The Froot Loops Negotiation

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 29, 2014

Imagine this scene at a grocery store checkout lane: Mom has emptied a full cart onto the conveyor belt. Strapped in the child seat, a youngster clings to a box of Froot Loops. He makes eye contact with his mom and reaches to add the sugary cereal to the food and household supplies riding toward the cashier. 

Now, what is mom thinking here?

  1. I can’t believe he won. Again.
  2. Hopefully no one I know is watching.
  3. So over this diet. So having a late-night cereal binge.

As George W. Holden defined in his child development research, the supermarket presents an ideal place for parent and child study because it’s a “triple threat” environment: One where parents have to shop, supervise their children amid exposure to all kinds of stimuli, and deal with it all in a public setting. 

The term “triple threat” perfectly captures this pain point that sits at the confluence of mom’s time, money, and patience. It cries out for avoidance. Who wants anything to do with a “triple threat” environment? No wonder online grocery shopping is fast exiting its early-adopter phase.



Grocery behemoths Kroger and Walmart have now joined the online shopping game, along with a third of their top 75 grocery competitors as reported by Supermarket News. And, as recently forecasted by Brick Meets Click, online shopping will represent 11 to 17% of grocery purchases in the majority of U.S. markets within 10 years. Yes, lots of “triple threat” avoidance is on the horizon. 

But let’s back up. Let’s revise that scene at the checkout line a little.

Let’s say the child had been doing great at potty training, and his mom said he could pick a treat at the store as a reward. As they shopped, the child considered his options and asked questions about the different products they came across in each aisle. When he decisively requested the Froot Loops, mom said no — at first. Her idea of the reward was more of the single-serving variety. Maybe a candy bar or a cookie from the bakery. Besides, he was a good breakfast eater — oatmeal, bananas, whole grain toast. No need to disrupt the healthy morning routine she’d worked so hard to ingrain.

Mom says, “I don’t want you eating that every day.”

Child counters, “What if I eat them just on Saturdays?”

And with this simple caveat, mom grants the reward. Shopping continues. What, too altruistic?

In her recently published study about parent child interaction while supermarket shopping, Malene Gram observed that contrary to “triple threat” agony, with very few exceptions, the shopping experience is pleasant. Yes, pleasant. Moreover, there were these things:

By including the child in shopping, the parent demonstrates the decision-making process — how to evaluate freshness, quality, price, and healthfulness. The child’s requests provide the subject matter for the parent to explain. The child sees and hears how to manage the indulgent and healthful paradox. There are also well-reasoned negotiations and healthy challenges of habitual family behavior. (Why do we have chicken every night?) And lastly, the child recognizes the parent as the undisputed gatekeeper. A protector. The person devoted to his or her best interests.

Even though Gram’s study evaluated 50 distinct parent/child shopping subjects in two different countries (U.S. and Denmark) with consistent results, somehow this all sounds like La La Land. 

I admit, however, in the course of reading the study, my parenting memories turned from blurry ones of tantrums and exasperation to the more heartwarming moments — cart detours to see the live lobsters up close, the deli staffer explaining patiently to curious ears why Swiss cheese has holes and other cheeses don’t, and watching my child’s grown-into freedom of venturing down the aisle alone to pick out a favorite box of Drumstick cones. 

I’m all for the option we now have in online grocery shopping. I’m all for the hours back it offers us as parents. But grocery shopping together in a three-dimensional world as parent and child goes beyond a study outcome labeled “generally positive.” It’s where life happens. Kids learn to compromise and make sacrifices. To get over it. How fortunate they are. It’s a special day when reading a shopper behavior study reminds you how a “triple threat” environment is so much more than that.

1 comment about "The Froot Loops Negotiation".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 29, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

    I'm inclined to think the la la land scenario happens at least half the time. I have observed it. Some obvious snack/junk foods get straight out "no." Others are subject to discussion. One other scenario happens: Child requests Froot Loops. Request denied. Child becomes adult. Adult gets Froot Loops. Yeahhhh.

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