Some major trends in children’s eating habits could change as the economy recovers – but foods marketed as natural and healthful are here to stay, according to a senior analyst at Mintel.
There is growing concern about children’s health in many parts of the western world, particularly in terms of rising obesity rates, but what are children actually eating – and what influences their choices?
Bill Patterson, a senior analyst at the market research organization Mintel, told FoodNavigator-USA.com that children have become more independent in their food choices, but what is available to them is changing.
“There’s a huge amount of activity in terms of foods being promoted directly to kids,” he said. “…But particularly with candy and soda, what’s available to kids has changed.”
In schools, there has been a huge effort to reduce children’s access to less healthy foods and drinks. As a result, sales of sugary soft drinks have dropped from 33 percent of vending machine drinks sales in 2003 to 20 percent today, while bottled water sales have risen, and candy is down from 22 percent to 15 percent.
Striking a balance
Patterson said there is “definitely a mood for both kids and parents to eat better” and parents are reading labels more.
“If you were moving into the US market and looking at kids’ foods what I’d be looking at is better-for-you foods, but there’s a fine balance to be struck,” he said.
Foods should appeal to children, while also convincing parents that they are healthy.
Patterson mentioned Cheerios cereal as one example of this kind of dual message.
“Cheerios is promoted as being heart healthy, which it is,” he said. “…All the line extensions are a very different story. There’s an odd disconnect that Cheerios are being promoted as good for you, good for your heart, but the line extensions are still being heavily marketed to kids.”
A trend for ‘hiding’ vegetables in foods like pasta sauces and smoothies also aims to appeal to both parents and kids, and has seen some success.
“Personally, I think it smacks a little bit of an underhand approach,” said Patterson. “But in terms of satisfying parents’ desires while appealing to kids I guess that’s probably the best combo.”
Natural and organic
Although organic foods for kids have increased in popularity, Patterson said that price would remain a hurdle for many parents. Private label organic foods have helped growth in the sector, and even though there is no official definition of ‘natural’, the concept of natural is still appealing to parents.
“The reason they are still growing is because supermarkets are making natural and organic foods available…Mothers do care about trying to buy good stuff for their kids but having said that it’s really the enlightened parents that are buying organic and natural. The trend is more across households than foods just for kids.”
Meanwhile, sales of so-called comfort foods, such as pancake mix, cookie dough, mac and cheese, and frozen pizzas have risen, and as recession-squeezed families go out for meals less often, kids are increasingly preparing these foods for themselves.
However, as western economies are pulling out of recession, “comfort food’s going to be gone by the time other companies get there.”
The most successful kids’ foods are those that are healthful, natural and low-fat and those qualities are likely to remain popular, even as other trends come and go, Patterson added.