The study examined parents’ attitudes and what drives purchases of food and beverages for their children.
“While parents are certainly concerned about nutrition, they recognize that there’s room for snacks and treats in their kids’ diets,” said DeAnn Roullier, marketing research manager at Cargill, during a press conference at IBIE. “They try to balance healthy and unhealthy food and beverages.”
The study looked across nine categories heavily consumed by children—cereal, cookies, breads/rolls, crackers, snack bars, fruit/juice drinks, frozen pizza, ice cream and carbonated soft drinks—to determine the attributes that resonate most with parents.
It found that most parents (59%) try to keep meals healthy while allowing for treats. Generationally, the results varied among younger and older parents, with 66% of Millennial parents (18 to 32 years old) versus 53% of Generation X parents (33 to 47) saying they take this balanced approach. This also suggests that as more young consumers become parents, a balanced approach to buying bakery items could become even more prevalent.
Additionally, moms are more likely than dads to seek a balance of healthier and less healthy foods and beverages in their childrens’ diets (51% versus 42%.)
Displeased with current options
Overall, parents showed a fairly low level of satisfaction with the healthfulness of products currently on the market. Just two in 10 said they’re satisfied and not looking for healthier choices; nine out of 10 parents said they’d be likely to purchase healthier versions of foods.
Price sensitivity does factor in, as parents feel pressured to budget wisely, though they’re willing to pay more for more healthful foods, Roullier noted.
These results demonstrate a significant opportunity for bakery manufacturers in particular to innovate with healthier products in the cookies, breads/rolls, crackers and snack bars categories, as these categories demonstrated wide gaps between parent satisfaction and intent to purchase a healthier version. The biggest opportunity was on cookies, which showed an opportunity gap of 24 points; followed by breads/rolls (9-point gap), crackers (8 points) and bars (8 points).
Consumer pressure 'about positive nutrition'
Cargill also determined three factors that drive healthier bakery purchases based on the study: seeking, avoiding and having a clean label—though each varied in their impact as a purchase driver.
Seeking is about finding products with positive nutrition attributes—be it a product’s inherent benefits, nutrient density or foods fortified with nutrients found in fruits and vegetables—such as whole grains or fiber. Notably, seeking was a key purchase driver for all four bakery categories researched.
Having a clean label—or including ingredients that are clearly recognized by consumers instead of chemical-sounding ingredients—also was a strong purchase driver in bakery, particularly in the cookies, breads/rolls and crackers categories.
On the other hand, avoiding—or reducing the attributes perceived as less good for you (i.e., fat, sodium, calories or sugar)—wasn’t a strong purchase driver in any of the baked product categories.
“Consumer pressure is really more about positive nutrition,” Roullier said. “It gives manufacturers an opportunity to innovate to create healthier, great-tasting products.”
The online survey of more than 1,000 consumers (two-thirds of them parents of children ages two to 12) was conducted in November 2012. The study was done as part of Cargill’s childhood nutrition initiative, which aims to help food and beverage manufacturers and operators formulate products that improve the nutrition profile of those targeted to children.