Kid Snacking Trends for 2016

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 @ 02:29 PM

One of the questions we at YouthBeat® routinely get asked is, “What trends are impacting kids’ snacking?”  Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few things going on that food producers need to know to be relevant with the snacking habits of Gen Z youth.  Three things we’ve observed that are key for 2016:

1. Parents avoiding “big food”

From avoiding products with GMOs (56% of kids’ parents avoid) to joining the organic (42% of parents seek) and local food movements, younger Millennial parents, in particular, are turning away from some of the bigger brands they grew up with in favor of what we’re calling a “small food” movement towards more versatile brands (think anything from Trader Joe’s, or a brand like Annie’s or Clif Bar Kid).  Though kids have a great deal of influence over what they eat, parents still make the purchase decisions for the pantry, and in most categories there are multiple brand options from which to select.

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  Emotionally, this trend benefits parents (who want to make good choices for their kids) more than children.  Kids are still rather hedonistic in what they eat (only 48% say they try to eat healthy).  That said, there are benefits to making choices their parents agree with, and saving their “asks” for things they care about more (like the newest video game system).  And smaller food brands can be more nimble than some “big food” brands, churning out new flavors and forms more frequently, which ups the probability of kids finding something new that they like.

2. Bolder and ethnic flavors entering the mix

With the ubiquity of Internet time, youth now have the ability to go on social media (e.g., Pinterest or YouTube) to encounter not just people of other cultures, but recipes and hacks for creating those flavors themselves.  If they watch MasterChef Junior, they see young people like themselves empowered to think outside the lunchbox and create new flavors of their own.  More spice-forward flavors like jalapeno cheddar (17% of kids like) and wasabi (7% like) are entering the youth lexicon—and even if they don’t love the flavors, they will try them.  Some even catch on virally, such as the hot flavors of Takis (for an entertaining view search YouTube for a Takis vs. hot Cheetos challenge).

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  By the age of about 8 or 9, most kids develop a bit of edge to their senses of humor and adventure.  Eating, or watching someone else eat something that could be good or could be hideous is thrilling.  If they made it in the kitchen themselves, they feel a powerful sense of control over their environment—and, of course, are more likely to “like” it.  And if they can tolerate, or even like, something spicy, they have earned a badge of honor among their peers

3. Flavor mash-ups coming on scene

From Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch flavored dessert “Delights” to cookie flavored Oreo drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts, kids embrace combinations of their favorite flavors into new meta-flavors.  Despite not having a kids’ menu, Taco Bell routinely appears in our Top 5 list of kids’ favorite restaurants (unaided).  Their Starburst-flavored slushies might have something to do with that too.

What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids?  This one is simple and twofold, the pleasure of the senses being most important.  If one flavor they love is great, two must be better, right?  Plus, if they’re ordering at an “adult” restaurant or coffee shop, they get to feel like they have grown-up palates.


Source: YouthBeat® 2015 Wave 1, Kids

Tags: food, kids, flavors, kids tweens teens, trends, snacking, Gen Z

Reflections From a (U.S.) Youth Researcher Abroad

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, May 22, 2014 @ 12:02 PM

Recently, our family spent spring break in Italy with two boys of our own, and two nephews allItaly under the age of six. While technically “off the clock,” I couldn’t help but bring my researchers’ eyes along for the ride. This is by no means a scientific study, but this fresh look at youth and this, admittedly, random collection of observations and reminders has left me with ideas and inspiration for the past few weeks. I hope they do the same for you!

