Seven 'Rules of the Road' to Success For Better-For-You Kid Food Products

"Better for You" or healthier kid food products are the hottest battleground for food marketers nationwide. Yet, as in most battlegrounds, the field is overwhelmed with "dead soldiers," or "BFY" products that seemed great in the lab, on the PowerPoint, or in research exercises.

In 2006, the BFY kid food success rate was below 5% among more than 100 new product entries, according to our estimates of those we could identify. Year 2007 saw a further decline, with more than 200 new products launched and a mere handful of successful launches.

Innovative new product development for kids is the core of Just Kid's success for the nation's leading marketers, and since 1994 we've evolved a set of seven maxims that optimize the opportunity for kid BFY food success. While there's no substitute for bringing expertise like ours to bear on a BFY innovation challenge, we're frequently asked about our rules of the road, which I presented recently in a Just Kid webinar. The rules include:

Rule #1: Narrowly and precisely define the target.

Define the kid's "family type" at the start. Understand the nutritional sensitivity of target households, which fall into three basic categories: "restrictive," where the adults dictate; "anything goes" where children rule; and "balancers," who manage to maintain adult control while respecting the children's tastes and preferences.

The "Demand Moment" is an aspect of targeting that may be the most influential of all elements when it comes to the eating habits of most families. Simply put, this means that at any given time a family's nutritional behaviors will be based on a confluence of emotional, rational, and environmental factors.

Rule #2 Start with a nutritional anchor and infuse it with kid appeal.

This anchor can be any widely recognized ingredient with instant, wide-spread, and long-standing associations with healthy eating, preferably something with positive emotional associations as well as functional associations. "Fruit," for example, is far more powerful than vitamin C.

While the nutritional anchor will appeal to mom, it's essential to "Kidify" the product and make it appealing to kids, while leaving the nutritional anchor clearly evident. Ways to infuse kid appeal can be to attach a cool spokescharacter or to give it a fun "kid friendly" name. Try to make the product look or feel like an invitation to a party a kid would not want to miss.

Rule # 3 Delight the child and, in so doing, delight mom.

The concept is simple. Mom wants the child to eat healthy foods. The child wants to eat what tastes good, what looks good and what friends are eating. Kids tend to assert more power as a rule when making choices among less healthful food purchases, while mom holds the power while making the healthy food purchases.

By combining kid and mom power in a product, it will appeal or delight both. Mom wants value, quality, nutrition and convenience. The kids want fun, novelty, surprise, great taste, something cool and exciting. Make the product appeal to the kid and the mom by delighting them both.

More than anything, mom wants a food her kid will eat. "It isn't healthy if my kid won't eat it" is a powerful, recurring theme among mom groups. So it's essential to create a BFY product that won't sacrifice "delight" to add nutrition. Most marketers can get a product in a consumer's hand once. That's not much of an accomplishment compared to earning your way onto the regular shopping list, which defines "winning" for new product developers.

Rule # 4: Celebrate and headline great taste.

Face it, if the product doesn't taste great the appeal to the kids and mom will be short lived. Kids today know they need to eat healthy foods, but they want them to taste great. They want them to be fun to eat, but will only return to them if the great taste is there. Define the great taste in the product clearly, and be sure the package communicates why it tastes great. Let kid and mom know what to expect nutritionally and taste wise.

Rule # 5: Set realistic nutrition goals.

All products cannot have everything. In order to have real kid appeal, the product should fall between indulgent and nutritionally pure. Returning to the moms' conundrum of "it doesn't matter how healthy it is if the kids won't eat it", the goal should be to make a great tasting product with fun appeal to the kids, while packing in as much nutritional value as possible without losing taste factor. Examples that any kid will give include mac and cheese, PB&Js, and - of course - spaghetti.

Rule # 6: Understand the true competition/Test wisely.

If you are competing with food products that are low in nutrition, but great in taste, be wise and know that a real kid audience will seldom choose a plain raw vegetable product over the more attractive choice. Know the new product's competitive set. Identify attributes that make them appeal to kids. Start from an analysis of your offering's competitive set. Identify their benefits and the incremental benefits you hope to provide.

As you test, know your subjects and listen to them. Let the kids make suggestions about other ages or populations that might improve test results.

Habit # 7: Use something other than nutrition as the end benefit to kids.

Nutrition is a mom benefit, not one that's particularly appealing to most kids. Try to optimize chances for success by incorporating one of these distinctive benefits:

• control/customization, where kids may change or manipulate the product to their individual tastes;

• power/self reliance, where the product makes kids feel good about themselves;

• permissible indulgence, the product tastes yummy but is really very healthy;

• independence, where the product helps the child feel self sufficient.

Tags: demographics
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