According to Packaged Facts’ new December 2023 report Children’s Food and Beverage Market: Trends and Opportunities, 3rd Edition, when it comes to purchasing food, taste is the number one priority for most consumers. For parents, their children’s willingness to eat a given food is a close second. Compared to all consumers, parents are more likely to prioritize food characteristics that provide a health halo such as high protein, healthy fats, clean label, and non-GMO.
Packaged Facts’ November-December 2023 National Online Consumer Survey finds that nearly three-fourths of parents report their children eat healthier than they did as a child, revealing parental preferences toward healthier children’s foods.
Opportunities exist in offering products that have the taste that will get a child to accept the food and the health halo that will entice parents to buy it, given that parents tend to be more health-conscious and choosy about foods for their kids and themselves.
1. Allergy-Friendly Food Trends
Products free from common allergens – such as nuts, dairy, eggs, and gluten/wheat – are also a high priority for parents, particularly those who have children with real or perceived allergies or intolerances. Some parents may also believe some allergens are generally unhealthy (especially gluten and soy) and seek out foods without these ingredients for their children.
Additionally, parents are concerned about allergy friendly foods even when their own children do not have food allergies, as their kids may have friends or peers with a food allergy that needs to be accommodated. Schools, sports teams, daycares, and other child-centric organizations sometimes restrict foods with certain allergens for all children to protect those with a food allergy. Thus, parents tend to have more reasons to avoid potential allergens (often for their kids, or for other children their kids come in contact with).
2. Trends of Convenience
Parents are more likely than general consumers to shop for groceries online, chiefly because online ordering is most convenient for busy schedules that involve juggling childcare, work, and other responsibilities. Many grocery delivery services use busy family scenes in their advertisements to encourage stressed out parents to buy their groceries online.
Parents often may find it especially hard to balance desires for fresh, healthy food for themselves and their families with their busy schedules. Convenience options from grocery stores and other retailers – including fresh or frozen microwavable heat-and-eat meals, prepared meals that only need to be put in the oven or a skillet to cook, and ready-to-eat foods – offer a solution to this potential dilemma since they eliminate or reduce the need to cook.
Food carryout and delivery from restaurants can also be targeted toward families with children by emphasizing that healthy prepared meals reduce time spent in the kitchen and increase available quality time with family. Meals marketed to families with children can explicitly offer “kid friendly” options that are suitable for picky eaters to satisfy the needs of adults and kids.
Meal kit delivery services are also ideal for parents because they can cut down on meal prep and reduce time spent on meal planning. Some meal kits are available with kid-friendly recipes or child-sized portions,
Prepared meal delivery services that focus on kids are also convenient for parents. They may provide full meals for kids, finger foods, or snacks. Some also focus on lunchbox meals so that parents do not need to make a packed lunch for their kids for school, daycare, or other activities.
The small but fast growing “thaw and eat” category is increasingly appealing to parents because frozen foods have a longer shelf life than refrigerated foods. Foods that are ready-to-eat without cooking or heating such as the popular Uncrustables line of frozen sandwiches are undoubtedly the most convenient, especially for children’s packed lunches.
3. Opportunities for Plant-Based Products
Many people are interested in plant-forward eating because of sustainability and animal welfare concerns surrounding the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Plant-based diets are also seen as healthier than conventional diets that include animal products, so many people are turning to plant-forward foods for reasons of health.
Plant-based eating is relevant to parents and their children. According to Packaged Facts’ November-December 2023 survey, parents living with children are more likely to be vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian. This is likely because of age, since younger consumers age 25-44 (the most likely group to be parents) more often follow these diets. Some children also follow plant-forward diets, either as part of diet choices made by their parents or by their own choice.
Some products for children are plant-forward, even if they are not explicitly labeled vegan or plant-based. For instance, veggie puffs for kids may include vegetable ingredients such as corn, sweet potato, tomato, carrot, spinach, and parsley.
Many plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy are also marketed for children. For instance, plant-based milks are commonly used with cereal for kids, and plant-based chicken nuggets are popular with many families interested in plant-forward eating.
There continue to be opportunities for new plant-based alternatives to be made with children in mind, as many plant-based foods are marketed for adults and their tastes.
Additional analysis on the children’s food and beverage market can be found in the December 2023 Packaged Facts report Children’s Food and Beverage Market: Trends and Opportunities, 3rd Edition.
About the blogger:
Cara Rasch is a food and beverage analyst for Packaged Facts. She studies consumer and industry trends in this space and has a B.A. in economics from Allegheny College.