Children today have a large say in what they eat, and food manufacturers are waking up to the profits available in catering for the younger consumer. The real challenge however is to provide responsible healthy choices while maintaining kids' interest. As Hugh Westbrook explains, whether nutritionally sound or unhealthy snack food, the marketing tools employed to keep younger consumers hungry for more are child's play.

It is a popular conception that food ranges aimed at children are unhealthy. They tend to be packaged in bright colours, often plastered with favourite television characters and sometimes they have amusingly shaped produce inside. These types of products tend to provide very little nutrition for children, and consequently parents are becoming less satisfied with such ranges and their reliance on sugar, fat and additives. New lines are coming out to address these health concerns, but ironically these brands need to use the same marketing tools which help the less healthy brands to succeed.

The components linked with a successful children's range are the look of the packaging, the taste and the fact that buying certain brands can give children a sense of belonging to something. Those involved in the creation of children's ranges have conceded that visual impact is needed to attract a child in the first place. Taste is then needed to keep them interested in a repeat purchase. Finally, the sense of belonging and the involvement of the child in a relationship with that product act to maintain their interest. While it is the parent who ultimately makes the purchase, the child will often make the choice.

UK supermarket group


Company Profile:

J Sainsbury


Sainsbury's used many of these ideas in the launch of its healthy Blue Parrot Café range earlier in the year. The range was developed after the company's own research revealed that while 75% of parents try to ensure their children eat a healthy diet, 50% of households buy products for children because they want them, regardless of their nutritional quality.

Given that this research reinforces the idea that children drive the purchasing decision, the packages are attractive and colourful in order to attract children. Blue Parrot products cover the full eating spectrum, with packaging also putting across nutritional benefits to parents, and the use of some entertaining shapes ensures that the food is fun for children. The company has also reduced the use of additives, though it has not removed them completely, and some of the range is organic. The sense of belonging is enhanced by the development of Blue Parrot Café bath and shower products, emphasising that to choose these products is to buy into a lifestyle.

Other food manufacturers have taken the issues of organic food and lack of additives further. Launched earlier this year, Kalibio can currently be found in France, Germany and the UK. It is purely a snack food range but organic, relying solely on healthy ingredients for nutritional impact and also carrying an educational element. Nutritional and environmental facts are carried on packaging, and children are encouraged to follow up the information in more detail at www.kalibio.com, where they also have the chance to join a club.

Charles Redfern, the managing director of Organico, which distributes Kalibio in the UK, explained to just-food.com that children themselves had chosen the products in the range, which explained the large amount of chocolate products. "Children are naturally drawn to things which are bad for them," he concurred. "But our range is high quality so, for example, the chocolate spread is high in polyunsaturates. We try to give them something they like so long as it's not sugar and fat."

Kalibio is available in health food shops in the UK but not supermarkets, something Redfern explained was because the multiples were reluctant to display the brand in a way he considered suitable. "We want the products to be displayed together but UK supermarkets want them distributed around the shop in their various sectors. There's a loss of identity if the products are set around the shop, we're trying to put out a message which gets lost. Some German supermarkets do understand the concept and display it as one, while in France it varies from shop to shop." Redfern's concerns emphasise that the sense of identity is crucial towards establishing a children's range in the minds of those it is aimed at.

One company that has had great success with a children's product is Canadian group Nature's Path. It launched the Envirokidz range of organic cereals just last year and has seen two of the products rise into the top five most popular 'shaped cereals' sold in natural food supermarkets in the US.

Envirokidz cereals are organic, and sold in visually striking packs that offer to support a variety of wildlife charities. For example, 1% of sales from Gorilla Munch goes to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Children develop a given a sense of belonging when they are asked: "Are you an EnviroKid?" Further background meanwhile is provided at www.envirokidz.com.

David Neuman, vice president of sales and marketing for Nature's Path, told just-food.com that part of the rationale behind creating the brand was to lead children gradually into their adult products. "We wanted to use sweetened cereal to try and get children into our other products. There are always concerns over sweet products, but children like them. They're not that healthy but it's a stepping-stone. They don't want to eat what parents eat but then they learn to trust the brand."

Neuman agreed that the creation of a relationship between the brand and children was one of the keys to its success, with the packaging being used as a learning tool. "We don't bombard them. However, we get thousands of letters," he added. "We don't want it to be a gimmick and we don't want to exploit it but children like to belong to something and that helps us."

Envirokidz has little direct competition in the US and Canada at present, while it is now available in a number of other countries. Gurdeep Stephens, export sales manager, added that countries where sales were likely to succeed were those where consumers have "an interest in healthy food and social causes as well as disposable income".

Children will always be attracted to bright packaging and sweet food. What food producers are now learning however is that these tendencies do not have to mean sacrificing health to pander to children's tastes. Furthermore, giving them something to belong to can help to develop ranges which are popular with both kids and their parents.

By Hugh Westbrook, just-food.com correspondent


To view related research reports, please follow the links below:-

Kids Snacks & Prepared Food Report 2001 Report

Marketing Food and Drink to Kids

About Kids: Food and Beverages