A. Elizabeth Sloan

Still topping the list of reasons that 60% of kids age 6–17 ask for, or eat, a specific food or beverage is having a good time eating it, reports Yankelovich’s 2005 Youth Monitor. Likewise, especially important for younger children age 6–11 are comes in fun shapes and colors (45%), has cartoon characters on the package (37%), and provides box tops/labels for school support (26%).

However, creating exciting opportunities for kid-directed food/beverage marketers and restaurateurs, too, are a fast-emerging new set of food attitudes and desires for this grab-and-go generation, more-sophisticated palates at a younger age, and a growing penchant for healthy items by the kids themselves.

Vegetables and seafood hit the list of foods most ordered in restaurants for and by kids in 2005, according to the NPD Group, although carbonated soft drinks, French fries, burgers, pizza, and chicken nuggets still led the list. Mexican foods, iced tea, and ice cream rounded out the "Top 10."

Young consumers prefer ethnic foods. Packaged Facts’ 2005 U.S. Tweens Market report revealed that 39% of those age 10–13 prefer Chinese food, followed by Mexican, Japanese, Italian, and American.

Households with children under 12 accounted for 52% of all retail dollars spent on prepared Mexican dinners—20% from families with kids under 6 and 32% from families with kids 6–12—for the year ending 12/24/04, reports ACNielsen’s Homescan. Although not as popular at retail as Mexican foods, sales of Asian items are very strong in households with kids under 12, accounting for 44% of the dollars spent on Ramen noodles and 44% on Asian sauce (soy, teriyaki, etc.).

Aramark’s 2004 DiningStyles™ research found that while pizza and chicken were the favorite foods of high school students, Italian, Mexican, and Chinese dishes rated higher than hamburgers.

A Y-Pulse 2005 survey found that seafood topped the list of foods teens and young adults have most recently tried and liked, followed in order by sushi, Indian, Asian, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai, and Cajun/Creole items.

Having a surprising or intense flavor is important to 49% of teens, 38% of kids age 9–11, and 30% of kids age 6–8, Yankelovich reports. Packaged Facts’ Flavor Outlook 2006 found that cheese, pizza, and chili/pepper/jalapeño were the top savory flavors for younger children. Berry flavors were most common for sweet foods, especially those labeled tart, sour, or wild. Just about half of younger kids and one-third of those over age 9 said chocolatey is a strong food-selection factor.

While soft drinks are still the favorite beverage for 46% of high school students, Aramark reports that one-third named "still" beverages—water, iced tea, juice, Gatorade®, and milk, in that order. Ask what they would buy if available, 41% of students said sports drinks, 33% bottled water, 31% fruit juice, 23% iced tea, 22% hot coffee/tea, and 19% milk.

Easy to share with friends among the newest desires for kids when it comes to food. Half (48%) of those age 6–8 years, 46% of those age 9–11, and 42% of teens told Yankelovich that "share-ability" was very important. Aramark reports that 93% said they want to spend time with friends during lunch, 18% skip lunch 1.4 times/week, and many wait to meet their friends at fast-food restaurants after school.

Appetizers are all too often left off kids’ menus, and samplers with share-able kid-appeal can be strong restaurant and after-school snack business boosters.

Portability is now a close second to "fun," with 60% of teens, 48% of those age 9–11, and 44% of those age 6–8 saying it is very important, reports Yankelovich. Easy to prepare is also a highly desirable attribute for 64% of teens, 46% of those 9–11, and 37% of those 6–8.

Healthy is an important food-selection factor for half of teens and children age 6–8 and 48% of those age 9–11, reports Yankelovich. Extra vitamins/nutrients added are important for 31% of younger kids, 24% of pre-teens, and 27% of teens. Twenty percent of pre-teens and 31% of teens say lower in calories affects their food-selection habits, and 10% of teens cited organic, although organic was not mentioned by younger kids.

Aramark found that 51% of high school students make an effort to eat or drink something healthy every day, 35% would like to see more fresh fruit on menus, and 15% more vegetables. Fresh fruit is the No. 1 snack for kids age 2–12, followed by yogurt for kids 2–7, reports NPD.

And, last, with so much pressure to make kids’ food choices healthier, it’s about time that foods are formulated specifically for the nutrient needs of children. Can Do Kid nutrition/energy bars from Can Do Kid, Inc., are not only fortified with 17 nutrients at kid levels, but are also void of trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup and are all-natural and 70% certified organic.

A. Elizabeth Sloan,
Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends, Inc., Escondido, Calif.
[email protected]