  • The slides are steeper.  In the town where we stayed, the fountain at the piazza’s center was backed by a modern playground comprised of colorful slides, bridges and tunnels, and climb-able trucks and trains. By all accounts, this play space looked like it could have been in Chicago or New Jersey, or anywhere else in the world. Except for the slide. It was STEEP! As if our American-ness wasn’t already apparent in this off-the-beaten path town, the way we gawked at the tall yellow slide signaled that we were not from “around here.” But what insight can possibly be gleaned from the slope of a slide? Like so many European TV programs (if you ever have the chance, see the brilliant David Kleeman’s presentation on the big risks that children’s television takes in other markets around the world), risk looks a little different outside our borders. There was hardly glass on the ground, and no dangerous characters lingered by the swings, but this playground didn’t have signs signaling appropriate ages, and it had one heck of a drop from the top. The fun for kids from this whizzzzzzzz came from taking off, however tentatively, one’s cloak of nervousness to experience the joy and
    bravado that comes from tackling a phobia. More was at stake on this slide than on their safer American counterparts. Too bad for all the undercover superheroes in the U.S. just waiting for their chance to fly.
  • Play is a language. The highlight of our vacation, at least for me, came not from watching the sun set over a grove of olive trees (although that was nice) or a glass of vino with family (nice as well) but watching my six year old son negotiate a game of tag with a new friend. Beyond a “bon giorno” and a cautious “hello,” the two children had little to discuss. But they were able to gesture and smile their way through a fairly recognizable game of tag (with my son’s new Italian friend sometimes hugging instead of simply tagging!). It reminded me that play is a language all its own, and it travels. The impulse to play is something that adults sometimes try to manage, promote and steer, but the desire to connect in un-productive leisure represents something more powerful than many adults can understand or facilitate. Play pushes its way through barriers of all sorts, including language barriers, to become the language itself.
  • They have the same Legos everywhere. Globalization and consumer culture are weighty issues—and ones that marketers often view very differently than the many critics who consider the loss of local flavor (in addition to many other potentially deleterious effects). But there was something amazing about the way that characters and properties bond children across the globe. Beyond Cartoonito’s decidedly dark rendition of Heidi, many of the shows on Italian TV were familiar to our kids. This universal culture might have its downsides—and in the least, suggests we should treat these ubiquitous exports as sacred symbols—but it also serves to make children comfortable across strange lands. When my son saw his favorite Legos in the window of a toy store in downtown Chiavari, he was home.
  • “New” can be nice. It could be these specific kids, or it could be this cohort of youth, but the differences in pizza, ice cream, language, and environment and even in other people didn’t seem to faze our young travelers. The excitement came from the same sources it typically did—from really, really good gelato. Or a particularly challenging playground bridge. Or that steep slide. But without making a big deal about what was different, our kids seemed to think that most things were pretty much the same. Kids are shockingly adaptable if we allow them to be. For all the concern that modern parents face about fixing schedules and helping children adjust to new experiences, kids not only survive but often thrive when they must encounter and integrate the “new.” It goes without saying that this is where learning and growth live—not just for kids, but for adults as well.

Tags: toys, food, travel, kids, play, parents, Youth, TV, culture, youth media, speaking

What Makes Masterchef Junior a Masterpiece?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 20, 2013 @ 02:36 PM

Masterchef Jr.Now that it’s over, it seems the right time to reflect upon the first season of Masterchef Junior Fox’s reality competition show might seem like an unexpected winner to some, but we could have predicted its power. In our second issue of the YouthBeat TrendSpotter, we listed “Kid Cuisine” as a sign of the times. We know that this cohort of youth have grown up with a greater interest in food than any before them. They are exposed to more cuisines, groomed with more refined palettes, and are increasingly indoctrinated that quality matters much more than quantity.

Still, when we saw Masterchef Junior heavily promoted on our On Demand menus, we were skeptical. Right before Masterchef Junior first aired, Rachel Ray and Guy Fieri hosted young chefs for a special episode of their own reality show, Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off. The results were hardly appetizing. We love kids of all kinds, but these young chefs preened for the camera. They seemed skilled, for sure, but they didn’t seem comparable to adults (and before Masterchef Junior, would we have expected them to be?). These young reality chefs seemed too contrived for kids to care about, and yet not interesting enough to engage adults. We were left feeling like we’d been hooked by a gimmick, with kids dangled as the bait.

But, perhaps due to professional integrity more than authentic interest, we tuned in for Masterchef Junior. We were on the lookout for the typical kid-in-adult-context pitfalls. Would they be overly precocious? Think National Spelling Bee, which we love once a year, but in weekly doses! Being out-spelled by a 12 year old is one thing, but how many adults would tune in to be “food-shamed”? And on the flipside, we feared the cloyingly sweet children that sometimes appear in shows made for adults but about kids. But the third possibility was truly the most terrifying: Gordon Ramsey of a show called Hell’s Kitchen would be a judge.

