Earlier this year, the American Beverage Association (ABA), Washington, D.C., reported that America’s leading beverage companies have reduced the calories in beverages shipped to U.S. schools by 88 percent since 2004. The results show that the ABA and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, delivered on their three-year commitment to remove full-calorie soft drinks from schools and replace them with lower calorie, smaller portioned beverages.
At the beginning of the 2009 school year, 98.8 percent of schools and school districts aligned with the guidelines, according to the “Alliance School Beverage Guidelines Final Progress Report.” The report was compiled by Keybridge Research LLC, an independent firm, which has prepared two previous progress reports. Under the guidelines presented in 2006, America’s major beverage companies, including The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and their local bottlers worked with schools to offer lower calorie options. In elementary and middle schools, beverage selections were limited to 100 percent juice, low-fat milk and bottled water. The options were joined by diet beverages, calorie-capped sports drinks, flavored waters and teas in high schools. Full-calorie soft drinks were removed from schools, and the industry also offered more lower calorie and smaller portioned beverages.
With the changes that beverage companies have committed to bringing to schools, consumers also are showing a few behavior changes with the start to the 2010 school year. According to Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group’s Back to School 2010 Survey on consumer spending, 14 percent of shoppers said they’re likely to pack carbonated soft drinks in their children’s lunches much less often compared to last year. Twenty-percent of consumers, in turn, said they are likely to pack bottled water much more often compared to last year, followed by 16 percent of respondents saying they will pack juices much more often.
“Earlier this year, we published the SymphonyIRI Snacking Study, and very interestingly in that survey, 74 percent of Americans are telling us that they are trying to eat healthier,” says Susan Viamari, editor of SymphonyIRI’s “Times & Trends.” “This, of course, permeates to a lot of decisions around what kind of beverages parents are buying, and we found that 57 percent of parents say that they are looking for lunch box options that provide more than just basic nutrition. For example, they are looking for beverages that have probiotics, antioxidants or added vitamins and fiber.”
Parents did say they still plan to give their children money to purchase beverages at school this year. Eight percent of consumers give their kids money to purchase beverages through school-based vending machines, according to SymphonyIRI’s Back to School 2010 Survey. The survey also found that 26 percent of consumers feel that vending machines offer a reasonable assortment of healthy food and beverage options.
Consumers did report different strategies for the drinks that their children bring to school versus what beverages they allow their children to buy at school, Viamari says. Five percent of consumers said their children are going to bring milk from home all the time, while 21 percent of consumers said their children are bringing a beverage other than milk from home.
Some parents reported they planned to use a combination of packing and purchasing options. The survey found that 5 percent of shoppers are going to allow some purchasing of milk at school, but mainly have their children bring milk from home. Fourteen percent said they are going to allow their children to purchase some non-milk beverages from school and otherwise bring non-milk from home. Twelve percent of shoppers said they plan on their children packing non-milk beverages from home, but mainly have their children buy them at school.
In regard to what type of milk children will be bringing from home, the survey found that 11 percent of consumers are likely more often to pack plain milk for their children this year versus last year, while 7 percent of consumers said they are more likely to pack a flavored milk for their children more often this year versus last. Consumers’ choices for their children often derive from their healthy eating habit goals. “I really do think it comes back to the fact that consumers are trying to eat healthier, and, of course, parents are trying to teach big lessons to their children and teach them the value of balanced eating and moderation,” Viamari says.
Quest for value
Eating healthier is a key driver of consumers’ beverage selection these days, but that driver also is balanced against price and value. Consumers’ conservative behaviors have 39 percent of them saying in SymphonyIRI’s Back to School 2010 Survey that they will compromise on nutritional value in order to save money.
“We didn’t really uncover huge change in this study in consumers looking to pack lunches this year versus last year, but what we found is the way they are going about it has changed,” Viamari says. “The motivator of this change by and large has been finances or financial necessity. We certainly have seen some signs of economic improvement, but what we’re seeing among consumers out there is really they all are still struggling financially.”
In SymphonyIRI’s survey, 46 percent of consumers said they feel worse off today than they did last year. As a result, consumers have changed their spending habits, Viamari says. For example, 37 percent of consumers said their children are going to be bringing meals and snacks from home more often this year than they did last year, and 32 percent actively are looking for ways to cut back on the amount that they are spending on school lunches and school snacks.
“They have very interesting ways of reigning in their spending,” Viamari says. “We see in all the work we do a whole lot of preplanning coming into play, and in this survey, we found that 46 percent of consumers are going to be planning their specific purchases before they even go to the store.”
The survey showed that 57 percent of consumers are going to be buying what is on sale versus just going to the store and buying their favorite brand. Purchasing private label products will play a role in shoppers’ thrifty shopping with 34 percent of consumers saying they plan to purchase more store brand items this year than they have in the past. Consumers also said they plan on stocking up with 58 percent saying they will stock up on lunch box components because they are on sale.
Seventy-one percent of shoppers also are looking to cut costs by actively looking for lunch box components that are inexpensive. More consumers are paying attention to price per serving too, with 42 percent of consumers in SymphonyIRI’s survey saying they are taking note.
Consumers also are buying lunch box components and trying to make them last longer. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said they planned to stretch usage this year. BI