GHQ: Catering to Kids

Discussion
Oct 19, 2006

By Suzanne Vita Palazzo


Through special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of a current article from Grocery Headquarters magazine, presented here for discussion.


While there has been no shortage of media attention devoted to the rising obesity rates plaguing Americans, many people have overlooked a key segment within this dangerously overweight demographic – the nation’s children. According to a study recently released by Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) entitled Healthy Kids Report: Understanding the Role of Better-for-You Products in Kid-Driven Food and Beverage Categories, 50 percent of children in the United States will be overweight by 2010.


“The magnitude of how big this is really struck me,” said Sean Seitzinger, vice president and leader of the center for retail innovation at IRI.


The escalating child obesity rate has spurred the need for a market that offers kid-friendly products that can assist parents in their struggle to maintain their children’s weight at healthy levels.


Insiders say the grocery industry is not responding to this consumer need with enough speed and efficiency to meet the demand. “If there were a prize for the market segment most overlooked by food marketers, the winner, without a doubt, would be adolescents,” said Dr. Richard J. George, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University.


If there is a shortage of kid-themed wellness products, it may be ending. According to the IRI study, better-for-you products have grown a total of 31 percent across kid-driven categories, versus just 7 percent across mainstream products.


Enter the opportunity for retailers to become resources for consumers, all the while boosting their bottom lines. With increased media attention and legislation banning some products from school lunches, parents are not only more aware of healthy options for their kids, they appear willing to trade up for an item that is perceived as a better-for-you option.


Experts concur that an untapped opportunity exists with private label wellness products for kids. “In general, about 95 percent of the time, private label is lacking in this solution area,” said Mr. Seitzinger. “So for retailers that really want to innovate, I think there’s an opportunity for them to let their premium branded solutions in private label help define what the answer is, and not just because it’s a good thing to do, but because it’s an economically good thing to do.”


Regardless of the approach, observers agree that retailers have the chance to gain incremental sales and customer loyalty by making children’s health a priority, a seemingly simple step that many have so far failed to take. Said Mr. Seitzinger: “I think real leadership in this space is really about retailers either driving manufacturers to be more effective in how they innovate as a community, or to step up and deliver on their own from a private label perspective.”


Discussion Questions: Do you agree that retailers, particularly grocers, have failed to make children’s health a marketing priority? Where do you see
opportunities for retailers to succeed in the area of child health and nutrition?

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10 Comments on "GHQ: Catering to Kids"


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Colin Jephson
Guest
Colin Jephson
15 years 7 months ago

Great comments from Bernice — as usual. Problems with childhood obesity started in earnest when we started selling them stuff, mostly sugar/salt-drenched and empty, and convinced them that they would feel better if they could get their hands on it.

Should we now start selling them products that are better for them? If that product is an apple, then fine! But we should be aware that a lot of “wellness” products currently aimed at adults have dubious health benefits and a similar approach to children will not do much for their health either.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Ben raises a good point (many good ones, actually) – can we sell healthier foods? We’ve been researching new products that are good for you for years. Want to guess why they are not on the shelves? People don’t really want to buy them (purchase intent is high – actual purchase is low). It’s not the retailer’s responsibility to make this happen, it’s the manufacturer’s job to (a) make healthy products people want and (b) show the retailer why they should carry the products. I don’t think retailers will argue that healthy products are a good idea – they just need more and more desirable products to sell.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I would concur that retailers have failed to make children’s wellness products a priority, and that it is unquestionably an untapped opportunity to sell products so positioned. Certainly we should not ignore such an opportunity as a “for profit” industry.

However, it is difficult to address this issue without asking one question. What were kids eating BEFORE they started becoming obese in such large numbers? Could it simply have been less food? More of the healthier foods available then (and now)? Maybe the were eating the same foods but in combination with more of the popular calorie antidote (still available I believe) called exercise?

Can we sell parents products that are healthier alternatives to current offerings? Sure. Should we? Sure. Is the fact that we have not done so to date the reason our children are obese? Not hardly.

Brett Williams
Guest
Brett Williams
15 years 7 months ago

Kids got overweight from staying indoors instead of playing outside and being active. Sure, they eat junk food as do all Americans. Kids 20 years (and more) ago were playing hard and burning calories even while eating some junk. When little league season was going on we could convince our parents that we needed Gatorade and other specialty foods. I remember honey being the big deal with wrestlers in high school which is probably the most weight watching any high school boy ever did while trying to make the weight class he wanted to wrestle in.

