Agri-Food Trade Service
The Impact of North America's Younger Generation
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Children and their relationship with food is evolving, creating a new generation of "foodies" who have a growing interest in new food experiences. Heightened media attention on children's health and nutrition is also reshaping the landscape of new product development in the food industry, and impacting product offerings in retail, foodservice and schools. This is providing an array of opportunities for suppliers who can meet these demands, and provide new and innovative products which are also healthy. While this young generation is already impacting the food industry, their influence will likely only increase in significance, as these children become mainstream consumers in the future.
In Canada, the population segments of children aged 0-4, 5-9, and 10-14 years of age, were each estimated to represent slightly more than 5% of the total Canadian population in July of 2009. The segment aged 15-19 years, represents a slightly higher proportion (6.7% of the population). The proportion of children is slightly higher, but still fairly similar, in the United States (U.S.) where these age segments are each estimated to represent between 6-7% of the total U.S. population. However, due to the larger size of the U.S. population, the number of children aged 0-19 years of age is an 83.4 million size market. In Canada, the population size of children aged 0-19 years is 7.9 million. While the proportion of these young consumer segments isn't expected to increase over the next couple of decades, as the total country populations grow, so will the size of the younger population. In Canada, the population aged 0-19 years is forecasted to reach 9.3 million in 2031 with a (moderate growth projection), while the under 18 population in the U.S. is expected to reach 85.7 million (Statistics Canada May 26 and June 29, 2010; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division 2005 and 2010).
Healthy Eating and Obesity
With rising obesity rates and a less active younger generation, providing children with healthy snacks and meal options has been an area of focus among government, industry, consumers and institutions. The childhood obesity rate in the United States is currently 20%, but a recent government task force report has a goal to reduce this rate to 5% by 2030. Nearly one third of children in the United States are estimated to be either overweight or obese, while in Canada it is estimated to be one quarter (Benac, June 14, 2010).
In the United States, First Lady, Michelle Obama, has particularly placed a spotlight on reducing childhood obesity and fostering a better and healthier connection with food through her "Let's Move" campaign. The campaign includes providing information to parents, increasing access to healthy foods, and encouraging more exercise. This increasing awareness of the importance of nutrition and healthy eating for children is in turn impacting both retail grocery and institutional foodservice product offerings. In Canada, studies have focused on high levels of sugar and sodium in food for children, and a government working group was appointed to develop a sodium reduction strategy.
Evolving School Lunches
Increased access to healthy foods is resulting in a drive to improve the quality of lunches offered in schools, and both school food programs and vending machines present entry opportunities for healthier products. A recent survey of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) indicates that programs are in fact moving in a healthier direction. Some of the most popular improvements in school nutrition involve increasing whole-grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and reducing sodium and sugar. Major suppliers of school lunches have also set goals to reduce unhealthy ingredients, including sugar, fat and salt, and increase healthier items. A 2010 Back to School Trends Report by The SNA, highlights new products, policy trends and issues impacting school programs. Funding is also planned to help cafeterias serve more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products that are low-in-fat. Food manufacturers have been taking proactive steps to reduce calories, and chefs are also increasingly active in the drive to improve school lunch nutrition.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is involved in the "Let's Move" campaign against obesity, through a program that allows chefs to adopt a school in their community and work with stakeholders to improve food education and nutrition. A variety of other chef-related initiatives, that involve educating school children and food professionals on healthy meal preparation, have also been cropping up. A "Growing Chefs" program in British Columbia, Canada, also has similar goals: helping children connect with food by matching local chefs with classes from grades 1 to 3, and providing food, cooking and gardening education.
Organics are also playing into the trend for healthier food and beverage options and may become increasingly present at schools as a result. The EcoChamber, a global green chamber of commerce, has been lobbying for schools to use organic foods in their food programs. The goal is to promote and improve the health and academic performance of children, and the organization is working to match organic food suppliers with schools, in order to facilitate this process.
Product offerings in retail grocery are also being impacted by the focus on healthy and convenient lunch and snack products for children, providing opportunities for suppliers who offer products with these attributes. A recent article in Western Grocer magazine highlighted several food trends occurring in retail grocery stores, which have already been prominent trends this year and include allergen-free, better-for-you, organic, and sustainable products (2010). Product offerings include organic juice boxes, new dried fruit flavours, and whole grain bread with less sodium and sugar. Another area of focus is on making life easier at breakfast and dinner for consumers through snack products and meal solutions, while still maintaining health and nutrition.
