Making the Grade
By SARAH THEODORE
New rules for kids’ products
With the back-to-school season in full swing, children’s beverages are being put to the test. The market for products for children is ripe with innovation, but it is far different today than in years past. Where children’s products once relied on cartoon graphics and Saturday morning advertising, today’s companies have shifted their emphasis to healthier product profiles and more restrained marketing.
This summer, a number of companies, including PepsiCo, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup Co., Hershey and General Mills, announced they would restrict advertising to children younger than 12, promoting only better-for-you products. PepsiCo, for example, decided to limit advertising to Gatorade and Baked Cheetos, while indicating it might expand marketing to products that fall within its Smart Spot line sometime in the future. The companies were part of the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which was created in response to a proposal for self-regulation by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Other companies also have new standards to regulate marketing to children. Kraft Foods, for example, announced in 2005 that it would advertise only better-for-you products to kids between six and 11 years old. Today, advertising is limited to products in its Sensible Solutions program. And Nickelodeon, Discovery Kids and the Walt Disney Co. have all limited the use of their characters to children’s products that fit certain nutritional criteria.
Despite the limits on marketing, plenty of opportunities exist in children’s products. Information Resources Inc., Chicago, estimates beverage and food companies could realize an incremental $20 billion in sales of better-for-you products for kids. Leading the charge are concerns over childhood obesity and the purchasing power held by a group of consumers that USA Today termed “Alpha moms.” The newest trendsetters are “Type A moms with a common goal: mommy excellence,” the newspaper stated. This breed of mother is looking for the perfect products for her kids and her on-the-go lifestyle.
A number of companies have rolled out products to meet those needs. “The better-for-you trend has been going on for 20 years in the adult category, and we have a ton of options,” says Chris Testa, co-founder of Wild Waters, Hingham, Mass. “But for kids, it’s been limited to high-sugar juice drinks and artificial ingredients.
“I thought there was a huge opportunity to provide kids with the same great-tasting healthy convenience that adults have had access to.”
Wild Waters are flavored water products for kids in flavors such as Kickin’ Green Apple, Groovin’ Grape and Flippin’ Fruit. Packaging features kid icons performing healthy lifestyle activities, and the products contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins E, B3, B6 and B12. Testa says the company followed the advice outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) when it developed its 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The product’s nutritional ingredients are based on nutrients the USDA says are lacking in children’s diets. The products use all-natural ingredients and contain 50 calories per 8-ounce serving.
While lower sugar content is an essential component of the product, the company does not use that message when reaching out to kids. “They’re aware of sugar — a lot more than we give them credit for,” Testa says. “They’re aware of health … however, it’s not a driving factor. They want a brand of their own, which is why we call the product Wild Waters. We try to make it taste great first and then deliver significant health benefits so the parents approve it.”
Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., also rolled out a new lower-sugar product for kids this year called Honest Kids. The product is available in Berry Berry Good Lemonade, Goodness Grapeness and Tropical Mango Punch flavors, and contains about 40 calories per serving. The product is organic and is packaged in pouches with straws.
“The Honest Kids line is just exploding, far beyond our projections for it,” says Seth Goldman, president and “TeaEO” at Honest Tea. “I think what it taps into is the recognition that parents really haven’t had the opportunity to offer healthier products to their kids and they are certainly eager to find those products.”
Honest Kids launched in the spring, and Goldman says the company already has met its full-year projections for the brand.
Also in the organic vein, Clif Bar & Co., Berkeley Calif., introduced Clif Kid Splashers this summer. The powdered drinks are 80 percent organic, with 60 calories per single-serve packet (serving sizes can be larger or smaller, depending on the size of glass or water bottle used). The product contains vitamins B and C, as well as calcium and magnesium, and sodium and potassium as electrolytes. The products carry the tagline “Hydrating Kids in Motion.”
Celestial Seasonings, Boulder, Colo., rolled out new Go Stix kid’s drink mixes with hydration in mind. The powdered drink sticks contain 50 percent less sugar than traditional juice drinks, and provide calcium and vitamin C.
White Hat Brands, Atlanta, Ga., introduced Dog On It!, a vitamin-fortified juice product for “tweens,” or kids 8 to 12 years old. The company says its mission is to develop products to help combat obesity and Type 2 diabetes among pre-teens by helping parents and kids understand the benefits of nutrition and exercise.
“It’s important to understand the different stages of childhood development,” says Chris Olivier, vice president of marketing at White Hat Brands. “When kids get into the six and over stage of childhood development, particularly as tweens, they start to assert their independence to a greater degree. So mom’s still making the purchasing decisions, but kids are definitely having more of an impact, and in many cases making their own purchasing decisions all together.
