Food manufacturers are battling for children’s attention as they become increasingly influential in the family’s purchasing decisions, according to a new report by Datamonitor.
Despite the looming threat of an advertising ban to children, manufacturers in the intensely competitive UK food industry are vying for a slice of this market, which accounted for &£1.6bn of personal spending in 1998.
The food industry had previously focused its efforts on new product development strategies to meet the changing needs of adult consumers, sparked by a more hectic pace of life and the growing number women in work.
But trends in adult products are now filtering down to foods for children. Recently there has been a flurry of new product development and marketing activity aimed specifically at children.
In the year to July 1999, Datamonitor’s Worldwide Innovations Network tracked 179 innovative product launches specifically for children in the UK, compared with just 92 for adults.
There are several reasons why manufacturers are aiming to reach children more effectively. Marketers have always known that targeting children can encourage them to spend their pocket money. But with the rise of the family with two working parents, many children have been given more autonomy and greater control over their own spending.
According to Datamonitor, marketing also encourages children to pester parents, siblings and grandparents to part with their money. Children increasingly exercise their pester power by offering to help around the house, for example, or by making parents feel guilty for spending less time with them.
Promoting products to children also allows manufacturers to create brand affinity. Even manufacturers which do not produce products for children target them at a young age to ensure their custom when they get older.
Leading children’s product manufacturers, ranging from Nestlé and Ferrero Rocher to Golden Vale and Yoplait, have found that creating food that is fun is key to gaining appeal. Fun can take the form of visual, sensory, interactive and aspirational features. Most manufacturers use a combination of these elements to maximise appeal to children.
Four of the key product categories that have a strong child focus in the UK are chilled desserts, savoury snacks, chocolate confectionery and sweet biscuits. In 1998, children consumed more of these products per head than adults, supporting the fact that children are a key target market.
As an increasing number of manufacturers across different sectors begin to target children, the key to success in a crowded market is to develop products that are fun, healthy and convenient all at the same time. However, because parents remain the key purchase decision makers, gaining their en- dorsement is also important in maximising sales potential.
One way of doing this is by adding health and convenience benefits which appeal to adults. An example is DairyLea’s Lunchables. This product appeals to working parents who may not have time to prepare a lunchbox for their children, but who also want to ensure a healthy diet. Other examples include Cheestrings, Frubes and Smacks.
The concept of fun in targeting children is well established at fast food restaurants and cafés. McDonald’s and Burger King, for instance, have attracted children by giving away collectible toys in their Happy Meal and Kids Meal. Art cafés such as Art 4 Fun and Colour Me Mine in London are adding the entertainment of painting pottery and glass demonstrating to the food offering.
The children’s share of the food market is forecast to increase by an average of five per cent in the next five years, although the population of children will decline in the UK.
It is nevertheless important to market to children today, as they are the consumers of tomorrow. And if the Swedish government does succeed in banning advertising to children, the notion of “fun” as part of the food “experience” will become a key part of new product development for the next millennium’s children.