Healthy Eating for the Whole Family
Market trends are providing opportunities for suppliers who can provide products which meet these two key consumer needs of convenience and health/nutrition. Consumers are interested in these products not only for themselves, but particularly for their children and in providing healthy meals for their family. However, a recent global report, Kids Health and Nutrition 2010, by Mintel and Bio2com found that North America had surprisingly low innovation when it came to new functional food and beverage product launches aimed at children. Product launches in North America were lower than in Europe, Asia Pacific and South America, and researchers were surprised that the children's functional food segment in North America was not receiving as much marketing attention in comparison to other markets (Heller, September 7, 2010). However, this lack of product launches and market focus may provide an opening for new products and suppliers of children's functional foods in North America.
Increasing interest in food variety, and a deeper understanding of food origins and preparation, seems to be appearing among North America's young consumers and could be promising for creating a healthier generation.
There are a growing number of children who have a strong interest in food and sophisticated food preparation, who have been termed "Koodies" by Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert. The offspring of a generation of "Foodie" parents, these kids are keenly interested in all food experiences: eating, cooking and watching. By passing on their interest and enjoyment of food to their children, Foodies are raising a new generation that also shares a passion for food. These children actually enjoy trying new and unusual foods and are driving the evolution to a more sophisticated and adventurous food demand for children in America. Lempert suggests this younger generation might offer hope to reversing the prevalence of food related diseases and obesity, and expects that this generation is already fuelling grocery and retail offerings for children that are more nutritious and adventurous (Lempert, March 2010). A number of other studies have also been exploring this phenomenon among the younger generation.
The growing presence of food, cooking and baking content on the web, created by and for children, also points to a growing interest in this generation for food and sharing the experience with others. For example, The Food Network has a Cooking for Kids section on their web site, complete with cooking videos, recipes, baking, and advice, and information relating to calcium, vegetarianism, obesity and picky eaters. Food Network Canada also offers a similar Cooking with Kids section, while Canadian Living has launched a new kids cooking section titled Get your kids into the kitchen! Yet another web site, Jr. Chefs of America (JCOA), offers a web based cooking program created and hosted by kids. The entire site is devoted to kids and cooking, and includes recipes, healthy eating information, resources, videos, and more.
This interest in food means that these children are attracted to a much wider array of healthy foods and ingredients. This generation of Koodies may in fact aid in combating childhood obesity, as they are open to new, healthier foods and enjoy eating a variety of products. This also appears to be playing a role in the variety of foods that are becoming available at schools this year, which are not only healthier but provide new food experiences. For example, edamame, sweet potato puffs and fish tacos are all appearing on school menus this year. Numerous other food-related activities such as cooking classes, school gardening and nutrition programs are working to foster increased knowledge and understanding the connection between health, nutrition and food. These activities and programs, such as the Rising Chefs cooking school that offers a variety of cooking classes, parties and camps, are also meeting the growing interest in new food experiences for children.
Restaurants have been particularly catering to this new market of Koodies, as well as demand for healthier food options for children by increasing the nutrition, variety, flavour profiles and sophistication available on kids' menus; catering to a consumer that doesn't shy away from spice, new foods or ingredients. The appearance of more 'grown up', sophisticated food offerings on menus has been dubbed 'kid-adult fusion' by some, and is believed to be driving the growth of kids' menus in food service. Food chains Qdoba and P.F. Chang's, for example, have recently come out with menus specifically catered to children, offering smaller portions of their most popular dishes (Rodgers, February 2010). A number of other chains such as Friendly's and Denny's have also followed suit; often after conducting research and gathering feedback from kids. Higher-end dining is also catering to the demand for sophisticated kids menus, such as at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello where the menu includes salmon medallions and crème brûlée.
Restaurants are also interested in further engaging this young generation, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., recently held a cook-off contest for kids to see who would create America's next gourmet burger. More than 11,000 kids across the United States took part in the competition, and the panel of judges included a host from the Food Network (Sunbelt Foodservice, January 2010). The winner of the competition was 10 year old Emma Potts, who was also asked to share her recipe with the TODAY show (TODAY, MSNBC, 2010).
Children's health and nutrition has been garnering attention among media, government, associations, and industry, and it is no surprise that there is a definite movement towards providing healthier food and beverage options in retail grocery, foodservice and institutions. In addition to health, demand for convenient and innovative products has long been present in the consumer market, and is now growing among the younger generation. With these converging trends, it is products that contain all three attributes which have the potential to see success and capitalize on market opportunities. A growing amount of healthy and innovative options for children are appearing in the market, and it will be interesting to see how the food and beverage preferences and habits of this generation are shaped and evolve. The impact that these habits will have on future consumption and product choices will be something to watch for in the future.
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