Study warns food makers not to 'overlook' kids market

Related tags Food industry Nutrition

A new study reminds food manufacturers that the distinct €14
billion children's food and drink market must not be "overlooked",
with opportunities still ripe in a host of product sectors,
reports Lindsey Partos.

Despite falling birth rates, children aged between 5 and 14 represent a sizeable chunk of western Europe: representing around 13 per cent of the total population.

In terms of market value, children's products contribute about €14-15 billion to the overall €700 billion food and drink market in western Europe.

But research from the UK's Leatherhead Food International​ suggests this sizeable, far from product saturated, sector represents "an interesting challenge for food and drink manufacturers"​.

The group cite cheese, biscuits and frozen foods as areas currently seeing decent growth, but which also hold potential.

Total penetration of children's cheese in the five countries under review only stands at about 3 per cent of sales, worth a total of €770m in a €23.5 billion market, say the authors.

In the UK, penetration is much higher at 12 per cent of the total, "thanks to the established nature of the cheese snacks category in this country and the wider overall acceptance of processed cheeses in Britain".

The most significant cross-border brand in the children'sfrozen foods market in Europe is Unilever's Captain. In the UK,he is known as Captain Birds Eye, but this varies from countryto country including Captain Iglo in France, Kapt'n Iglo inGermany, Capitan Findus in Italy and Capitán Frudesa in Spain.

According to the report, one of the most important launches in the UK children's biscuit market in the past couple of years has been the Happy Hippo brand from Ferrero: already a strong line in continental Europe but launched for the first time in the UK in February 2004.

A leap away from chocolate biscuits, growing global health concerns over diet are becoming entrenched in the minds of parents; offering ongoing opportunities for product development in the health positioned foods market.

The Leatherhead report claims that 69 per cent of parents surveyed felt the five-a-day fruit and vegetables diet was "very or extremely important".

When questioned, fat reduction arrived as the number one parental, followed by sugar/calorie reduction, and then carbohydrate reduction.

In terms of brand penetration and/or companies that parents trust Leatherhead reports that names most cited: Birds Eye (Unilever), Robinsons (Britvic Soft Drinks), Heinz, and Kellogg.

Retailers also featured strongly, demonstrating how important own-labels are to British shoppers and how much trust customers have in the products featured in these ranges, states the report.

Identifying the market is one aspect, but promoting the product is another issue.

Tough European legislation on junk food advertising to children could become a reality, if the food industry fails to produce an effective self-regulatory framework to help society deal with increasing obesity in children.

In recent years food and drink manufacturers operating in Europe have come under increasing pressure from consumer groups and government to review their policies on advertising of 'junk foods', those with high sugar, salt or fat content, to children.

In an interview in January with the Financial Times​, the EU's newly inaugurated commissioner for health and consumer protection said the food industry was the fastest, and most effective, route to slicing into the obesity problem.

"The signs from the industry are very encouraging, very positive. But if this doesn't produce satisfactory results, we will proceed to legislation,"​ Markos Kyprianou told the UK newspaper.

Concerns on obesity are based on mounting evidence that obesity is becoming an epidemic.

If the rapid increase in childhood obesity in the last decade continues, more than 50 per cent of British children will be obese by 2020, according to a recent British MPs' report on health.

Although fresher evidence from the UK's Social Issues Research Centre released this week finds these claims may not actually be supported by evidence.

The CIAA, that represents Europe's €700 billion food industry and said to be the largest manufacturing sector in the region, confirmed to that the industry is already working with the commission, to develop new proposals for more rigorous advertising and labelling regimes.

Industry is pressing for self-regulation rather than legislation. But the Commission, Europe's legislative body, could propose a raft of new rules, if it feels industry is failing to bring about rapid change.

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