How Kids Affect Food and Beverage Buying Decisions

Parents are busier than ever these days. As many households shift to dual-income earners, parents are sharing household responsibilities more than ever. As a parent myself, I can say while convenience and nutrition are both really important, those go out the window if my child won’t eat it. In that sense, kids have a huge impact on purchase decisions.

Childhood Eating Challenges

Groceries are a major slice of the household budget. Parents are challenged to make food and beverage purchases that are healthy, which can mean costly (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables), balanced with items that satisfy their children’s finicky palates. And with busy family lifestyles filled with children’s activities and full-time work schedules, convenience often drives the eating behavior of a household with kids, but many of those foods are higher in sugar, fat and calories. Data shows parents struggle daily to provide healthy food choices:

  • Kids’ taste preferences take precedence over healthy items when it comes to food and beverage purchases. According to a 2016 report from the FMI and Rodale, 95% of the purchases are influenced by taste, 91% by health.
  • A 2017 poll conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan revealed 1 in 5 parents don’t think it is important to limit junk food and fast food in their child’s diet. More importantly, only 1 in 6 parents believe their child’s diet is very healthy.
  • Package Facts reported that 26% of parents learn about a new product as a request from their child. However, 55% of parents surveyed indicated it is important for children to follow their example (values) when it comes to eating healthy; 46% of the respondents purchase products for their nutritional content.

An emerging mega trend impacting the food and beverage market is the generational influence of Millennials. Consumer research indicates 45% of Millennials with kids shop with a shopping list compared to Millennials without kids at 36%.  However, shopping with kids presents a challenge; 31% of the respondents regularly bring their kids along, but only 27% stick to their list compared to 40% who shop solo. The study by GenerationWhy further highlighted how some Millennials who utilize lists when grocery shopping, recognize the opportunity to engage their children about healthy eating/nutrition as an approach to instill their future food choices.

The K-12 Influence

School also provides an important environment to develop eating habits. First Lady Michelle Obama made major strides to improve nutrition in schools, but the current administration rolled back some of the standards she championed.  Regardless, the school foodservice landscape has progressed in the past few years to offer more nutritional foods and education.  Some districts are providing farm-to-table items, plant-based foods, heathy all-day breakfast items and DIY salad bars.  As a result, children are being exposed to numerous food-away-from-home options to further broaden their food preferences and eating behavior.

Teenagers – Food on the Brain

A new study by Farm Rich of 2,000 families revealed teenagers spend 945 hours, or approximately 39 days, thinking about food from the age of 13 to 19.  The study (7 out of 10) indicates their parents are their biggest source of food knowledge, while 46 percent gain inspiration from watching food shows. Facebook and YouTube were the top two social media platforms for their online inspiration; 27% and 21% respectively.

The research indicated that while 90 percent of teens enjoy their mealtime, 52% indicated the food served doesn’t always suit their tastes or dietary lifestyles. More than a quarter of teens (28 percent) are experimenting with new diets including low carb, low-fat and vegetarian. The food-obsessed teens are also very vocal – 45 percent of the parents surveyed indicated their children weigh in often on what mealtime should look like. In fact, OnePoll research indicated 30 percent of the weekly grocery bill is driven by teens’ preferences and eating behaviors.

Clearly we live in a child-centric world where parents are highly influenced by their children when purchasing food and beverages. As marketers, we have to look beyond the primary shopper and target messages to the whole home.