Special Reports

Meeting the needs of millennial parents

How to balance the snacking preferences of young parents and their kids.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Meet Jane, a 32-year-old advertising executive who is always on the go. When Jane’s not working, she’s usually out buying food for her son, Danny. At the ripe age of 4, Danny loves to snack on potato chips, gummy bears and chocolate bars. Jane, a token millennial, is weary of Danny’s sugar intake and wants him to live a healthier lifestyle. But with limited time to shop, snagging a bag of chips is easier than roaming the produce aisle for an on-the-go veggie snack that may not even exist. Jane is frustrated with her lack of nutritious snack options.
Today, millennial parents like Jane are driving demand for healthier snack options, both for themselves and for their children. So how can operators meet their needs?

A look at the numbers is a starting point. Forty-two percent of millennials say they eat healthy at least half of the time, while only 34% of baby boomers say the same, according to the 2018 New Products Survey conducted by Chicago-based research firm IRI. And they may be influencing their kids: More than 50% of millennial mothers say their kids are more likely to choose a better-for-you snack compared to another prepackaged snack, according to a 2017 study from researcher The Center for Generational Kinetics. 

Susan Viamari, vice president of thought leadership for IRI, says these generational differences influence how millennials feed their children. Operators should recognize that millennials seek a balance between healthy and indulgent snacks more than other groups, she says. “This [not only] means offering healthier and more indulgent options but also thinking about blending the two: making indulgent treats that are healthier for you and offering healthy options that are indulgent,” she says. 

Millennial parents’ need states

When it comes to the needs and preferences of millennial parents, there are a few categories in which they differ greatly from the average consumer. While healthy food from restaurants is more important to this group, simplicity, surprisingly, isn’t of key importance. Check out how these consumers differ—and where their interests are the same.

Source: Technomic Ignite: Consumer

The value equation

Millennials also seek value in their kids’ snacks, and not just in terms of price. They want products that meet various needs, Viamari says. Nearly half (46%) of millennials are willing to pay more for food and beverage solutions that offer more than just basic nutrition, according to IRI data. Focusing on the needs and wants of both children and parents, especially value, is an effective way to reel these adults into the snacking category, Viamari says.

Millennials seek to meet their nutritional needs when they make food choices based on values such as organic or natural claims. And transparency is key. Ninety-four percent of all consumers are likely to remain loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. Even in retail foodservice, 56% of millennial shoppers use their phones to read about products while in stores, according to data from Label
Insights, a Chicago-based food-label data provider. This transparency includes highlighting the lack of additives and the presence of functional ingredients, Viamari says. 

And it extends beyond the product portfolio to a brand’s business practices and charitable efforts. “Millennial parents also want to know that the brands they support are promoting causes that are important to them, such as wellness and environmental initiatives,” she says.

Online and in-store

To target millennial parents, operators should consider a dedicated in-store location for healthy snacks. Placing these items in the front and center of a restaurant, for example, grabs parents’ attentions as soon as they walk in, versus them having to seek these options out.

Operators should also consider their digital retail promotions, highlighting healthy snacks on the main section of the homepage to increase engagement and awareness of the offer.

In fact, millennials’ habitual use of technology is a significant differentiator for this group compared to previous generations. More than nine in 10 millennials today (92%) own smartphones, compared to 85% of Gen Xers and 67% of baby boomers, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Using targeted marketing, operators can pinpoint millennial parents with social media and digital advertising. 

The future of kids’ snacking

Although Viamari believes innovation of “core” snack brands has plateaued in recent years, she sees greater activity in healthier snacks. This includes new flavors and forms for hand-held appetizers, frozen pizza and beverages as snacks. “Innovation is strong and will continue to focus on portability, satiation, flavor and texture experiences, wellness and indulgence,” she says. That said, snacking trends also shift as consumers’ definition of healthy continually evolves. The low-calorie, low-carb ideas around health have given way to more fresh, less-processed claims. 

And whether parents seek the healthiest options depends, in part, on their kids’ ages, because snack choices converge as children get older. Forty-five percent of parents with children ages 12 or younger say they prefer different snacks for their kids than they do for themselves, according to Technomic’s Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report. However, only 33% and 41% of parents with kids ages 13-17 and 17 and older, respectively, say the same. 

Children gain more control of what they eat as they age and often develop diverse palates. They also have fewer dietary restrictions. This may provide an opportunity down the line for retailers and marketers to focus snacking efforts on moments when parents and kids share favorite snacks.

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