News | June 7, 1999

Kids Push Food Product Purchases

By Bob Sperber

Food manufacturers long have been aware of the buying influence of children. In the U.S., the same approach used to target toys and cartoons often has been employed to market sweetened breakfast cereals, aseptic juice boxes, lunchmeat snack packs, yogurts and so on. Now that kids' allowances are hitting an all-time high, accounting for the kid factor in product creation and marketing is all the more critical, especially in light of new research that reveals an interesting split personality among children's food choices.

Into the mouths of babes
"Kidtrends 99" a report from Children's Market Research Inc., New York, discusses general demographics and psychographics for children. On the subject of food, it indicates an interesting dichotomy: Health and junk go hand in hand. For example, the study reports that "91% of the kids said that it's important to eat healthy foods. So the health craze is really reaching them, they are fully aware of this trend." This doesn't mean, however, that the test subjects have no place in their diets for junk food. In fact, most admitted to having two main categories of foods—healthy foods and junk foods.

What's next? Sugar-frosted artichokes? Prune pops? Probably not, but these results indicate that even children in younger age ranges share the adult pattern of combining more healthful eating with indulgence.

In terms of spending power, kids report spending their allowance on various digestibles. Specifically in the food domain, here's how many kids put various items—listed in general terms for brevity's sake—in their "favorite foods" list:

  • 42% cited pizza;
  • 20% cited ice cream;
  • 18% of the kids say they spend it on candy.
  • 17% said they spend it on cookies
  • 16% said they spend it on potato chips
  • 14% said they spend it on pasta.
  • 11% said they spend it on burger-fries meals
  • 9% said they spend it on snacks.

Noting the diminished status of the venerable hamburger-and-fries combo, Selina Guber, psychology PhD and president of the research firm explained, "Food is no longer just burgers and fries… kids eat a wide range of foods. Obviously, we've seen pizza replace hot dogs as kids' favorite food. Italian and Chinese foods are popular, and Mexican food is a real trend."

Spending power of the younger set
The goal of Guber's research is to help marketers and advertisers "build strategies and plans based on what motivates kids." The Kidtrends 99 Report provides a backdrop of attitudes, behaviors and trends behind the estimated $17 billion a year that children spend for their personal use. Breaking down the genders, 43% of boys and 38% of girls receive $5 to $10 per week from regular allowance and money they earn. 33% of girls and 17% of boys receive under $5 and 22% do not receive spending money.

Some key findings on kids' favorite interests and hobbies: 51% of all boys and 40% of all girls chose sports as their favorite interest or hobby. Honorable mentions include 26% for watching TV; 23% for video games; 23% hanging out with friends; 12% listening to music and 11% reading.

Besides food and related items, what do children buy with their money? No surprise that 31% of the kids said toys, while 19% save their money and 10% purchase CDs and/or tapes.

Data from the Kidtrends 99 Report is based on face-to-face interviews across the U.S. with 300 children aged 6 to 11 (150 boys and 150 girls). The study includes findings on food and eating habits, spending power, TV viewing patterns, fashion, favorite TV programs, music, movies, cartoon programs, commercials, restaurants, video games and more. The firm is conducting ongoing research, in this area as well as in the teen market. A food-specific report, "Kids Snacks and Prepared Foods," is underway and "will be complete probably in about six weeks," according to Guber.

For more information about the study, contact Children's Market Research Inc. at 212-794-0983, or Kalorama Information, LLC, which publishes and markets the reports at 301-961-6753.