Mixing Fun and Function in Kids’ Foods Melanie Zanoza Bartelme | March 2017, Volume 71, No.3

Product development in kids’ foods is driven by a host of factors, including parents’ desire for healthy, natural foods free from artificial ingredients that will help their kids meet developmental milestones but also deliver on taste and fun.

Child measuring growth
The world is changing—today’s adults are choosing to have fewer children and doing so later in life, if they have them at all (Packaged Facts 2016). Over the past decade, the number of households that include children has been declining; now just 28% of U.S. households (35 million) include children younger than 18 (Mintel 2016a).

Still, however, Generation Z—those aged 20 and younger—represent a quarter of the U.S. population, and today’s kids are tomorrow’s shoppers (FONA 2016a). In addition, their parents—mainly Millennials—are willing to spend more money on the foods that match their personal values and provide their kids with healthful, good-for-them options (Packaged Facts 2016). Clearly the market for kids’ food merits some close attention from product developers and marketers.

Fifty-nine percent of Millennials like the products they buy to buy reflect their opinions and attitudes in life, says Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at Canadean. “Millennial parents want their kids to be like they are, to introduce them to their interests,” including their taste in food, agrees Robin Knight, executive creative director and director of insight and strategy for Creative Consumer Concepts (C3), a family and kids marketing and design agency.

These parental desires, combined with an educated and food-aware Generation Z, have created a market for natural, organic, and free-from food products that provide convenience, portability, and health benefits with tastes and flavors kids enjoy and that parents approve.

Building Better Kids’ Products
Kids and parents are an important target audience across a wide variety of categories, and there are some key drivers that product formulators and marketers must deliver on in order to succeed in the marketplace: better ingredients, functional benefits, playability and excitement, and convenience.

Choosing Better Ingredients. Natural ingredients, simplified ingredient lists, and more nutritious meals for children are important attributes for new product development in kid-targeted meals (Mintel 2016b), and “companies or brands dedicated to eliminating or reducing unhealthful ingredients will find a strong following of parents,” writes Packaged Facts (Packaged Facts 2016).

“[Healthy] used to mean low-cal and low-fat, and now it’s changed more to what the properties of food are, whether it’s organic, or natural, or artisanal,” says Josh Davenport, senior market analyst at C3. “These are words that we’re seeing a lot more of, certainly with kids in mind.”

In light of this shift, companies are trying to tweak the products they offer to make them better nutritionally, says Vierhile, and many are eliminating artificial ingredients from the beginning when developing new products. Free-from labels “are like a confessional, telling you what they don’t have,” he adds.

In addition, today’s parents are more aware of food and the ingredients in it, says Pamela Oscarson, consumer insights manager at FONA International. “The choices they make about what they are feeding their families are fueled by their overall perception of what is healthy,” she says. “If parents do not trust your company or have a perception about a particular ingredient, it could influence how likely they are to purchase your product.”

Andy Seaberg, R&D director for Plum Organics, agrees. “Millennials are now demanding organic products and full transparency. Increasingly, the young parents we serve want to know how their food is made, where it came from, and how it’s processed so they can feel good about investing their dollars in products and brands they deeply trust,” he says.

This desire for wholesome, whole food may not necessarily be new; healthfulness and substituting “real” ingredients for artificials has been seen across categories for some time. But while adults can understand the reasoning for these changes and may be more willing to accept any potential changes in taste and enjoyment they expect from cleaned-up foods, products marketed to kids must contain ingredients parents want while looking and tasting good to their kids; healthfulness is important, says Oscarson, but getting kids to actually eat the foods can’t take a backseat to including natural ingredients. Luckily, there seems to be a pervasive shift on store shelves to these tasty but better-for-you versions of food and drink staples that span all categories, from juice drinks and fruit snacks to macaroni and cheese and cereals.