“We saw an opportunity to give kids and moms a healthier alternative at this stage in their life, but we wanted to do it in a way where the product was packaged and the taste profile was set to meet kids’ requirements.”
Olivier says the company chose the dog theme for the product based on research that showed tweens are particularly interested in pets. In addition, it allowed for gender-neutral positioning. But he says, because the product is targeted at a slightly older audience, it knew the imagery couldn’t be cutesy and went through several iterations before deciding on its sunglass-wearing mascot.
Dog On It! has 80 calories per 8-ounce serving, and contains vitamins A, B, C, D and E, as well as calcium. It is available in Barkin’ Berry and Tail Waggin’ Orange flavors.
New Crayons from Crayons Inc., Bellevue, Wash., are fruit drinks that contain the company’s SugarGuard, which it describes as an all-natural blend of proprietary ingredients, including fiber in the form of Fibersol-2, that control the rate in which sugar is absorbed by the body. The products contain 90 calories per 8-ounce serving, and 25 percent of the recommended daily intake for vitamins A, D and E; 100 percent of the RDI for vitamin C; 12 percent for fiber and 10 percent for calcium. Crayons are packaged in 8-ounce slim cans and 16-ounce PET bottles.
For the wee ones
Products for even younger kids — as in the sippy-cup set — also have hit the market. Wadda Juice, from the Westport, Conn-based company of the same name, is for toddlers and young children. The product is packaged in a PET container with a no-spill top, similar to a sippy cup. It is based on a practice used by many parents of diluting regular juice, and contains less than 50 percent of the sugar of traditional juice drinks and is fortified with vitamin C and 10 percent of the RDI for calcium.
Lifeway Foods’ Probugs Organic Whole Milk Kefir is for kids as young as toddlers. The product is available in Orange Crawler, Sublime Slime and Gooberry Pie flavors, and contains 10 live and active cultures for immune and digestive health. It is packaged in pouches with no-spill tops.
“When I designed it, it was completely from watching my friends and their children and talking to them,” says Julie Smolyansky, president of Lifeway Foods, based in Morton Grove, Ill. “I wanted the inside of the product to be superb … and then the outside done in such a creative and fun way that kids absolutely love it and it’s a fun product to drink.”
Smolyansky says the decision to make the product from whole milk is based on the age of the target consumer — parents often are encouraged to give very young children whole milk as opposed to low-fat or fat-free milk — as well as a preference among many natural and organic consumers. “A lot of the natural and organic sector, they prefer to get the foods in their natural form, without skimming anything out or taking anything out. So we followed that,” she says.
The health aspects of probiotics extend to all consumers, Smolyansky says, adding that the company currently is conducting a study with Georgetown University on the benefits of probiotics in preventing diarrhea in young children. “It’s a product that should be in all of our diets, children and adults,” Smolyanksy says. “Kefir probiotics are very, very important to our diet.”
Nearly every nutritionist will agree on the need for low-sugar beverages for kids, and they seem to agree that kids are not getting certain nutrients in sufficient quantities.
“Kids are not getting enough calcium, which is why osteoperosis is pretty epidemic in our country,” says Bonnie Tandy Leblang, a syndicated food columnist and registered dietician. “It’s been said before and I’ll repeat it, osteoperosis is really a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences.”
Pat Kendall, nutrition expert and registered dietician at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo., agrees, but says it is important to include several other minerals that allow the body to better absorb calcium.
“Along with calcium comes the other nutrients that you typically get when you drink milk products,” she says. “That includes magnesium and vitamin D. You also need to think about that balance of mineral nutrients.”
In addition, she says, vitamin C can increase absorption of calcium, making it an important ingredient for kids. Folic acid is another nutrient that can be difficult for parents to get into a child’s diet, as are omega-3 fatty acids.
Water is another essential product for kids that often is overlooked. Tandy Leblang, who recently launched the Bite of the Best, at biteofthebest.com, to review food and beverage products, cited Aqua2Go, a water packaged in a Tetra Pak box from Esgee Enterprises in New Orleans, as an innovative product to get kids to drink more water.
Susan Nitzke, nutrition expert and registered dietician at the University of Wisconsin, is an advocate of smaller package sizes for kids. “The more calorically dense a food or beverage is, the more important it is to offer it in smaller portions,” she says. “We have lots of research that shows that the bigger the portion that’s given to a child, or an adult, the more likely they are to eat, and in some cases overeat.”