The result: a pleasant surprise. So what made this morsel a meal that “tastes like more”?

  1. Humble Pie. Time Magazine writer, James Poniewozik, contributed his list of five reasons why Masterchef Junior worked to the pile of rave reviews from critics. We’d like to borrow one of his sentiments here. In a culture in which adults often steal and stay in the spotlight based on bad behavior (MasterChef, Real Housewives of Anywhere, NFL bullies), we have come to expect shows studded with bullies. But in Masterchef Junior, even Gordon Ramsey minds his manners. More than that – he’s nice. All three judges are. And, there’s nothing more entertaining than watching someone who is sour turn sweet. All three judges treat the contestants with more than professional respect – they treat them like their children.
  2. Taking the Cake. It’s not an easy task to create a show in which the coaches are kind, but the competition is still sharp. And that’s what happens here. These kids come to cook, and the stakes are high – $100,000 for the winner. Not to mention a trophy, and we know how kids love trophies! But in Masterchef Junior, the challenges are real and the strategizing significant. One player has a “target” on his back throughout the competition, yet his cast mates continue to support and comfort him when his cake comes out less ideal than planned. This kind of drama makes for great co-viewing, as parents and youth get caught up in the competition.
  3. Kids’ Cup of Tea. One of the reasons why watching a program that subjects kids and tweens to such intense competition is something we can bear is that it’s crystal clear that these kids love it. They are engaged in what psychologist Mihaly Czikscentmihalyi refers to as “flow”: (to paraphrase) the experience of being so thoroughly immersed in an activity or pursuit that you lose all track of time. The youth participating in Masterchef Junior are clearly not just there because mom and dad signed them up. They are invested and intrinsically motivated in a way that allows them (and us) to tolerate critiques – because they are committed to mastery and perfection. Because this passion is theirs, we want to see where they take it. Their enthusiasm for their work is contagious, and it’s one of the keys to Masterchef Junior’s success.
  4. Surviving Spilled Milk. Even these culinary wizards make mistakes. Alexander, the series star right from the onset, mistakes sugar for flour. Parents and other adults suddenly feel less inadequate. As in adult competition shows, even the best and the brightest miscalculate, overreach, overcomplicate or underestimate sometimes. But what makes it different watching these kids is that we know how hard it is, and how important it is to foster resilience in youth. It’s the difference between successful, healthy children and those who are not, according to most psychologists. Call it bounce-back, GRIT, or even “Fishful Thinking” (as the Goldfish brand has), but however you label it, you know it when you see it. These kids not only recover, but they do so with determination, tenacity, and grace. We love these “characters” not only because they can cook – but because they keep going when it gets hot in the kitchen.
  5. Eating their Hearts Out. Finally, in a culture in which the relationship between kids and food has often been demonized, this show suggests that there’s a new way to frame it. Sure, kids are often known to gain joy from “junk” food, to indulge in insufficient fuel, but Masterchef Junior considers another possibility – can kids learn to love and respect food? Certainly, not every kid will become a foodie (no more than every adult has). Many critics of the show noted an over-representation of kids from California and New York City among the cast. But this show also makes it possible that kids might care about food. Perhaps giving them a bit more credit and some skills in the kitchen could help them get more curious about foods of all types (even the healthy stuff).

When it comes to this kids’ competition show, we suggest indulging, but also incorporating the lessons learned into the brands, products and content that you serve up to youth.

Tags: food, menu, reality tv, TV, culture

Creating An A-Peeling Kid/Tween Promotion

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

While Despicable Me 2, which topped the box office for the past two weekends might be benefitting from family-movie-friendly weather across much of the country, we would be remiss if we ignored the true pull and power of the film: enter the Minions.Chiquit Banana

These golden-hued mischief-makers made a big impact on kids and tweens after the original film; with their silly speak, funny shapes and sizes and relatable role as “minions” (what kid doesn’t feel like a servant to an all powerful adult at least some of the time?).

