Are You Communicating with Teens?

They're numerous, cool and impressionable. They already spend millions. In a decade or so, they’ll be your primary market. Are you talking teens' language?

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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To teens, being healthy means looking good (being in shape) (61 percent) and not gaining weight (38 percent). Feeling good, including having energy, and eating a healthy, balanced diet are important attributes to teens making food consumption decisions. It's notable they categorize what they're eating into "junk food" or "healthy food," with healthy food that doesn't sacrifice taste being the optimal choice. But almost half of respondents think healthy foods are too expensive, and 45 percent (more females than males) say there aren't enough healthy snack options. On the other hand, nearly one-third think food and beverages companies do a good job producing new products that meet current health needs and trends.

Well aware of new product offerings, nearly two-thirds tried a new snack, food or beverage in the past year, and younger teens are even more amenable (75 percent). Why? Because it looked appetizing (77 percent), curiosity (68 percent), new flavor (62 percent) or it appeared to be convenient or easy to prepare and eat (61 percent). Males are more influenced by packaging and advertising, while females seek fewer calories and sugar-free/lower carb content.

Attributes most appealing to teens include: fresh, convenient, added nutrients including vitamins and calcium. Products that remove ingredients (reduced salt, sugar and carbs) are less appealing. One in five seeks products with no caffeine, with extra caffeine, and vegetarian or vegan fare.

One-quarter of all teens skip breakfast (higher for females and African-Americans) because they don't have time. On-the-go products are most desirable; in fact, one of the opportunities for processors is on-the-go breakfast foods. Teens consume nearly three snacks per day. African-American teens are most likely to skip a meal and struggle to eat healthily. It's notable only 6 percent cite energy/meal replacement bars as a frequent snack. There's a lot of interest, but they say product offerings often fall short of expectations.

Attributing it to media images, some 80 percent of teens believe there is a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Despite weight pressures, 60 percent say they do not follow any diet plans at all, although portion control is important. For those who do follow a diet plan, 35 percent do the Atkins diet, followed by an individual plan designed by a nutritionist (18 percent) and Slim-Fast diet (18 percent).

Less than 40 percent are happy with their weight, and food products that ease that concern are alluring to them. Females, more concerned about their weight, look for foods low in calories and fat, while males are more concerned about foods' performance and strength-enhancing properties, so they seek products with higher protein levels. Hispanic teens are more concerned about weight than non-Hispanic teenagers and are more likely to be motivated by healthier versions of traditional "homemade" foods.

Quenching their thirst

New products in the beverage category particularly resonate with teens. "Teens are diverse in their beverage tastes, and are very open to trying new products," observes Gary Hemphill, senior vice president information services, Beverage Marketing Corp. of New York ( "Bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and energy drinks rank among their favorites. Portability is important to them, as is health."

Teens drink more bottled water than any other beverage (61 percent), followed by fruit juice-based products, milk and sports drinks and energy sodas. Cola drinks are consumed by 44 percent, but females prefer the diet version. Cola drinkers say taste is the No. 1 attribute (59 percent) rather than caffeine content (17 percent).

Communicating with Teens article: Hansen Natural's energy drink line
Hansen Natural Corp. has demonstrated a knack for coming up with products, such as its line of energy drinks, that appeal to both teens and adults.

Yes, females love to tote their fashionable waters, including Aquafina and Dasani. Males are enamored of sports waters, such as Gatorade, and energy and alternative drinks, such as SoBe's Adrenaline Rush. Hansen Natural Corp., Corona, Calif., is masterful at creating cool products, such as Monster Energy, launched in April 2002 and now the leading 16-oz. energy drink in the U.S. and No. 2 brand overall with a 19.4 percent share. Hansen also makes Lost Energy, the No. 8 brand, and newcomer Rumba, a 100 percent juice drink with taurine, ginseng, glucose, guarana, B vitamins and caffeine.

Alternative beverages also are big biz for companies appealing to teens. Peter van Stolk, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Jones Soda, which creates an emotional connection with consumers, says, "People get fired up about Jones Soda because it's theirs." The company appeals to the 14-24-year-old demographic with its energy drink WhoopAss, through extreme sports and blogs on its web site ( Jones lets its young customers decide what new flavors they want and to vote on consumer pictures that appear on the labels of its retro bottles.

One of the fastest growing beverages for teens is coffee whatever … to give them an energy boost and help them stay awake in class. It's not unusual to see teens lined up at a Starbucks for their favorite drink, Frappuccino, which lacks the bitterness of espresso or regular coffee and has a halo of whipped cream. And Starbucks partnership with PepsiCo to produce bottled Starbucks Frappuccino and Doubleshot for retail has been a tremendous success.

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