Make Every Day Kids' Day

November 11, 2008
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“No fair!” many a child has uttered after learning that their parents get Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as special celebrations. Those of us who are parents have been known to respond, “But every day is kids’ day!”

And to some degree, every day is kids’ day here in North America. After all, few other cultures cater to the extent we do to our tots, tweens and teens. From Happy Meals to custom cell phone cases, we’re awash with products designed to please little Tommy or delight young Molly.

Beyond Baby Basics

In many cases, of course, these products also make parents’ lives easier or more enjoyable. Such benefits are most evident in baby- and toddler-focused items.

Among the trends impacting products for the youngest of kids are those toward style, product features and amenities, convenience, safety compliance and testing, and cross-functionality, says Vincent Castagna, director of business development–U.S. for Etobicoke, Ontario-based Simply Kids. Lightweight strollers with cup holders and one-hand folding convenience and product endorsements from celebrities, publications or licensed characters also are on-trend.

Among the drivers behind these trends, Castagna says, are the components of “value.” Many parents are short on time, with mom and dad both likely working miles from home.

“Parents need time-saving conveniences,” Castagna says. “They need efficiency getting home late from work and [picking] up their children from daycare and extended family.”

At the same time, he says, parents want to feel that “all their sacrifice and effort is worth it,” he adds. That’s where the “feel of luxury” comes in - in the form of kid-focused products with a stylish feel and good performance, but at economy prices.

But new store brand offerings on the baby and toddler product side must deliver in terms of quality and innovation, Castagna notes. If they don’t, would-be consumers likely will find out even before making a purchase.

“Today’s consumers are tech-savvy researchers,” Castagna notes. “The home PC is an appliance, much like the toaster. It brings knowledge, consumer power and community feedback, and support.”

And innovation here means investment.

<“It’s easy to get complacent with the same bottles, formulas, pumps, label design, etc.,” Castagna stresses. “Remember, if you keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve got.”

He points to resealable baby food containers, as well as dispensers that boast one-handed operation and dispense exactly the desired amount of product, as examples of innovations that increase efficiency. Ready-to-drink, pre-mixed or pre-measured formulas; dual-usage products such as body and hair wash; and refillable products also will win over parents, he says.

Taste of Their Own

Soon after toddler-hood, most children begin to become more vocal in terms of product purchases. (And, as many of us already know, by the time they reach their teens, they often make purchasing decisions without - or disregarding - parental input.)

Trends in the post-toddler food products segment include novelty and “healthytainment,” says Jason Herron, brand strategist and consumer insights for Simmons Foods, Siloam Springs, Ala.

“The mother is constantly asking,” he contends, “‘How can I get my kids to eat non-junk food? How can I get my kids to entertain themselves at the table long enough to keep the crumbs in one spot? What food can I get my kids all to agree on?’”

For this reason, Simmons focuses on food that appears “tasty-looking” to kids, or what Herron calls “non-yucky.” The company also relies on flavor profiles kids love such as cheese for its chicken products.

“We focus on kid-friendly shapes [such as] rings, cars, dinosaurs, etc., and provide mom with a nutritious back panel deck,” he says. “You get the look, the shape, the taste and the nutritional facts panel in line, and you’ve got a winner.”

As Herron explains, young children are sensory-motivated. That’s why they put questionable objects in their mouths, touch things they shouldn’t touch, and take things apart. Young kids are curious and respond to novelty and familiarity.

In contrast, tweens are a little more sophisticated in that they don’t like to be “sold” on a product, Herron says.

“Tweens are tribal shoppers, using products to position themselves within the complex social tribes of the world,” he says. “Whether it’s popping a pack of Pop Rocks between classes or sipping a Jones soda at a table full of Coke drinkers, it’s all about what the product says and means; it’s about tribal belonging at this level.”
Chicken presents a good store brand opportunity on the post-toddler food side - for consumers ranging from preschoolers to tweens.

“Chicken is an easy sell to kids and parents,” Herron says. “You don’t need a lot more than a fun shape, a convenient bag and a [healthful] nutritional facts panel. It’s one of the healthiest and [most] inexpensive proteins on the market, and chicken by itself has a very neutral taste profile to allow easy acceptance and endless food pairings.”

But it’s also a difficult food segment when it comes to innovation, Herron adds. The 1980s brought chicken nuggets and the 1990s brought hot wings, but now chicken expansion actually lies in the recruit of non-poultry consumers - and the expansion of chicken into traditionally non-chicken categories.

But private label, in general, is not nearly as well-developed as the national brands are in the kids’ chicken sector - or in any other kids’ food category, for that matter. So store brands represent a kids’ food product opportunity. And Simmons can help retailers quickly develop private label or co-branded chicken products that keep abreast - or even ahead - of national branded kids’ offerings.

“If Tyson launches a dino-nugget, fine,” Herron says. “We can co-brand to create a Disney Cars nugget. In the end, a co-brand is almost cheaper than supporting your own brand.”

Organic products for children also continue to be among the fastest-growing segments within the organic industry, according to the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA). And just plain healthier versions of kiddie favorites make sense, too.

This past summer, for example, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Inc. partnered with Warner Bros. Entertainment to launch a 100-item-plus line of Looney Tunes-themed Eating Right Kids food and drink items for children. The line is an extension of Safeway’s healthful Eating Right line, which is rolling out in retail across the nation under the newly formed Better Living Brands Alliance.