So it’s no surprise that Despicable Me 2 earned over $250 million in promotional partnerships before the film’s release, just prior to Independence Day. Predictably, there’s a collection of cute Happy Meal Minions. Cheetos is running a “One-In-A-Minion” sweepstakes, and put Minions in a special edition of Cheetos “Mix-Ups.” Honey Nut Cheerios and Lucky Charms has gone old, school, offering a literal “prize inside” the box.

But the promotion that stands out to us comes from an unexpected source: Chiquita Banana. From our perspective, this might be the perfect partnership for kids. Here’s what we think brands can learn from Chiquita’s strategy and execution:

  1. Keep it simple!  Minions love bananas. This simple truth, told to viewers in the movie, makes infinite sense to (and we say this with affection) LITERAL kids! They are yellow. They look kind of like bananas. Therefore they love them. So they chose this URL: When it comes to kids promotions, don’t overthink it. Keep it simple, and kids will understand.
  2. Play AGAINST type. Bananas don’t exactly have a rebellious rap. They’re one of kids’ first foods. They’re easy eating. They don’t require utensils. And, of course, simple sweets like bananas get squeezed out as favorite snacks as kids turn to tweens, and certainly to teens. BUT, Minions bring a bit of edge to the bunch. Bananas have always had a humorous halo, and Chiquita reminds us that bananas can be as fun as they are fulfilling. So when choosing your promotional partner, don’t just consider what “fits” – think about your partner as a pathway to the place you’d really like to be.
  3. Own it. When it comes to kid and tween promotions, simply being associated with the right partner can be helpful. But Chiquita shows that promotions that matter make the most of any brand/partner association. Other brands include the Minions; Chiquita makes it hard not to think about bananas when you think of these little guys. Granted, Chiquita has a unique advantage in that they only have to own “bananas” – not differentiate themselves among a formidable category competitor. But Chiquita seems to claim these characters in a way that other Despicable Me 2 promotional partners have not.
  4. Package it. While all of the Despicable Me 2 partners include Minion imagery on their offerings, Chiquita takes the best advantage of the little bit of real estate they have. The brand went big, placing more than a half billion Despicable Me 2 stickers on the front of these fruits. The variation gives kids a chance to literally pick their favorite, and makes a healthy option even more a-peeling for moms.
  5. Follow-through. Chiquita’s site offers games, kid recipes and even a chance to win a trip to Hawaii – all great ways to extend the life of this association online. But the games on the site – “Minion Memory” and a “Minion Maker” feel younger than the presumed target for this promotion (which, remember, involves a PG –rated film). The site lets you vote for your favorite Minion model, which includes a Minion wearing a hula skirt. These Hawaiian themes Minions win among voters in almost every case, yet the “Minion Maker” doesn’t give you options to create a luau-looking Minion. And finally, the kid recipes don’t connect to the Minions theme – a missed opportunity for both kids and tweens, as well as for moms. To take advantage of a strong strategy, make sure your execution matches developmental level with look and feel and game play with age group.

Have you seen a smart strategic partnership in the past year? Tell us about it!

Tags: advertisment, food, movie, youth media

Picky Eating and Parenting Wars

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 @ 03:37 PM

Kids ResearchIn Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic brings together hard data on the way we taste to challenge one of many measuring sticks that she claims parents use to compare how well they’ve done at raising respectable, reasonable rugrats. A self-proclaimed picky eater, Lucianovic resists the notion that kids don’t eat whatever is on their plate because of their parents prep (or lack thereof). Instead, she suggests that proclaiming one’s own child to be a good eater is just one more front in the mommy and daddy wars. In a New York Times blog, she points to this politicization of parenting’s predecessors: breastfeeding battles, sleep-habit superiority, and the stay-at-home mom hostility, just to name a few. And she asks, what if being a picky eater has nothing to do with bad parenting, as your friend, whose child eats everything might imply?