I see small town grocers still promoting little league but not so much in the cities. Of course parents have to promote the activities too and if they do not then probably the best opportunities for grocers are to promote new, healthier foods to kids. But, I believe, that will just be marketing and not really do much about the obesity problem in kids. Plus a healthy, active child is probably more profitable than a chubby, calorie reduced one.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
Right, had to wait until I calmed down before I hit the keyboard. What tosh as they would say in Olde England. Not paying enough attention to children and what they eat? Not trying to cut down on childhood obesity? Are these people deaf, dumb and blind? I wondered. Then I read it all again slowly and realised that what they thought was missing was “wellness” and “better for you” products. Not just a better diet with more fresh food and, heaven forbid, home-cooked meals made from scratch but stuff in packs that you can buy with lots of goodness and added value sold for premium prices. Silly old moi. Not enough to get rid of junk food in the diet, especially in school vending machines and cafeterias, not enough to try and sell parents the knowledge and wherewithal for healthy packed lunches, not enough to reduce levels of salt, sugar and fat in snacks, not enough to reduce the advertising targeted at children. There have to be MORE PRODUCTS that have been mass produced… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Supermarkets are exquisitely sensitive to sales trends. The single variable every supermarket manager and executive examines every day, more often than any other, with no exceptions, is sales. If good-for-you foods for kids or anyone else sell well, everyone in the supermarket industry will know immediately. No delays. No fog.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
15 years 7 months ago
All great comments and Bill, I’ll take you up on the offer of the information that will be coming out soon. “Healthy lifestyles” go beyond healthy foods consumption, and we know healthful foods will make a difference in obesity control in kids. We also need some refocus on activities that burn fat. P.E. classes used to be physical education, as in “exercise” at school. Kids used to walk or ride bikes to and from school every day, as in more physical activity. Then, they would come home and play games outside with friends and neighbors, as in more physical exercise. So, what’s replaced all this daily physical activity? How do we get back to kids lifestyles that ensure they are building routine exercise into much of what they do? Whole milk, butter, cream, and candy (with high sugar content) was part of kids diets a generation ago, and we didn’t have obesity as an overwhelming concern then. Could it be the “activities” side of the balance has been the biggest difference between today’s children and… Read more »
Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
15 years 7 months ago

There’s no question that most retailers have underplayed the importance of children’s health in their marketing, and supermarkets are no exception.

Stepping back, this is somewhat surprising in an era when many people think in terms of “investment grade children.”

Having a chance to see the pre-publication results of the Prevention Magazine/FMI 2006 Shopping for Health study, it’s evident that from the shopper point of view, children and children’s health is a big deal. Anyone interested will want to see that study when it’s published in the next month or so. (Feel free to contact me for more information.)

In terms of opportunity, it seems to me that one of the most immediate opportunities relates to what food retailers can do to satisfy the need for healthy portable snacks for kids up to and including a healthy, brown-bagged lunch.

This will be one of the big areas of emphasis in the next year or two based on what shoppers are telling us.

patrick spear
Guest
patrick spear
15 years 7 months ago
Great insights regarding a very real problem. Meaningful change won’t occur until the problem is acknowledged and addressed by all the key constituents; the food industry, schools, and most importantly, parents. We, as parents and society, seem to lament about the food industry’s culpability on this issue, while at the same time sending our kids to school with lunch money to buy high fat foods (because we choose not to make their lunches with fresh, healthy ingredients, or we cave in to our children’s demands to buy pizza, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, etc. Isn’t it our job as parents to parent, regardless of whether the vending machines no longer dispense carbonated, sweetened beverages? Meanwhile, we tolerate school budget cuts, which eliminate physical education programs first, and spend our discretionary dollars (no longer spent on schools?) on X-Box, Game Boys, and Play Stations that discourage physical activity. I’m not a pessimist on the issue, as I do believe positive change will come from increased awareness, but I do believe a certain amount of “dot-connecting” will be required… Read more »
John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
15 years 7 months ago

Not just foods, but a whole program including exercise, meetings, publications and website. Not just pre packaged lines either. The products have to work together and the intent has to be honest. Good customers will be buying less food as time passes.

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