CHICAGO — Parents are more likely to seek foods and beverages that appeal to the whole family than products and meals just for children, according to new consumer research released by Cargill, Minneapolis, at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo, held in Chicago July 13-16.

The company surveyed more than 1,000 consumers to investigate parents’ attitudes and drivers involving purchases of foods and beverages for their children.

“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 for Cargill. “Our research provides a more specific understanding of gatekeeper purchase drivers in categories heavily consumed by kids.”

Cargill conducted the research as part of its childhood nutrition initiative aimed at helping food and beverage manufacturers and food service operators formulate products that improve the nutrition profile of products targeted to children.

Other key findings reported by Roullier were:

• Parents are unsatisfied with the healthfulness of current options across key categories of foods and beverages popular with children.
• Parents tend to seek positive attributes such as whole grains and fiber rather than avoiding ingredients they perceive to be unhealthy, such as fat, sugar and sodium.

Today’s parents are more likely to take a family approach to food than seek products and meals that are just for children, according to Roullier’s interpretation of the survey results. This means parents apply greater scrutiny to both taste and nutrition for the broader set of foods and beverages that the entire family consumes.

One-third of the parents said they “often prepare separate adult and kids meals” and 81 percent of the parents said it is important for the foods they purchase to appeal to the entire family.

The study probed whether it was the children or the parents who compromise on the kinds of foods they eat. The results showed it was the children. Eighty-nine per cent of the parents said they ask their children to broaden their tastes, and 69 percent said they ask their children to try more adult foods.

It was millennial parents, those between the ages of 18 and 30, who said family appeal was important compared to older parents.

The Cargill study looked at nine food and beverage categories popular with children: cereal, cookies, crackers, bread/rolls, snack bars, fruit juice/drinks, frozen pizza, ice cream and carbonated soft drinks.

Compared with the general population, parents showed a low level of satisfaction with the healthfulness of most of the categories. The low satisfaction drove high purchase intent for healthier products, in eight of the nine categories. The biggest opportunity was with cookies, which showed a purchase intent satisfaction gap of 24 points.

The shoppers surveyed said they seek positive attributes more than avoiding foods they perceive to be unhealthy. More than three-quarters of parents said they review nutrition information on unfamiliar products; however, parents were less likely than the general population to review the Nutrition Facts Panel (65 percent vs. 71 percent). Instead, they are more likely to look for nutrition highlights on the front of the package (65 percent vs. 55 percent).

“Pressure on food and beverage companies to formulate more nutritious products for kids are coming from all angles — consumers, non-governmental organizations and government as well as many customers’ own internal nutrition targets,” Roullier said. “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.”

Cargill’s marketing group conducted its survey on-line during November 2012. The sample consisted of a mix of general population consumers and parents of children between the ages of 2 and 12. This allowed comparison of parents’ attitudes to those of people in the general population. More than two-thirds of respondents were parents.

Cargill announced its childhood nutrition initiative in April. The company launched a web site, www.childhood-nutrition.com, to provide ideas for formulation challenges that come when trying to develop healthier and good-tasting products for children. The web site was developed to connect food makers with updates on nutrition news, government policy, stakeholder actions and consumer trends.