Lucianovic seems to pick a side in the parenting wars versus truly catalyzing a truce (which she claims to be her goal). But wherever you stand on the nurture/nature continuum, it’s hard not to see that Lucianovic has identified an insight about parents and parenting today. Whether the subject is sending a kid with a fall birthday to kindergarten at 4 or at 5 (see the 60 Minutes piece from this past weekend entitled “Redshirting:  Holding Kids Back from Kindergarten”), or the ideal age for cell phone acquisition, today’s parents’ decisions might be based on what’s right for their child, but whether they’re concerned about it or not, are likely to face the scrutiny of others. Thus, whether their child’s choice of afternoon snack seems like a big deal to them or not, the amplification of advice from all aspects of the expert universe might make them place more importance on the specific ways they scaffold their children than they might naturally do.

So how can brands and organizations navigate the new obstacles that their parent purchasers or influencers face?

  • First, don’t assume that all parents are on the same side of issues – regardless of the demographic markers they might share. Although issues like holding back kids from kindergarten may be one that is on the radar of middle and upper income families more than lower income families, don’t assume they all fall out on the same side.
  • Look for ways to solve the problems that many moms and dads face, but don’t pile on the judgment that they’re likely to be feeling already.
  • Finally, don’t assume that parenting decisions are “set” early and remain the same. Today’s parents are constantly confronted with new information and changing contexts in which to evaluate them. What worked today (or what worked for one child) might not work for another.

Tags: youth research, food, menu, family, culture

Will MyPlate matter to kids, tweens and teens?

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Jun 08, 2011 @ 10:21 AM
Last week, the USDA announced that the food pyramid, which many of us grew up with in the form of classroom posters, text book illustrations and as a heuristic for what it means to eat a healthy diet, would be no more. In its place: MyPlate, a new visual that reflects a revised philosophy on the American diet (or at least catches up with the one professed by today's nutritionists). In an effort to make the visual more actionable than esoteric, it's now taken the shape of a plate (as the name suggests), and clearly shows that vegetables and fruit take up half the real estate of a healthy saucer.  Dairy is shown as a side, with a small circle just large enough to fit a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk. And the color coded "slices" on the plate (which call to mind, unfortunately, pie slices!) allude to appropriate portion sizes for all categories. MyPlate

But will this change matter to the eating habits of kids, tweens and teens? First, it's important to note that no one on any side of the debate as (at least so far) suggested that graphics are the solution to childhood obesity. Michelle Obama's efforts related to health, which may have catalyzed the long-time intentions of nutritionists and the USDA to change the ailing pyramid into action, include an active lifestyle along with smart eating. Most nutritionists agree that education is a critical pillar in promoting healthy eating, but this exists alongside efforts to make healthy food less expensive and more accessible to people everywhere. And, of course, no one associated with this effort is naive enough to believe that just telling people how to eat healthy will change deep-seeded behaviors and relationships related to eating. It might seem easy enough to change the food we put into our mouths, but eating seems to relate to our heads and hearts as much as our stomachs.

More importantly, will this dinner plate change the minds of youth or their parent when it comes to eating? Will it make mealtime decisions easier or just as frustrating as before? It may be too soon to tell. On one hand, any visual that bring theory down to practice seem to be moving in the right direction. But according to the USDA website, MyPlate will include special considerations for key groups (women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people engaged in a medically supervised weight loss program, and kids and preschoolers). The kids section and visual has not yet been updated. The massive PR campaign promised to promote the changes in the recommended diet has not yet launched, but the new visual has gotten some buzz. And parents or curious kids who have heard about it might be disappointed to find that their food fate has not yet been determined, even though they have been invoked as the primary reason for re-thinking how we talk about healthy eating.

Assuming that the visual might be pretty close to MyPlate's shape and form, we see a few outages...First, most parents know that they need to get more fruit and veggies on their kids' plates. We have yet to meet a parent who tells us a really "wrong" answer when it comes to the importance of these foundational ingredients to their children's eating repertoire. It's not a problem with the theory, it's the execution that presents a challenge. Second, the dinner plate is hardly the source of greatest contention when it comes to kids' eating. It's the lunch bag/box, the after school snack and the on-the-go options that make sticking to their principles harder than it would seem. And finally, it's not about the big picture - as useful as that big picture might be - as much as it's about the details. Do fruit juices with veggies included work? is a PB and J sandwich still a good lunch box staple?  Is there such a thing as a better-for-you fruit snack? And how about the perennial debate: does chocolate milk work if white milk doesn't fly in the home? And what about a visual that shows how mom can stock her backseat with healthy snacks - and an indication of how to count those snacks in the daily diet of their kids? Anyone? Parents might want to make these decisions in their own home, and might resent prescriptives that feel too black and white. But they also might welcome some sound advice that takes into consideration their real-life knowledge gaps and their kid cooking challenges.

