Food and Beverage Market for Kids Growing Like a Weed

By 2007, sales of kids’ foods and beverages could reach as high as $38 billion or more.

By Lauren Swann, R.D.

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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.

Brothers All-Natural Strawberry-Banana Crisps
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.

Nestlé U.S.A. (www.nestleusa.com), Glendale, Calif., also strives to be a part of the solution. Its Nesquik Ready-to-Drink milk was reformulated from whole to 1 percent fat exclusively for school vending machines. At the retail level, the product switched from whole to 2 percent milk for a 38 percent fat and 13 percent calorie reduction, while still maintaining 40 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium and 8g of protein per 8-oz. serving.

Other manufacturers are also stepping up. According to a survey of Grocery Manufacturers Assn. members, more than half are making changes to package sizes to include single-serve and kid-friendly sizes. The goal is to help consumers manage caloric intake.

Cheetah Chomps cereal
Cheetah Chomps is an organic cereal made for children.

Another big trend in the marketplace involves natural and organic products for kids. Concerned about the possible effects of pesticides, GMOs, trans fats and artificial ingredients on smaller bodies, parents are choosing certified organic baby foods, mac 'n cheese, milk and more.

Capitalizing on this trend, Country Choice Organic (www.countrychoicenaturals.com), Eden Prairie, Minn., rolled out Fit Kids, a flavored, instant fortified oatmeal. Nature’s Path Foods Inc. (www.naturespath.com), Richmond, British Columbia, created Family EnviroKidz organic alternatives breakfast cereals specifically for children. New to the line is Cheetah Chomps, made with whole-grain oats and fortified with calcium, vitamin D and iron. The company also makes Crispy Rice Bars, a whole-grain brown rice snack bar that is and gluten-free, low in fat and contains no saturated or hydrogenated fats.

Snack Attack

Clif Bar Inc. (www.clifbar.com), Berkeley, Calif., recently released its Organic Zbar, the first kids' snack to comply with SB-19, California's Senate Bill limiting fat and sugar in foods offered within the state's school system. The whole-grain bar has a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fiber suitable for children and contains organic chocolate chips and a light drizzle of organic chocolate. Each bar is fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals and has no trans fats or high-fructose corn syrup.

Children consume snack foods more often than adults and studies indicate snacks contribute nearly a quarter of a child’s daily energy intake. But kids also eat fresh fruit more often than any other snack-oriented food, according to the NPD Group. In fact, fruit is the top snack consumed by children between ages 2 and 12.

To make the most of this, Fortitech Inc. (www.fortitech.com), Schenectady, N.Y., offers several healthy premix applications. “Vitamin C- and calcium-fortified apples, conveniently sliced and individually-wrapped, are perfect for lunches or on-the-go snacking. The added ascorbic acid inhibits the typical browning effect, the fruit looks and tastes great – all the while providing key nutritional value,” notes Mark Fanion, Fortitech communications manager.

Freeze-dried fruit crisps made by Brothers-All-Natural Inc. (www.brothersinternational.com), Batavia, N.Y., are another trendy fruit snack for kids. Described as “real sliced fruit without the mess,” the crisps are 100 percent premium fresh fruit with no added sweeteners, colors or flavors. Each packet provides two servings of fruit. “Crisp, flavorful fruit and nutrients with a year-long shelf life fit the profile of every state wellness program and are approved for school lunch lines and vending machines,” says Travis Betters, CEO.

Rolling in the Aisles

Directly controlling an estimated $10 billion in food and beverage spending, today’s youth also influence some 78 percent of total grocery purchases. Four of the top 10 items that children say they can buy without parental permission are either foods or beverages, according to the NAS report.

“This group influences $120 billion in family spending. While their spending is high, the significant power lies in their influence over their family and friends,” says Andrea Ramirez, business development marketing liaison for R. Torre & Co., makers of Torani naturally flavored syrups, sauces and purees for drinks.

The Hartman Group’s “Children's Wellness 2006” study finds that around age 10, children start making their own choices – and often purchases – of health and wellness products. They also play an increasingly significant role in household attitudes and behaviors. Exposure to information distributed within schools and in the media sometimes makes them more aware, informed and involved than their parents.

The Marketing Equation

The NAS reports that companies spent an estimated $10 billion on marketing foods, beverages and meals to U.S. children in 2004 which, along with many other intersecting factors, influences their diet and health prospects. Because dietary preferences and eating patterns develop early in life and set the stage for an individual's long-term health prospects, the committee contends that significant changes are needed to reshape children's awareness of healthy dietary choices says.

After testing various approaches to improving students’ food choices in a dozen Illinois schools, Action for Healthy Kids, a national, non-profit public-private partnership created to address the overweight, undernourished youth epidemic in response to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action, disclosed the following:

  • Tastings and promotions get attention.
      Widespread sustained promotion of new products in the form of posters, pamphlets, videos and/or audio announcements at school, cafeteria taste-tests, games, contests, giveaways and “grand openings” are more likely to encourage students to try new foods.


  • Packaging counts.
      Healthier options in appealing, fun packaging are more acceptable and fashionable.


  • Price advantages help.
    Introducing healthy options at a lower price – at least initially – encourages trial and purchase.

Addressing attendees at the 2006 Food & Drug Law Institute’s Best Practices for Food Marketing conference in February, Michael McGinnis, M.D., chair of the Institute of Medicine committee, declared, “Food companies need to shift prevailing patterns toward better products, pricing, placement and promotion.” For example, although the IOM found it positive for companies to use symbolic nutrition or healthy food icons on packages, different companies coming up with their own makes for disparate and inconsistent results. Harmonization is needed.

The IOM also addressed the current controversy over marketing to children. It was suggested that the use of popular licensed characters only be applied to foods that contribute to healthful diets.

Louise Ellingsworth, partner at Bryan Cave LLP (www.bryancave.com), St. Louis, believes by industry taking a proactive focus processors also have a better chance to protect themselves from litigation. “The food industry is presented with an opportunity ahead of the curve, before a wave of lawsuits, and can do everything and anything they want now – while they are not pigeonholed and there are no congressional mandates.”


Feeding Programs for Kids Requirements Now in Place

Participants in the National School Lunch Program must have local wellness policies, as mandated by the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act of 2004. That includes nutrition guidelines for all foods available on a campus by July 1 of this year. Similar initiatives are gaining momentum: In April, legislation was introduced in Congress calling on the USDA to update its current nutrition standards for all food and drink sold on school grounds.

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