Currently in excess of $27 billion, the total food and beverage market for kids has grown at a compound annual rate of 3.4 percent since 1998. Beverages, savory snacks and desserts/sweet snacks have posted the strongest growth rates, according to Packaged Facts, New York. The Natural Marketing Institute reports health and wellness industry sales in 2004 totaled $68 billion. The intersection of these two lucrative markets makes healthy foods for children a ripe opportunity for food manufacturers to cash in on through product development and marketing.
Meeting children’s nutritional needs is vital for healthy development because childhood is a period of marked bursts of rapid growth that lay the groundwork for a lifetime. For example, protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, along with vitamins C, D and K, are essential for peak bone density during these years to minimize osteoporosis risk later on.
Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids – docosahexaenoic and arachadonic – are needed for the brain and nervous system early in life. Along with crucial contributions to physical development, good nourishment promotes alertness and concentration for better school performance and helps stabilize behavior.
Beyond the basic necessities of nutrition, there is an unprecedented prevalence of overweight status among today’s youth – the level has more than doubled in the last two decades to 18 percent. This is now considered one of the top health concerns of our nation.
|These fruit crisps from Brothers All-Natural are made from fresh fruit with no added sweeteners, colors or flavors. Products like this are ideal for school vending machines.
Many health experts believe excess weight during childhood tends to lead to extra pounds during adulthood. Obesity-related health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are growing among even young children. For food manufacturers, along with adequate nutrients, the right balance of controlled amounts of calories, and what ingredients make up those calories, becomes as important as adequate nutrition.
From Little Acorns
Several factors feed into why children’s diets need improvement. The Chicago-based research firm Mintel International identifies a lack of portion control and the absence of regulated family eating schedules as key. Packaged Facts findings show a shift from main meals to multiple snacks is a part of the problem, too. But this means both challenges and opportunities for food companies.
The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., reports that while most parents believe they have "adequate" control over their children's health and wellness inside the home environment, outside of it – such as in schools, restaurants, after-school or day care programs – the parents feel they have little control and are worried and frustrated by the limited array of choices available to their children.
The London-based Centre for Food & Health Studies (www.new-nutrition.com), in its “Five Key Trends in Kids’ Nutrition 2006” report, predicts a shift to “good” and “bad” foods rather than “good” and “bad” diets. The report explores the positive role of omega-3, fiber and probiotics.
Natural, allergen-free foods also are identified as a strong and profitable trend for the future. “We have seen a confirmed shift in companies taking serious initiatives to combat issues in kids’ nutrition. Those companies that do not run with this trend now will only find themselves forced into it by competition and/or regulation within the coming years,” says Julian Mellentin, executive director and author of the report.
Packaged Facts concludes marketers can address these issues with educational efforts; innovative, tasty products with beneficial nutrients and convenient options that address the eating preferences of American children.
Multisectoral, integrated efforts and initiatives are essential for achieving healthful children’s diets, according to The National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The academy asserts that this includes industry leadership. In Food Marketing to Children and Youth, the NAS recommends manufacturers (and restaurants) shift product portfolios in a direction that promotes new and reformulated “child- and youth-oriented” foods and beverages. They encourage said reformulations to be substantially lower in total calories, fat, salt and added sugars and higher in nutrients.
A recent national study conducted by New York-based Find/SVP Inc. reveals food retailers and manufacturers are increasingly becoming trusted advisors on nutrition, health and cooking information for today’s consumers.
Kid Friendly, Kid Trendy
Among the major companies piloting new initiatives consistent with such recommendations, the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI) – the nutrition research and educational foundation established by Dole Food Co. – has announced a new "School Salad Days" program. Designed to support healthy eating habits and promote daily fruit and vegetable consumption in California public schools, it is to be launched with the donation of 50 full-service portable salad bars to California K-12 schools this year.
DNI also plans to endorse fruit baskets to be sold as fund-raising alternatives and will help schools plant on-site "edible” gardens. "By increasing access to fruits and vegetables and teaching the importance of nutrition, we hope to be part of the solution to the epidemic of childhood obesity in California," states DNI director Jennifer Grossman.