To end on a positive note, the introduction of a new tool will certainly raise some debate. It will put children's health and nutrition back at the center of public dialogue. And in schools, teachers will be able to point to a more relevant and accurate, if not perfect, tool to tell children about the basics of nutrition. And companies and organizations will, hopefully, be inspired to innovate (although many have already been working on ways to make getting your veggies and fruits more conveniently and consistently).

Tags: food, parents, Youth, kids tweens teens

Kids and Healthy Eating: What Are We Really Worried About?

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 @ 09:54 AM

In the past few months, kids and healthy eating once again entered the public discourse…First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, her effort to fight childhood obesity, and more accurately, to “raise a healthier generation of American kids.” Sarah Palin responded by asserting that parents have the right to give their kids desserts…Republicans, Chris Christie (New Jersey’s controversial governor), and possible presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, surprised many with public statements supporting Mrs. Obama, citing their own childhood struggles with weight as the reasons. In 2010, food companies continued to shy away from advertising their products to children, with many adopting higher internal standards than external standards would require. California banned toys in children’s fast food meals, while an Arizona House committee recently passed a bill banning cities or counties from restricting toys in similar meals.

Debates over how to feed children – and who has permission to police what children eat – are nothing new. For parents, the meals and snacks that their children eat have always been seen as symbolic of their style of nurturing. Experts of all kind have fed parents sometimes conflicting information about the right approach to not only nourishing kids’ bodies, but crafting their habits. How one’s child dines is seen as being about more than what kids put in their mouths. It’s also understood to be a reflection of what the adults in their lives have put in their heads.

Children’s eating rests at the uncomfortable juxtaposition between the right to raise one’s family with freedom and the constant conversation on family values that has entered the political sphere. It raises questions about whether parenting belongs in the public or the private sphere. And it makes all of us wonder what role parents are required to and even permitted to play in the decisions about raising their children.

But perhaps in this debate, one important voice has been lost: kids’. Most kids we speak to understand that eating healthy matters, even if their definitions of “health” and their understanding of the food that qualify as healthy differ. Many acknowledge that it’s hard to eat healthy, at least some of the time. But most kids also recognize that they have some control in how they eat.  The content of kids’ cupboards might differ significantly across socio-economic lines, and school lunches (despite minimum standards in public schools) made available to them differ significantly in terms of food quality and appeal (even within the same geographic area). So while adults continue to focus on the politics of healthy eating, kids are increasingly seeking to reconcile what they learn in school, from parents and even on TV with the everyday choices they make about their meals, but mostly, about their snacks.

So what does this mean for marketers? Look for ways to make healthy eating easier for kids – more choices, better taste profiles and more convenient offerings. Speak TO them, not just ABOUT them, and let them decide. And finally, beware of being one more voice talking only to parents about this issue. At some point, parents will tune out…But kids are increasingly tuned in to health, and might even give healthier options a try all on their own.        

Tags: advertisment, food, Youth, kids tweens teens

Huge Tackles the Biggest Issues for Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jun 29, 2010 @ 05:04 PM

Last night, ABC Family debuted Huge, the latest teen tale from the producers/creators of Gossip Girl and from the writers behind My So Called Life. Defying an important convention of the teen genre, the show doesn’t feature prom queens and rich girls – it features teens who are sent to “fat camp” by parents who fear for their kids’ health (and if the characters’ confessions are to be believed, are ashamed of their unsuccessful children).Huge

But will tweens and teens make Huge a hit the size of its name? It’s a little too soon to tell. While Huge might feature an unexpected cast, it does deal with the hierarchies that inevitably develop when teens congregate. In this case, the skinniest girl is crowned queen bee in the first few minutes of the series. The show promises love triangles, power struggles and underdogs who get their shot. And, with Nikki Blonski of Hairspray fame playing the central role of Willamina (“Will”), we might see some singing.

