Whether it’s meal deals, grab ‘ n go dips or protein with a carb, ready-to-eat pizza or snack packs, there’s a plethora of instore products loved by kids —even if they’re not the target demographic.
One of Asheville, North Carolina-based natural foods retail chain Earth Fare’s core beliefs is that healthy foods should be available to everyone, everywhere, says Paul Cassara, the company’s director of prepared foods and foodservice.
That “everyone,” he says, includes kids —kids of all backgrounds. “In our Ready To Go section, families will find a variety of kids’ meals for just $3 every day,” Cassara says. “The two most popular options are the chicken nugget meal and the turkey cheese roll-up.”
All kids’ meals at Earth Fare come with a side of hummus and organic baby carrots and fresh red grapes. And like all foods sold at the chain, the kids’ meals adhere to Earth Fare’s rigorous Food Philosophy, which ensures that all foods are free of antibiotics; added hormones; bleached or bromated flour; high fructose corn syrup; and artificial fats and trans-fats, sweeteners, preservatives, colors, and flavors.
“These meals are a delicious, healthy, affordable alternative to the drive-thru that parents can feel good about feeding their children,” Cassara says.
Other kid-friendly options in the prepared foods section of Earth Fare include the chain’s famous pizza, Cassara says. “Our pizza is definitely a favorite among our younger shoppers,” he says. And at $5 for two huge slices cut from an 18 in pie, it’s an affordable option for families with hungry kids. “Some of our shoppers have even made a tradition out of taking their kids to get a slice of pizza at Earth Fare.”
Earth Fare also recently launched its Snackable program, which is designed to provide healthy breakfast, lunch and after-school snack options for both kids and adults. These mini- meals consist of a few healthy items that pack a big punch when it comes to satisfying hunger, Cassara says. “The most popular of these is our Protein Snackable, which contains healthy trail mix, a cage-free hardboiled egg, cubed RBGH-free cheese, and antibiotic-free and no-added-hormone grilled chicken.”
For an on-the-go healthy breakfast option, Cassara says the Snackable with grapes, a cage-free hardboiled egg, organic yogurt and granola is a customer favorite.
For a company built on the idea that eating healthy, clean, nourishing foods directly and positively impacts people’s health and can help them lead longer, healthier, happier lives, making a point to reach the youngest consumers is a no-brainer, Cassara says. Earth Fare customers can look forward to many more new kid-friendly products.
“We believe that helping kids see that their favorite foods can also be good for them can set them on a path of lifelong healthy eating, which is incredibly motivating for us,” he says. “We recently launched a great signature mac and cheese that was tested and kid-approved. We’ll look to expand on this and bring an innovative new meal line to market very soon.”
Designed for adults, loved by kids
In March, La Farge, Wisconsin-based Organic Valley added a grab ‘n go snack line to its product roster.
Organic Valley Snack Kits from Organic Valley, the largest U.S. organic farmers’ cooperative, feature cheese, crackers and meat in one pack. The line includes three varieties: sharp cheddar and summer sausage; pepper jack and summer sausage; and mozzarella and roasted garlic summer sausage.
The packs were designed with adults in mind, says Ellie France, Organic Valley’s brand manager for Meat, Snacks and Prepared Food. “We wanted to deliver premium, organic snacking to busy adults on-the-go,” France says.
The product tested great and, in its two months on the market, has generated lots of positive comment from that target demographic group, France says. But Organic Valley also has received unexpected feedback of a different kind. “We’re now hearing reports about adults purchasing these kits for their children for lunch, for snacks after school,” France says.
While Organic Valley didn’t design the Snack Kits specifically for kids, the company did make it easy for all consumers to enjoy it, France says. “The tray is easy-open, and each compartment includes finger holes for easy access to the meat, cheese, and crackers,” she says. “No more dumping the tray over to get all the food out.”
The packs, which retail for a suggested $4.99, have 230 or fewer calories, pack 13 or 14 grams of protein and have nearly 40 percent less sodium than other, similar packs.
France says consumers are telling them how happy they are to have an organic snack option that includes meat, cheese and crackers. “And the quality is especially good,” she adds. “Our summer sausage is the best-selling organic sausage in the U.S., and our cheeses also regularly win awards for flavor and quality.” In addition, Organic Valley partnered with a top artisanal cracker maker for a “really excellent” stone-ground organic cracker, she says.
White Plains, New York-based Sabra Dipping Co. is focused on positioning its grab ‘n go hummus and guacamole products, which come with pretzels, pita chips or tortilla chips, as convenient, better-for-you snacking options for the whole family, says Ryan Saghir, the company’s director of digital marketing.
