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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Nestlé U.S.A. (, 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 (, Eden Prairie, Minn., rolled out Fit Kids, a flavored, instant fortified oatmeal. Nature’s Path Foods Inc. (, 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. (, 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. (, 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. (, 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 (, 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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