And whether or not the show stands out among summer shows, it’s sure to spark debate and hopefully, dialogue, about its central theme. We think body issues and weight are in the Zeitgeist more than they have been in a while. For as long as this latest cohort of kids has been in school, we’ve been encouraging them to be healthier. But while we agree that childhood obesity is one of the most pressing public health issues in a decade, we also wonder if we haven’t inadvertently exacerbated the anxiety that tweens and teens already feel about their appearance.

Tweens’ and teens’ concern – or rather, obsession – with their body might not be news,  but the latest numbers from YouthBeat show just how hard it is to embrace Huge’s  mantra: love thy body. While 51% of elementary school kids agree that they are “happy with the way they look,” this number drops to 30% for middle schoolers and to 18% for high schoolers. And the number one and number two things that kids, tweens and teens want to change about themselves are “my weight” and “my appearance.”

So is Huge sending youth mixed messages? Love how you look, but go to our website for healthy snack recipes. Aspire to be Will, who rebels against a camp counselor and her parents who she describes as “demanding that she hates her body.” Laugh and cheer as Will becomes the camp cupcake “dealer,” but share in her regret when her cabin-mate gets sent home for Bulimia.

What I love about the series, at least based on the first episode, is that the show not only allows, but assumes that this issue is more complex than it seems. In an almost dizzying way, you’re set up to despise Amber, the girl who seems to be there to lose just a few pounds, but you’re ultimately drawn to her struggle to really diet and really gain control over her eating. You’re asked to side with Will as she displays her bod in a striptease (down to her bathing suit – this is ABC Family!), but you’re confronted with her admission of vulnerability and shame. Beyond building awareness of the feelings that kids who are struggling with obesity experience, the show seems to send a message that feels true and simple: what tweens and teens of all shapes and sizes really need is support.

Tags: food, kids, Huge, mom, family, Youth, Teens, beverage, ABC Family, TV, tweens

Fickle or Foodie: What is – and Should Be – the Future of Kid Food?

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 @ 04:49 PM
In a recent NY Times article by Susan Domus, Looking Past the Children's Menu, New York restaurateur Nicola Marzovilla asserts his belief that kids have the same right to couture cuisine as their parents - and that children's menus, with their cheaper, less interesting fare should be banished.

Marzovilla's rant is less about curmudgeonry and more about culture. If we acknowledge that food is more than just fuel, but rather symbolic - sustenance for the soul - than we have to agree with him. Steering kids towards chicken fingers, hamburgers and grilled cheese (regardless of the genre of food featured at the restaurant), the logic would go, not only deprives them of exploring taste, but also takes away their chance to experience different cultures. And for kids, tweens and teens today, it seems that knowing how to handle a menu is a necessary skill. (54% of elementary school aged kids buy lunch at school.)

Furthermore, this article made us ask: should we be catering (no pun intended) to our kids' in-progress taste buds, or should we be pushing them towards more sophisticated fare?

Many parents we talk to extol the virtues of having kids try new things, but our YouthBeat survey results show that kids continue to eat the basics over more complicated foods. While we've heard more than one city kid request a Dragon Roll or choose a spot that features Chicken Tikka Masala over chicken nuggets, only 1% of kids, 2% of tweens and 2% of teens in our survey reported eating sushi in the previous day. Compare this to 51% of kids (1st through 5th graders) eating cereal, 27% eating white bread and 21% eating apple sauce and it's clear that kids across the country aren't quite keeping up with their city counterparts. 

But as many parents know, and most marketers have found, sometimes it's just easier to give kids what they want. In fact, some of the biggest brands in the food category have built their business oKids Menun the notion that kids, tweens and teens can and should have food that they want - food that's developed with their needs in mind. Nutritionists might argue that this recipe could lead to disaster, but we can also point to categories in which healthy foods became kid staples with a little help from licensed characters and from simplifying adult styles (think classic example, yogurt to GoGurt). And more and more restaurants are making moms and dads happy by taking into account the needs of the whole family. Credit McDonald's with kick-starting this trend by offering mom a bonus salad for taking the troupe to PlayPlace.