Reducing sugar in children’s beverages is the hot-button issue of the day, and according to nutritionists, can have long-term benefits, beyond helping kids maintain a healthy weight in childhood and avoiding diabetes. Low-sugar products also can help kids develop a preference for low-sugar products later in life.
“If we can keep our beverages not so super sweet, then we’re helping in two ways,” Kendall says. “We’re helping children develop a taste preference for something that isn’t so sweet and we’re also not using as much sugar in the beverages.”
Leblang concurs, suggesting beverage-makers shoot for flavors similar to real fruit. “Actual fruit juices that they can identify the flavor so that when they bite into a piece of fruit, they recognize it as being the same,” she says.
While beverages can be a way to get some nutrients into kids’ diets, Tandy Leblang and other nutritionists warn against adding too many vitamins and minerals, especially to products kids will be consuming more than once a day. “Beverages should not be a vitamin pill for kids because they can get too much of it,” Tandy Leblang says. “We need vitamins, but we don’t need excess. You wouldn’t give your kids two or three vitamin pills a day, so why give them drinks that are so fortified that it’s like a vitamin?”
Getting kids to consume vegetables is an age-old conundrum for parents. A number of beverage companies are formulating products that combine fruits and vegetables, and at the recent IFT show, ingredient companies featured fruit and vegetable combinations that might make the job easier.
Nestlé USA, Glendale, Calif., rolled out Juicy Juice Harvest Surprise earlier this year. The product offers a combined two servings of fruits and vegetables in an 8-ounce glass.
“The idea was born to try to ‘hide’ vegetables in the fruit juice that kids love already,” Victoria Nuevo-Celeste, marketing manager for Juicy Juice, told Beverage Industry in the June cover profile. The product is available in Orange Mango, Tropical and Grape flavors, and contains ingredients such as carrot juice and sweet potato puree.
Amazing Grass, based in San Francisco, introduced Kidz SuperFood, a powdered chocolate drink that is said to contain the nutrition of 33 fruits and vegetables. The company, which got its start in wheat grass products, specializes in dehydrated forms of whole fruits and vegetables. In Kidz SuperFood, it has combined its fruit and vegetable powders with cocoa and 1 gram of sugar. The product can be blended with water or milk.
Vegetable Juices Inc. (VJI), Bedford, Ill., showcased its Non-Thermal Concentrates at the IFT show in Chicago, and often uses the term “stealth health” to refer to the benefits of its blends of fruits and vegetables.
“We use the term ‘stealth health’ to describe the goal of achieving a great-tasting product, which just happens to be very healthy,” says Barry Horne, vice president of sales and marketing at VJI. “Kids do not focus on the health aspects — but parents do. Successfully meet the needs of both constituents, and you’ve increased the odds for success.”
VJI’s system for producing non-thermal concentrates maintains the products at 45 degrees or colder, which minimizes loss or degradation in color, flavor and nutrients, as well as top notes or aromas.
“We have developed, in our research, an understanding of the juices that function well as primary building blocks of a beverage system – such as cucumber juice – juices which impart little flavor or color, yet contribute beneficial vegetable servings,” Horne says. “We also understand those juices which contribute characterizing flavors and colors, or are nutrient dense, and how they interact as blends. Additionally, our proprietary juice processing system provides products with greater clarity, maintaining authentic color and flavor.”
Florida Food Products Inc., Eustis, Fla., also displayed concentrates and powdered forms of fruits and vegetables such as Veg-Com vegetable juice concentrates, which use a cold-evaporation process that is said to retain the flavor, color and functional properties of raw vegetables. Varieties include beet, cabbage, cucumber, carrot and celery, among other varieties. The company also offers Veg-Blend concentrates, Veg-Dry vacuum-dried vegetable juices and Juice-Dry vacuum-dried fruit juices.
A recent study reported in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reports that kids are heavily influenced by the power of brands. The study asked young children participating in Head Start programs in San Mateo County, Calif., to taste test products from McDonald’s in branded and unbranded wrappers, and found the kids preferred by far the branded products, even when they were identical to the products in the unbranded wrappers.
According to the study, “By the early age of 3 to 5 years, low-income pre-school children preferred the tastes of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s, demonstrating that brand identity can influence young children’s taste perceptions.”
Interestingly, the preferences held true for carrots that were presented in McDonald’s packaging. Carrots were not offered at McDonald’s restaurants at the time of the study, meaning the children could not have been influenced by prior marketing or sampling of the products at McDonald’s.
Based on the findings, the study’s authors concurred with recent calls for advertising restrictions. On a positive note, they also concluded that the same influences can help children improve their diets in the future, and “suggest that branding may be a useful strategy for improving young children’s eating behaviors.”