Helping parents balance their kids’ diets

Today’s parents are educated about the benefits of childhood nutrition and strive to give their kids more healthful foods, but several barriers can get in the way.

Food manufacturers who can help parents overcome these obstacles can help boost kids’ nutrition while increasing market share.

Balancing food choices

Cargill has done extensive research on a number of secondary resources and synthesized the findings to help understand the attitudes, perceptions and beliefs of parents around childhood nutrition. This research has identified some key barriers that parents may encounter when trying to feed their children healthful foods: picky eaters, high prices and lack of time. By isolating unmet needs, the Cargill research allows our customers to innovate to fill in the gaps with nutritious food products that appeal to both parents and kids.

Lifelong habits, including dietary behavior and brand loyalty, can be established in kids as young as ages 2 to 12. By meeting the needs of this age group, which makes up 14% of the U.S. population, it’s possible to meet the needs of their parents—while also enlarging your market.

Our research shows that parents are less interested in preparing kid-centric meals or special foods for different family members than they are in preparing one meal that will please the entire family. According to the research, parents—particularly moms—are concerned about what their family eats and often seek to limit refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives.

Highly motivated to buy healthful foods, parents are open to new or enhanced all natural foods with cleaner labels, higher protein options, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Because parents are concerned about nutrition, they’re interested in fortified foods that can help bridge nutritional gaps in their children’s diets.

Parents are busy. Give them portable foods or quick to prepare foods but offer the emotional satisfaction of cooking, and you’ll make them feel good about providing for their family. For instance, step savers like ready-made sauces that they can simply heat and serve atop meat, fish, rice or pasta are tremendously appealing to time-pressed moms and dads.

Parents are also price conscious. While they’re willing to switch brands to eat healthier, they’re often unwilling to pay more for it. In fact, most moms—the food decision makers in most families— say they are trying to limit food spending.  Above all, food needs to taste great. Even if it’s healthy and affordable, if their kids won’t eat it, they won’t buy it.

Food manufacturers that make products that resonate with parents’ desires and appeal to kids also need to understand how to market to this group. Parents tend to seek health and nutrition information from online and mobile sources rather than from food labels, which they find confusing. Clearly stating a product’s benefits online and offering recipes that feature the product can help to reach this audience.

Nutritious new products or enhanced varieties that ease parents’ money and time pressures and also attract even picky eaters can become pantry staples for families. Manufacturers of these products can feel as good about improving childhood nutrition as do the families that put the food on their tables.  Together, we all have a stake in improving childhood nutrition.


Lakshmi SitaramLakshmi Sitaram is a senior marketing research analyst in the Food Ingredients and Systems Go To Market.  She has been with Cargill for the last 6 of her 16 years in the industry.

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