And more restaurants (even in foodie feeding grounds like Brooklyn!) are taking a turn towards getting the littlest diners to lick their lips. And we think this is smart business - more and more parents report that they go out to eat because it's "fun for the whole family" (41% of parents of elementary school kids, and the number one reason, according to YouthBeat data), not to teach a lesson. Today's parents are likely to tote their toddlers along to adult restaurants rather than leaving them at home with take-out and a sitter. Shouldn't we make the experience easier for them, and more in line with how today's togetherness-focused families really dine?

We think the truth and the future probably lie somewhere in the middle. Getting kids to test exotic foods can be an uphill climb - and a battle that parents will probably resist. At the same time, challenging kids (and marketers!) to take a chance on new tastes might make meals a bit more interesting for kids, tweens and teens, and might make the job of food innovators and menu maestros a bit more fun! And perhaps families will find ways to bond over shared food as much as shared interests. Or in the least, food won't stand in the way of families dining the way they want to: less fine dining and more just feeling fine.

Tags: food, kids, parents, mom, menu, restaurant, tweens, money

A Different Sort of Beverage Battle

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 @ 11:30 AM
"Beverage wars" used to involve taste tests - not taxes. But recently, traditional foes have turned friendly, with Pepsi, Coke, and Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group joining forces in ads that tout their voluntary departure from schools - just as the debate over a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is raging in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other cities. 


Most opponents argue that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will rub salt in the wounds of families who are already feeling their pocketbooks pinched. And because there's no way to ensure that retailers will pass the tax along to consumers (and there's little preventing them from distributing the tax across all beverages versus penalizing customers who consume sugar-sweetened beverages), many argue that the tax's public health benefits are not guaranteed.

When it comes to this issue, many politicians find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Many concede that the over-consumption of sugary drinks is at least one contributing factor to many of the weight-related ills that plague today's youth. But many worry that this tax will hurt small business owners - particularly in low income neighborhoods.

Politics aside, it seems that the POV of real kids and families has been largely left on the sidelines...And while we haven't asked them directly about this issue, we do know a few facts that could provide clues to how they're feeling about this issue.

Our YouthBeat data confirms that kids, tweens and teens consume he tax-targeted beverages in significant quantities.

  • When asked what beverages they drank yesterday, 23% of kids, 37% of tweens, and 39% of teens drank soft drinks; 21% of kids, 18% of tweens, and 14% of teens drank fruit drink.
  • And 37% of kids, 40% of tweens and 41% of teens find out about new drinks while in store - which could mean that an increase in price (experienced most at point of purchase) could make them think twice.

We also know that many kids, tweens and teens are spending their own money, and thus, choosing their own drinks. But teens spend the most, and thus the tax could have the greatest impact on them:

  • A full third of teens spent their own money on beverages in the past week. While only 22% of tweens did the same, this represents a significant increase from kids (9%).
  • Almost 40% of tweens and teens (35% and 37% respectively) have shopped in convenience stores in the past month (where we know individual size beverages are frequent purchases).
  • But we also know that teens are not so price sensitive, with most getting money from their parents. Will a price increase of 25 cents or even slightly more really shift their purchase patterns?

And many parents are actively trying to limit the consumption of sugary beverages among their children - and it's reasonable to think that they might look favorably on a tax that purports to help.

  • 59% of parents try to limit their kids from drinking soda.
  • Controlling the sugar in their children's diets is definitely on moms' and dads' minds, with 27% of parents of kids, 25% of tweens and 11% of teens say they are concerned about sugar intake or products that contain too much sugar.
  • The beverages that their children ask them to buy most often would be affected by the tax, with Capri Sun, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola products topping the list.

Regardless of what happens, we expect that manufacturers will continue to push back on the tax - but push the limits of innovation at the same time. Look for more offerings and sub-category growth (among teas, for example) that appeal to kids, tweens and teens while keeping conscious of growing health concerns from parents and politicians. And parents are about to be pushed to put their money where their mouth - or their children's mouths - are!

Tags: research, food, kids, parents, Youth, Teens, beverage, tweens