Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the 2019 FOOD FOR KIDS summit in Chicago last month, Linkage Research & Consulting founder and president, Michele DeKinder-Smith, said that millennials, specifically millennial parents, are the driving force behind plant-based kid-friendly products.
According to Linkage research, which is based on over 10,000 consumer interviews conducted this year, 17% of US adults say that plant-based is a top criteria they factor into the food they want to eat.
"Among millennials, that number rises to 25% saying that it’s a top criteria. And that’s really important because if you think about first born children (those that are 8 and under) who are likely to be parented by a millennial. So, as millennials increase their demand for plant-based foods, they’re bringing their children along with them," noted DeKinder-Smith.
"What we see are the most popular plant-based categories for kids right now are non-dairy milk alternatives, non-dairy yogurt, and plant-based snacks, and also some meat alternatives," said DeKinder-Smith.
Linkage found that 60% of households with kids are buying plant-based food alternatives and nearly all of them (over 80%) are feeding these foods to their kids. Many are introducing these products to their kids at a very young age even: at least 25% said they are beginning to introduce plant-based alternatives to their kids as young as 1- and 2-years-old.
"By 5 to 7 years old, most children in households that buy plant-based alternatives are enjoying these foods," she said.
"And it’s not just that a large number of families are giving their kids plant-based alternatives, but what they’re further telling us is that their intention is to continue giving more and more plant-based foods over time."
Parents are asking for more kid-friendly plant-based foods
However, even though the market has exploded with plant-based milk, yogurt, and meat alternatives recently, very few products cater to kids specifically, noted DeKinder-Smith.
"I think the biggest untapped need right now is that parents are really looking for kid friendly type plant-based alternatives," she said.
"When you look across the environment today, most products are positioned against the mainstream, and not specifically targeted to kids. In our data, we see that parents are really clamoring for that."
It will take more than slapping on cartoons and using kid friendly marketing language to become a successful plant-based alternative in the kids category, according to DeKinder-Smith. Brands wishing to take advantage of the market gap for children-focused plant-based alternatives, must possess "high kid appeal" in terms of taste and texture as one in four consumers said that their children don’t like the taste of plant-based foods.
"This is a real area of potential innovation and product development, being, how do we create products that are plant-based that have high taste appeal for children?"
Why are parents choosing plant-based alternatives for their kids?
Primary motivations for feeding their kids plant-based alternatives vary, about one-third of parents want to teach their kids how to eat responsibly and are teaching sustainability through their food choices. Others simply want their kids to follow, more or less, the diet of the rest of their household whether it be flexitarian or dairy-free.
And while a strong argument can be made that almond milk or plant-based yogurt doesn't have the same nutritional equivalency and are more processed than their animal-based counterparts, parents will continue to see plant-based alternatives as fitting into a healthy lifestyle for their family.
"This mirrors their own mindset in wanting plant-based, they simply believe that it is a healthier option," said DeKinder-Smith.
"The brands that provide them less process and more plant-based are the ones that will win ultimately."