One of the questions we at YouthBeat® routinely get asked is, “What trends are impacting kids’ snacking?” Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few things going on that food producers need to know to be relevant with the snacking habits of Gen Z youth. Three things we’ve observed that are key for 2016:
1. Parents avoiding “big food”
From avoiding products with GMOs (56% of kids’ parents avoid) to joining the organic (42% of parents seek) and local food movements, younger Millennial parents, in particular, are turning away from some of the bigger brands they grew up with in favor of what we’re calling a “small food” movement towards more versatile brands (think anything from Trader Joe’s, or a brand like Annie’s or Clif Bar Kid). Though kids have a great deal of influence over what they eat, parents still make the purchase decisions for the pantry, and in most categories there are multiple brand options from which to select.
What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids? Emotionally, this trend benefits parents (who want to make good choices for their kids) more than children. Kids are still rather hedonistic in what they eat (only 48% say they try to eat healthy). That said, there are benefits to making choices their parents agree with, and saving their “asks” for things they care about more (like the newest video game system). And smaller food brands can be more nimble than some “big food” brands, churning out new flavors and forms more frequently, which ups the probability of kids finding something new that they like.
2. Bolder and ethnic flavors entering the mix
With the ubiquity of Internet time, youth now have the ability to go on social media (e.g., Pinterest or YouTube) to encounter not just people of other cultures, but recipes and hacks for creating those flavors themselves. If they watch MasterChef Junior, they see young people like themselves empowered to think outside the lunchbox and create new flavors of their own. More spice-forward flavors like jalapeno cheddar (17% of kids like) and wasabi (7% like) are entering the youth lexicon—and even if they don’t love the flavors, they will try them. Some even catch on virally, such as the hot flavors of Takis (for an entertaining view search YouTube for a Takis vs. hot Cheetos challenge).
What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids? By the age of about 8 or 9, most kids develop a bit of edge to their senses of humor and adventure. Eating, or watching someone else eat something that could be good or could be hideous is thrilling. If they made it in the kitchen themselves, they feel a powerful sense of control over their environment—and, of course, are more likely to “like” it. And if they can tolerate, or even like, something spicy, they have earned a badge of honor among their peers
3. Flavor mash-ups coming on scene
From Taco Bell’s Cap’n Crunch flavored dessert “Delights” to cookie flavored Oreo drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts, kids embrace combinations of their favorite flavors into new meta-flavors. Despite not having a kids’ menu, Taco Bell routinely appears in our Top 5 list of kids’ favorite restaurants (unaided). Their Starburst-flavored slushies might have something to do with that too.
What’s the benefit to kids of this trend for kids? This one is simple and twofold, the pleasure of the senses being most important. If one flavor they love is great, two must be better, right? Plus, if they’re ordering at an “adult” restaurant or coffee shop, they get to feel like they have grown-up palates.