Sabra Snackers and Sabra Singles are two such products that have been a hit with kids, Saghir says. “Sabra Snackers are great as a mid-day snack that will keep you going and you don’t have to feel bad about enjoying,” he says. “Sabra Singles are a convenient accompaniment to any lunch box, for both parents and kids alike.”
And there’s big room for growth in the category, Saghir says —for many consumers, hummus is still foreign territory. “Surprisingly, there’s still a lot of people in the U.S. that have not tried hummus,” he says. “Once parents see how much their kids love our hummus, it becomes a wholesome and delicious snack that the whole family can enjoy, especially with fresh veggies and delicious pita bread.”
Kids know quality
Salt Lake City-based Creminelli Fine Meats tells a story similar to the one told by Organic Valley. Creminelli’s new line of snack packs pairing its premium meats with similarly high-end cheeses and crackers or breadsticks (and, in one case, cherries) was picked up by Kroger this winter and Target this spring, says Eric Schwartz-Johnson, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Like Organic Valley, Creminelli didn’t create the packs with kids in mind. Also like its Wisconsin counterpart, Creminelli has been pleasantly surprised by how much buzz they’re generating among the youngest consumers. For Schwartz-Johnson, it started with his 3-year-old twins. “Quite frequently I’d grab a tray and it would end up as the main part of their lunch,” he says.
Soon enough, Schwartz-Johnson began noticing the kid-related buzz surrounding the packs on Creminelli’s social media-based campaigns. Many of the social media influencers who were asked to give the products a test run, then blog about or photograph them, are parents who shared not only their enthusiasm but their kids’. “We didn’t give them specific guidance, but a ton of the content is about kids eating them,” Schwartz-Johnson says.
Kids don’t know that Creminelli is a premier brand, but they do have an instinct for good flavor, and they’ll ask for it again and again, Schwartz-Johnson says. “The degree to which kids discern quality foods from normal-quality foods astounds me.”
Items in the line, which could definitely grow, Schwartz-Johnson says, include:
- Casalingo with Aged Gouda and Cherries;
- Felino with Manchengo and Crackers;
- Finnochiona with Provolone and Crackers;
- Prosciutto with Mozzarella and Grissini (breadsticks); and
- Sopressata with Monterey Jack and Crackers
Connecting with the consumers of the future
Today’s kids, France says, are tomorrow’s advocates for organic foods, making it crucial to include them in overall marketing efforts. “Eventually they’ll be parents, too,” she says. “So it’s really important to connect with families – the parents who want to provide clean, healthy food, and their kids who grow up expecting that kind of option.”
Organic Valley recently put that idea into practice with the launch of its new 100% grass-fed organic yogurt for kids. In addition, “Stringles,” Organic Valley’s single-serve string cheese; American singles; and the company’s kids’ milk boxes have all been important to the company’s success, France says.
And more new products aimed at kids are definitely on the horizon for Organic Valley. “Whenever convenience is a factor, that will be appealing to busy parents, often with kids in the car,” France says. “And everyone now wants the high quality and clean label of organic in a ready-to-eat or ready-to-drink format, hopefully available at the gas station or the corner bodega. So we absolutely want to be wherever our consumers are shopping, wherever they hope to find us.”
For Naperville, Illinois-based Eby-Brown, the largest privately-owned convenience store distributor in the U.S., marketing efforts aimed at kids were originally focused mainly on pastries, confections and beverages, says Andy Batt, vice president of business and brand development for the company’s Wakefield Sandwich Co. division.
It's since expanded to include more healthful items (reduced sugar, gluten-free and natural and organic, in particular) and more grab ‘n go items, including Hillshire Small Plates, Cheesewich, P3 and Oscar Mayer Lunchables products. On the bakery side, Hostess and Mrs. Freshley’s are two strong brands that appeal to kids.
“Some of these are targeting kids while others happen to appeal to kids and adults,” Batt says.
Some c-stores provide meal deal options that would be good fits for kids’ school lunches, Batt says. “Some stores will offer a complete meal bundle that includes a sandwich, chips and a beverage for a special price.”
Limited-time offers and new items can be crucial to grabbing the attention of kids and their parents, Batt says. For promotions, Star Wars and Minions are two of the brand tie-ins that have borne fruit with the younger demographic. The key with catering to kids and their ever-changing tastes, he says, is to keep coming up with new ideas. “Innovation is constant.”
While Eby-Brown doesn’t separate and measure sales of kids’ items separately from the categories and segments the products fall into, it’s clear, Batt says, that “there are several success stories within these kids’ segments. Kids represent our future core consumers. Having relevance now can have huge benefits in the future.”