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Consumer Trends: Purchasing Drivers of Parents

A proprietary Cargill survey of more than 1,000 consumers investigated parents' attitudes and drivers of food and beverage purchases for their children. Key findings of the Cargill Gatekeeper Purchase Drivers Study were announced at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Food Expo.

CHICAGO (PRNewswire) — A proprietary Cargill survey of more than 1,000 consumers investigated parents' attitudes and drivers of food and beverage purchases for their children. Key findings of the Cargill Gatekeeper Purchase Drivers Study, announced at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Food Expo, included:

  • Parents are more likely to seek foods and beverages that appeal to the whole family rather than products and meals that are just for kids;
  • Parents are unsatisfied with the healthfulness of current options across key categories of foods and beverages popular with kids;
  • Parents tend to seek positive attributes such as whole grains and fiber rather than avoiding the things they perceive to be unhealthy, such as fat, sugar and sodium.

"We know it's important to meet the nutrition and budget expectations of parents, while also satisfying kids on the taste dimension," said DeeAnn Roullier, marketing research manager, Cargill. "Our research provides a more specific understanding of gatekeeper purchase drivers in categories heavily consumed by kids. This helps us collaborate with customers to develop healthier foods that really resonate." 

This research was conducted as part of Cargill's childhood nutrition initiative which aims to help food and beverage manufacturers and foodservice operators formulate products that improve the nutrition profile of products targeted to children.

Family-Friendly vs. Kid-Centric
Today's parents are more likely to take a family approach to food rather than seek products and meals that are just for kids. This means parents apply greater scrutiny to both taste and nutrition for a broader set of foods and beverages the entire family consumes. According to the survey, only one-third of parents said they "often prepare separate adult and kid meals" and 81 percent of parents said it's important for the foods they purchase to appeal to the entire family. When looking to determine whether it was the kids or the parents who compromise on the kinds of foods they eat, it was the kids: 89 percent of parents said they ask their kids to broaden their tastes and 69 percent said they ask their kids to try more adult food. Importantly, millennial parents (ages 18-32) are more likely to say family appeal is important compared to older parents, which suggests young consumers moving into parenthood are likely to adopt a family approach.

Satisfaction vs. Purchase Intent
The Cargill study looked across nine food and beverage categories that are popular with children --cereal, cookies, crackers, bread/rolls, snack bars, fruit juice/drinks, frozen pizza, ice cream and carbonated soft drinks — to determine the key attributes that resonate most with parents. Compared to the general population, parents show a low level of satisfaction with the healthfulness of most of these categories. This low satisfaction drives high purchase intent for healthier products. Cargill's results indicate a high level of intent to purchase healthier products in 8 of 9 categories and highlight opportunity gaps for each category. The biggest opportunity for a healthier product was with cookies, which showed a purchase intent satisfaction gap of 24 points. 

Seeking vs. Avoiding
Parents are more likely to seek positive attributes in food and beverage products than to avoid what they perceive to be unhealthy. A majority of parents (76 percent) say they check the nutrition information on unfamiliar products. Contrary to popular belief, the Cargill survey revealed that parents are actually less likely than the general population to check the nutrition facts panel (65 percent versus 71 percent), but more likely to say they check nutrition highlights on the front of the package (65 percent versus 55 percent). Perhaps the busy lifestyles of parents keep them from studying the back of the package, but make them more likely to review the front. 

"Seeking" is about positive nutrition, including nutrient density, inherent benefits, and foods and beverages that are naturally rich in nutrients like fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that include "good" things such as whole grains and balanced energy. "Seeking" was a key driver in many categories: cookies, bread/rolls, snack bars, crackers, cereal and fruit juice/drinks.

"Avoiding" is about reducing the attributes consumers perceive to be unhealthy, such as fat, sodium, calories or sugar. "Avoiding" was the top purchase driver in only one category, frozen pizza. 

"Pressures on food and beverage companies to formulate more nutritious products for kids are coming from all angles — consumers, NGOs and government as well as many customers' own internal nutrition targets," said Roullier. "Those pressures are typically focused on limiting nutrients that are perceived to be less healthy, especially fat, sodium and sugar. Our research suggests that consumers are largely interested in positive nutrition. This puts food and beverage manufacturers in a tough place, and Cargill can help them meet these divergent demands."

About the survey:
This survey was conducted by Cargill's marketing research group. It was an online survey of more than 1,000 people fielded in November 2012. The sample consisted of a mix of general population consumers and parents of children ages 2 to 12 so that parents could be compared versus non-parents / general population. More than two-thirds of the respondents were parents. Parents were asked about food and beverage purchases for their child(ren), while the general population was asked about purchases for their household.

About Cargill
Cargill is an international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, financial and industrial products and services. Founded in 1865, the privately held company employs 142,000 people in 65 countries. Cargill helps customers succeed through collaboration and innovation, and is committed to applying its global knowledge and experience to help meet economic, environmental and social challenges wherever it does business. For more information, visit and its news center.

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