Safeway terms the brand “a whole new way of looking at nutrition.” The products’ nutritional profiles should win over mom, while the Looney Tunes characters should delight small fry.

Thinking Outside the Tummy

On the non-food side, kids’ product choices are influenced by television, video games, video on demand, movies and the Internet, notes Glenn Pecoraro, vice president of retail develop-ment for New York-based 4Kids Entertainment, a film and television production company specializing in the acquisition, production and licensing of children’s entertainment around the world. He says his company’s brands - including “Pokémon,” “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and more - are disseminated on all of these media platforms to reach millions of kids.

Pecoraro points to lifestyle items such as mealtime accessories, paper plates and cups, personal care and infant care items - as well as gift-oriented items for the busy mom on the go - as private label licensing opportunity areas for these and similar kid-focused brands. (For more information about licensing and private label, turn to p. 84.)

“Kids feel comfortable with our key brands and want them to be part of their lives,” Pecoraro says. “4Kids is also an expert in consumer research, package design, in-store point-of-sale materials, television/print advertising and Web site development - all in support of our key brands and our retail partners.”

And school lunches present yet another non-food private label opportunity, says Bob Pondo, business development director for Seguin, Texas-based Minigrip Consumer Products Group.

“During the school year, millions of families use disposable sandwich and snack bags every day when packing lunch,” he says. “Here lies the opportunity for the food and home storage category to do a better job of catering to families with children during the school year.”

Kids respond to trendy, “cool,” eye-catching items designed just for them, Pondo says. He notes that Minigrip’s pouch lunch bags offer “a complete kids’ lunch solution,” with separate compartments for a sandwich, snack and dessert.

“In a snack and sandwich bag category segment that hasn’t changed much in 20 years, a three-pouch lunch bag with a kid-friendly print design is pure innovation,” he says.

For private label programs, the bags can be customized with proprietary label prints or merchandised through Minigrip’s Disney-licensed “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” designs, Pondo adds. A three-pouch school supply bag that fits in a backpack also can be customized for store brand programs.

Pondo notes that Minigrip products feature double zipper technology.

“The extra secure seal is important to moms, who want to make sure their rough-and-tumble kids keep their food in the bag until lunchtime.”

More than a Product

To really be successful, kid-focused store brand items must not only excel in quality, but also in packaging, merchandising and promotion. For babies and tiny tots, retailers will want to target mom here, who usually is the key decision-maker. But once they capture mom, they have the chance to retain her loyalty for years.

Castagna suggests retailers first define their brand image so they can dominate in the baby care category and become a destination for baby care. The program design must be consistent for consumer brand recognition. In many cases, he advises against copying the look of the national brands when it comes to packaging. And quality is critical.

“Remember the old saying: ‘The customer buys once for price and twice for quality,’” he says.

Here, retailers stand to reap benefits through true partnerships with private label suppliers, Castagna notes. For its part, Simply Kids sources premium, high-quality products from a global marketplace across the food, non-food, beverage, HBC, general merchandise and clothing categories, he says. The company serves as a “hybrid” manufacturer with its Simply Kids brand, acting like a national brand, but working like private label, with retailer cost of goods input and vendor selection.

“This has extended our product offerings into several hundred SKUs, to capture mom from baby’s birth [through] the first years of school. Once she recognizes the brand value, she will be purchasing our products for years.”

On the merchandising and promotion front, retailers should dedicate premium faces and positioning both on- and off-shelf for their baby care items, Castagna adds, and advertise out of their margin dollars to build trial.

When it comes to products geared to older children, quality is still critical, but retailers must consider both the child and the parent in merchandising and promoting the items. Quality, value, healthfulness and price are just a few of the qualities key to winning over mom and dad. And retailers also need to find ways to communicate those attributes through targeted merchandising and promotions.

But retailers must marry such tactics with strategies to attract the other half of the buying equation: the child. According to a YouthQuery survey Rochester, N.Y.-based Harris Interactive performed a few years back, the biggest challenge might not be getting kids to buy a retailer’s product, but instead enticing them to buy that product over and over again “because they think their young lives would be devoid of meaning without the item.”

Anything retailers can do to create - and support - a cool, “must-have” aura will go a long way in building sales here.

Sidebar: New 'Kids' on the Shelf

A search for recent kid-focused store brand launches turned up quite a few winners. Here’s a sampling of what we found:

  • Eating Right Kids Fruit Punch Fitness Water and Eating Right Kids Sour Strawberry Chewy Granola Bars from Safeway’s Lucerne Foods, Pleasanton, Calif. The water product is made with real fruit juice and is an excellent source of electrolytes and five vitamins, while the granola bars contain 6g of whole grains per serving and no high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Rite Aid Dragon Tales Training Pants, which are designed with - you guessed it - a toddler-friendly Dragon Tales theme. They are said to be like real underwear.
  • Kroger Super Kids Enriched White Sandwich Bread, which is low in fat and contains 150 percent more of the daily value of calcium than enriched white sandwich bread.
  • Target Camouflage Bandages, which are latex-free, sterile and made with flexible fabric. The fun part? The camouflage designs.

Source: Mintel’s Global New Products Database.

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