In previous qualitative research projects, we have understandably devoted quite a lot of time to understanding the attitudes and behaviours of shoppers and how they interact with supermarkets. One of the key themes that emerged was how difficult it could be for main shoppers to cope with the rigours of shopping with their children.
‘Pester power,’ encouraged by kids being confronted with ‘unhealthy’ but desirable foods; boredom; and general misbehaviour were all cited as reasons why many shoppers endeavoured to complete the weekly shop while their kids were at school, or complete the main shop online. Many shoppers suggested that they would elect to avoid entire aisles of their usual supermarket to avoid unleashing an outbreak of pester power, and many noted that they dreaded spirited discussions over which items or brands to select in particular categories like breakfast cereals and soft drinks – fearful that kids would be lobbying for less healthy variants (often lured by free gifts or cartoon characters).
On the flipside, a sizeable number of adult shoppers were full of praise for initiatives such as free fruit for kids, sweet-free checkouts and instore activities that made the overall grocery shopping experience more bearable.
In the overall scheme of grocery distribution, there is often an implicit assumption that children mainly occupy the role of passive consumer. As many parents (and retailers) would attest however, ranging, merchandising and shopper marketing are often geared towards acknowledging that kids play an active role in the shopping trip and shopper decision-making.
Kids & food:
With this in mind, we recently completed an accompanied shopping trip with a variety of younger shoppers / consumers to see how they interacted with a typical supermarket, the products contained within it and the various merchandising techniques deployed. We also listened to their viewpoints and opinions as they browsed the store – but not before attaching GoPro cameras to them to genuinely get a child’s-eye view. Our observations, several of which are by no means surprising, are below.
Merchandising: Observing younger consumers navigate a supermarket confirms a number of received wisdoms on broader shopper marketing techniques. Like their larger counterparts, kids naturally gravitate towards gondola ends, FSDUs and dump bins, particularly if they are piled with ‘treats’ such as confectionery, bakery and savoury snacks. Also, in a nod to the adage ‘eye level is buy level,’ children are quick to explore shelves at their height or lower. The final observation on basic merchandising, which will exasperate parents, is that clip strips really are tremendously effective at capturing the attention of kids.
Non-food: While kids are quick to lose their patience in the face of an array of tinned goods and washing detergents, well-placed general merchandise ranges (books, magazines, DVDs, pocket money toys and fashion) can break up a shopping trip and provide some welcome diversion. The flipside, obviously, is that the presence of these lines can often create unwelcome demands for purchase or can disrupt/prolong a shopping trip.
Checkouts: A traditional minefield for parents, awash with confectionery, soft drinks and other impulse items, checkouts have long been a source of angst at the end of a shopping trip. Those that have been cleansed of unhealthy temptation are therefore a godsend. The parents that we shopped with are eternally grateful that confectionery has been replaced in some stores with healthier options like dried fruit and nuts, meaning that kids can be appeased without recourse to less healthy options.
Branding & format: One of the things that surprised us as we accompanied the kids through stores was just how adept they are at identifying brands and individual SKUs, often from some distance. Their grasp of brand identity was impressive and they were also able to recognise when packs and formats had been specifically designed for younger consumers (multipacks were equated with treat or snack occasions). Their overriding (accurate) conclusion was that, if packaging features a character of any description, then it is likely to be for kids. Features such as on-pack quizzes and games are also welcome, while youngsters also showed an impressive grasp of nutritional devices like traffic lights, often demonstrating better understanding than their parents.
The instore journey:
Trust: A number of our junior shoppers seemed to have a reassuringly naïve (or trusting) perspective towards brands and supermarkets, opining that they had faith in both entities to provide healthy products. One girl, confronted by a sugar-laden cereal fixture, expressed a belief that all the items would be healthy “because they are breakfast.”
Nutritional awareness: Both parents and schools have seemingly exerted a very positive impact on kids’ awareness of what a balanced diet should look like. The children that we shopped with were more than confident in what ‘bad’ food and drinks were – those high in sugar or salt were readily singled out, although there is no small measure of confusion about the role of fat in such a balanced nutritional regime. Categories like produce and fish were routinely identified as being ‘good’, with both parents and schools acknowledged as the main sources of dietary information and recommendations.
Allergies & intolerances: What became abundantly clear as we shopped with the kids is that the issue of allergies and food intolerances has reached fever pitch. Each child either had an allergy or intolerance themselves (dairy, salmon and gluten amongst others) or they knew several peers that did. The children were aware that retailers have developed Free From ranges to better cater for consumers that need to avoid certain ingredients or substances, but several of the mums that we spoke to were keen to point out that Free From products were often far from healthy options.
An overriding conclusion from our fascinating time instore with mums and their children is that retailers will have to make some potentially tough decisions if they haven’t already done so. Doing the right thing for mum (removing confectionery from checkouts, getting rid of clip strips, providing free fruit and even creating instore activities to keep kids entertained) might not necessarily be the right thing for commercial performance in the short term. However, our belief is that doing the right thing for the shopper will yield dividends in the long-run. Facilitating – not disrupting – the shopping trip and enabling shoppers (both big and small) to make healthier decisions is a strategic direction that we would encourage.
Bryan Roberts, Global Insights Director