(May 7, 2:08 p.m.) LAS VEGAS — Produce marketers today have their eyes set on an unconventional market segment — the under-10 crowd.
There are 41 million children in the U.S. who influence $146 billion of expenditures, and more than $40 million in direct buying power, according to a survey conducted by The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.
Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group, moderated a discussion on children’s eating habits May 5 during United Fresh Marketplace.
The panel announced the results of a national research study commissioned by the Reidsville, Ga.-based Produce for Kids organization that examined children’s eating habits and parents’ produce purchases for their children.
According to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, 25 million children ages 2-19 are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, said panel member Heidi McIntyre, Produce for Kids’ marketing director. Overweight kids are more likely to become overweight adults, McIntyre said.
“This is the first generation that is not expected to outlive its parents,” she said.
Children’s eating habits are formed in early childhood and will persist throughout their lives, McIntyre said. She said kids aged 6-12 are eating more than three times the recommended serving amount of fat and sweets, and only half of the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
The Perishables Group study confirmed that children influence parents’ purchases at the grocery store. Seventy percent of parents surveyed said they buy fresh produce because their children like it and ask for it. Forty percent said they purchase some produce specifically for their children to eat.
Only 18% of parents said their children eat three or more servings of produce every day. Nearly half of the survey respondents — 43% — said their kids eat only one serving or less.
Lutz said surveys have found that sales spike when packaging featuring cartoon characters is first introduced, but then sales will decrease over time.
When asked about cartoon characters and produce, half of the parents surveyed said that featuring cartoon characters on packaging would not affect their purchase decision, and 27% said they would not buy produce if it had a character on the packaging. Twenty-eight percent of parents said having characters that promoted healthy eating might cause them to buy, and said they would most like to see Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS Kids characters on packaging for fruits and vegetables.
Other panel members:
- Scott Owens, vice president of sales and marketing for Paramount Citrus Association, Delano, Calif.;
- Wendy McManus, director of marketing for the National Mango Board, Orlando, Fla.; and
- Dawn Ciccone, senior director of consumer products for Public Broadcasting Service Ventures, Arlington, Va.
Owens of Paramount Citrus said his company is trying to get children involved and interested in produce with its Retail, Internet, sports and Education program.
At the retail level, the company reaches out to children with in-store programs, contests and demos. Internet activities and resources are also a draw for kids and moms, he said, with recipes, coloring sheets and games.
The company sponsors football, baseball, soccer and basketball teams by providing citrus as snacks during game breaks, and educates children about produce with local agriculture events at schools.
Ciccone said PBS is launching an on-air and online health initiative this summer, geared toward getting children out of the house and active. She said 80% of PBS Kids signature shows feature episodes about health, physical fitness or nutrition, and 75% of the shows’ online properties feature health and fitness-oriented activities.
“It’s about role-modeling good behavior,” Ciccone said.
McManus said the Mango Board’s mascot, Jango Mango, has been a hit online. Jango has Facebook and MySpace pages, and also is promoting a contest on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.
The study also showed that parents may be missing an opportunity to add more green vegetables to their meals. While children voted broccoli as one of their top three favorite vegetables, parents didn’t rank broccoli among the vegetables they buy the most.
(Eastern Editor Doug Ohlemeier contributed to this article)