan, Analyst With Canadean

A recent online panel owned by Canadean that is used for customized consumer research — both as a service for businesses and for our own in-house research — surveyed 506 parents with children aged 16 or under. It revealed that 94 percent of the U.K.’s children snack, and more than half do so on a daily basis.

There are approximately 12 million children in the U.K., which equates to more than 6 million snacking occasions every day. When asked what foods their children snack on, parents revealed fruit is the most common snack among children, with 67 percent of children snacking on fruit, closely followed by crisps [potato chips] at 65 percent. The remaining top spots were filled by biscuits [sweet cookies] (64 percent), chocolate (42 percent) and confectionery (37 percent). Overall, health remains the key priority. When asked what their children were most likely to snack on, fruit is revealed as the overall snack of choice with one in three children most likely to snack on the natural, sweet treats in either packaged or unpackaged forms.

Parents Worry About Kids Snacking Habits

Parents across the U.K. are increasingly concerned with their children’s snacking habits, which is not surprising given the media attention surrounding the issue of rising childhood obesity levels. In the same survey, one in three parents expressed concern regarding their child’s weight. Approximately 40 percent expressed concern about snacking and overall dietary habits, and more than half worry whether their children are eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Snacking Market Rife With Opportunities

The findings of the survey highlight a number of opportunities for snacking companies. There is a definite need for healthy snacks for children. More parents want to incorporate the “5 A Day,” which is the generally accepted healthy daily quantity of fruit and vegetable portions, into their children’s diets.

In its simplest form, this can be packaged fresh fruit, conveniently prepared and packed in a bag ideal for lunch boxes or on-the-go snacking. The Asda supermarket chain has an extensive private label range of children’s fruit products that appeal to parents because the pre-packaged fruit bags provide kids with one of the “5 A Day.” Processed options are also growing in popularity. Organix, a British company specializing in baby and toddler foods, has a range of fruit snacking bars under its ‘Goodies’ brand. The label provides one of the recommended “5 A Day,” while also promising to be 100 percent organic and containing no added sugar, artificial flavors or colors. Along with the health benefits, parents also like the extended shelf-life of processed fruit products, as they can be stored more easily than fresh fruit.

What Does This Mean For Marketers?

To market child snacking products successfully, it must be remembered that health is key, closely followed by convenience. As much as parents want their children to eat healthfully, a snacking occasion must remain convenient from the perspective of both parent and child. Further, a product must taste good in order for it to be successful in the kid’s market. Although an adult may consume a product for health reasons alone, this simply isn’t the case among the youngest consumers.

Marketers are faced with the task of communicating a product’s health and taste benefits in an already saturated marketplace. The purchasers of these products are mostly busy parents; these consumers do not have time to waste on food shopping, so the message to them needs to be loud and instantaneous. If a processed fruit product can still be classified as one of the recommended “5 A Day,” then don’t be afraid to highlight this on the packaging and in the marketing campaign, this extends to single portions of fresh fruit. Parents want to be able to quickly tally their child’s intake to ensure they are getting the nutrients they require — why shouldn’t marketers make this task easier for them?

Parental Guidance Suggested

It is important to survey consumers because it gives us great insight into their thought process, but it does not necessarily provide insight into behavior. In this case, surveying parents about their children’s snacking habits inherently creates a bias in response because most parents want to be perceived as good parents. Since it is widely known that produce is a healthier snack than other options, asking parents what their children snack on is not a neutral question. It is virtually identical to asking the parent if they are good parents or not.

Put another way, one can ask a parent, “When your child eats ice cream, does he prefer vanilla or chocolate?” Researchers would probably get a reasonably accurate response because the answer carries no moral weight. On the other hand, asking about children’s snacking habits can be perceived by the research subjects as such: “Are you one of the lazy, negligent parents who allows your children to eat all kinds of junk, or are you one of the parents who love their children enough to enforce healthy standards and ensure fruits and vegetables are the most common snack?”

It would be fascinating to see this type of research tied in with actual purchase data, such as receipts from supermarkets, so we can get an idea of how much parental opinion translates into food purchase data. It would be even more interesting to go a step further and study actual consumption among children; after all, parents often purchase fruits and vegetables and children pass them by.

Despite the positive interest in increasing produce consumption, Kirsty Nolan, analyst for Canadean, also points to important obstacles. She mentions interest in processed foods because they offer extended shelf-life, and she points out that “product must taste good in order for it to be successful.” Providing consistent taste can be a problem for the fresh produce industry. Many fruit items are inconsistent in taste, and many vegetables — especially the bitter green vegetables thought to be most important in promoting health — are often unappealing to children.

With the fresh-cut explosion, the produce industry made great strides at offering more convenient product. However, fresh product inherently is not as convenient to store as, say, frozen product is to have ready to make a smoothie, and many vegetables are really cooking ingredients.

It is interesting that the researchers place great emphasis on marketing items as one of the recommended “5 A Day.” When the “5 A Day” program was just getting started in California back in the late 80s and early 90s, Barney McClure, who was the president at the San Francisco, CA-based ad agency, McClure and Tjerandsen — and an important marketer for the produce industry — praised the program for exactly that specificity. He said, up to that time, everyone knew that produce was good for you but never had a specific guide as to behavior.

With “5 A Day,” McClure thought there was a chance to really change behavior because the guidance was now so specific. Though the U.K. stuck with the “5 A Day” concept, the U.S., abandoned the concept back in 2007 to adopt a more conceptual slogan, Fruit & Veggies: More Matters. So the specification of a given serving may not carry the same impact here in the states as it does in the UK.

Of course, the big question may be to what degree marketing matters in selling produce for kids. Certainly a good slogan, or perhaps a Sesame Street character as promoted in the new Eat Brighter! program, can gain some initial attention and even trial. But if the fundamentals of the produce don’t appeal to the children, and they don’t eat it, what are the odds of getting repeat purchases?

It makes one think that to really have a big impact on public health, we actually need to have efforts to condition taste buds so that little children get used to eating kale or spinach. In other words, maybe the whole notion that we are supposed to get children to love everything has to be challenged. Maybe the adults have to tell children what is good for them, and then insist they eat it.

It is not marketing, it is parenting; and maybe the public-policy approach should be to persuade parents that they need to step up and take responsibility for their children’s diet. Serious parents, insisting children eat healthfully, might boost consumption more than any marketing campaign. pb