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As many parents know, children can often be finicky when it comes to the types of treats they want. Many children know what they like and resist any type of change. So, what do you do if you manufacture a popular portable lunch solution with a beloved treat, but  COVID created supply chain disruptions resulting in uncertainties in the availability of the treat?

This was the situation our client, a food and beverage manufacturer, was facing. Due to the supply chain shifts, the brand's leadership decided to explore other types of treats they could offer that would be acceptable to children -- and to parents, who actually make the purchases. 
C+R created a multi-phase qualitative research program to help the company uncover the important roles of treats for parents and children and to discover alternative treats (food and non-food) that might be acceptable. As a result, our client gained a greater understanding of treats, as well as actionable steps to find success if they move forward in changing the  treat component of their portable lunch solution product.


A major manufacturer of kid-focused food and beverages offered a 'treat' as a component in a popular portable lunch solution. However, they were experiencing shifts in their supply chain due to COVID, and were therefore interested in changing the types of treats offered. Before deciding what treats to offer, they first needed to understand the role of, and opportunities for, current treats. 

They approached C+R for help in understanding:

  • Parents' and kids' current perceptions of the role and meaning of 'treats';
  • The relative importance of the benefits of treats (e.g., for satiety, flavor, play value, etc.);
  • Perceived elasticity of what a 'treat' could be; and
  • The comparative appeal of alternative treats, including non-food options.

The results of the study conceptualized the importance of treats for kids and their parents. We learned of the varying roles treats can play (e.g., as a reward, as dessert, as a surprise) and learned that both food and non-food items were acceptable, although treats seen as 'healthier' were typically used differently than treats seen as 'more indulgent.'

Additionally, our client learned which treats would be most and least accepted by kids and parents in their lunch solutions product different treats in their products.


C+R developed a multi-phase qualitative approach to help our client gain insights into the importance of treats to parents and children.

First, we created an asynchronous online discussion board to gather parents' and kids' views on the importance of treats. Sixteen parent/child pairs from across the United States took part in the discussion board, which lasted two days. The parent was responsible for at least 50% of the household's grocery shopping, had purchased our client's brand in the past six months, and intended to purchase it again in the future. Household income was at least $35,000 annually. For the child participants, a mix of boys and girls across grades 2-4 were recruited.

Participants answered questions about their food philosophies and what the kids typically eat for lunches and snacks. They also discussed the role of our client's brand in their lives and the important benefits that treats provided (such as satiety, play value, etc.). We elicited answers to these questions using both video-recorded discussions and creative immersive activities.

In the second phase of the study, a subset of twelve parent/child pairs from the board were invited to participate in live tandem webcam interviews. Each interview lasted 45 minutes, and the participants represented a mix of ethnicities and an equal mix of families where the child was in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. 

During the interview, the parent/child pair participated in an unboxing activity. Prior to the interview, the parent was asked to buy two of our client's lunch solution products: one with a treat and one without. The child was presented with both options and questioned regarding what they liked and disliked about each option. Via this activity, we were able to drill deeper into the role of the treat in eliciting delight from the child.

In the final phase of the research program, we returned to the asynchronous board and to all 16 original participant pairs to discover which treat alternatives, if any, they would prefer to find in the client's lunch solution product. We dove deep to discover how well each option lined up with the benefits of treats the parents and children had outlined previously. 

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