Cargill Study Examines Family Purchasing Dynamics & Healthy Choices — Let Them ‘Seek’ Produce!

A proprietary Cargill survey of more than 1,000 consumers investigated parents’ attitudes and drivers of food and beverage purchases for their children. Key findings of the Cargill Gatekeeper Purchase Drivers Study included:

• Parents are more likely to seek foods and beverages that appeal to the whole family rather than products and meals that are just for kids.

• Parents are unsatisfied with the healthfulness of current options across key categories of foods and beverages popular with kids.

• Parents tend to seek positive attributes such as whole grains and fiber rather than avoiding the things they perceive to be unhealthy, such as fat, sugar, and sodium.

“We know it’s important to meet the nutrition and budget expectations of parents, while also satisfying kids on the taste dimension,” said DeeAnn Roullier, marketing research manager, Cargill, Minneapolis, MN. “Our research provides a more specific understanding of gatekeeper purchase drivers in categories heavily consumed by kids.”

This research was conducted as part of Cargill’s childhood nutrition initiative, which aims to help food and beverage manufacturers and foodservice operators formulate products that improve the nutrition profile of products targeted to children.

Family-Friendly Versus Kid-Centric

Today’s parents are more likely to take a family approach to food rather than seek products and meals that are just for kids. This means parents apply greater scrutiny to both taste and nutrition for a broader set of foods and beverages that the entire family consumes. According to the survey, only one-third of parents said they often prepare separate meals for adults and kids. Eighty-one percent of parents said it’s important for the foods they purchase to appeal to the entire family.

When determining whether it was the kids or the parents who compromise on the kinds of foods they eat, it was the kids: 89 percent of parents said they ask their kids to broaden their tastes, and 69 percent said they ask their kids to try the more adult food.

Importantly, parents of the Millennial generation (ages 18 – 32) are more likely to say a family appeal is important compared to older parents, which suggests that young consumers moving into parenthood are likely to adopt a family approach.

Satisfaction Versus Purchase Intent

The study looked across nine food and beverage categories (cereal, cookies, crackers, bread/rolls, snack bars, fruit juice/drinks, frozen pizza, ice cream and carbonated soft drinks) that are popular with children to determine the key attributes that resonate most with parents. Compared to the general population, parents show a low level of satisfaction with the healthfulness of most of these categories. This low satisfaction drives high purchase intent for healthier products. Cargill’s results indicated a high level of intent to purchase healthier products in eight of nine categories and highlights opportunity gaps for each category. The biggest opportunity for a healthier product was with cookies, which showed a purchase intent satisfaction gap of 24 points.

Seeking Versus Avoiding

Parents are more likely to seek positive attributes in food and beverage products than to avoid what they perceive to be unhealthy. A majority of parents (76 percent) say they check the nutrition information on unfamiliar products.

When compared to the general public, contrary to popular belief, the Cargill survey revealed that parents are actually less likely than the general population to check the nutrition facts panel (65 percent versus 71 percent), but more likely to say they check nutrition highlights on the front of the package (65 percent versus 55 percent). Perhaps the busy lifestyles of parents keep them from studying the back of the package but make them more likely to review the front.

“Seeking” is about positive nutrition, including nutrient density, inherent benefits, and foods and beverages that are naturally rich in nutrients like fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that include whole grains and balanced energy. “Seeking” was a key driver in many categories: cookies, bread/rolls, snack bars, crackers, cereal and fruit juice/drinks.

“Avoiding” is about reducing the attributes consumers perceive to be unhealthy, such as fat, sodium, calories or sugar. “Avoiding” was the top purchase driver in only one category — frozen pizza.

“Pressures on food and beverage companies to formulate more nutritious products for kids are coming from all angles — consumers, NGOs, the government, as well as many customers’ own internal nutrition targets,” said Roullier. “Those pressures are typically focused on limiting nutrients that are perceived to be less healthy, especially fat, sodium and sugar. Our research suggests that consumers are largely interested in positive nutrition.”

About This Survey:

Cargill’s marketing research group conducted this online survey of more than 1,000 people fielded in November 2012. The sample consisted of general population consumers and parents of children ages 2 to 12 so that parents could be compared versus non-parents / general population. More than two-thirds of the respondents were parents. Parents were asked about food and beverage purchases for their child(ren), while the general population was asked about purchases for their household.