To create store brand products and programs that resonate with parents and caretakers of children, retailers need to understand these shoppers' unique wants and needs.
The number of U.S. family households with children under the age of 18 has been on the decline for some time. In 2000 and 2005, such households represented 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively, of all family households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2010, that percentage was down to 45 percent of U.S. family households – and roughly 30 percent of all U.S. households.
Still, households with children represent a significant subset of the population. Retailers, therefore, certainly would benefit from developing store brand products and shopping experiences that meet the unique wants and needs of today's parent/caretaker shoppers – who, most often, are still moms. To do so, however, retailers need to know exactly what those wants and needs are – and how they differ from those of shoppers in households without children.
Unique wants and needs
One product attribute that is critical to many parents and caretakers of children under the age of 18 – at least on the food and beverage side – is healthfulness, says David Wright, senior associate for The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
"We know from a number of different studies we've done that the event of having children is a major influencer to entry into the organic food and beverage category," he says. "This stems from concerns over pesticides, hormones and other additives that become a focus during pregnancy, early childhood and beyond."
In addition, parents/caretakers responsible for children with allergies, asthma or other conditions begin to notice and watch additives such as dyes and high-fructose corn syrup or sugar.
"So they begin to shop according to perceptions they have about food ingredients that they believe may negatively impact their children's health," Wright says.
He also points to a "fairly consistent quest" for snacks and beverages perceived as healthful, as well as for portable snacks and beverages for kids' school, sporting and social activities.
"Fathers, in addition to moms, are increasingly found shopping for others – notably their children – in food retail today," Wright adds. "Shopping for others frequently involves a head of household keeping track of specific needs relating to tastes, health conditions and other diverse variables."
Moms still rule
Despite fathers' stepped up involvement in the shopping process, moms still do the lion's share of shopping in family households. And Shari Day, senior vice president, operations and planning for Nashville, Tenn.-based Bohan Advertising, stresses that today's moms want quality and value.
"Quality is not something you buy; it's something you own," she says. "It requires retailer commitment to provide national brand quality at an affordable price so moms can experience the value first-hand, regardless of product."
Understanding the importance of trial in the private brand arena, retailers are enhancing quality, reducing sodium and sugar, improving packaging and packaging design, adding SKUs, and simply managing their private label programs better, Day notes. She points to the Nice! brand from Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreen Co. and the Private Selection brand from Cincinnati-based Kroger as two store brands moms likely view as being higher in quality than some other private labels.
On the packaging front, "less is more" for today's moms, she says.
"There are just a couple of things that are key, and they need to be easy to identify," Day adds. "First, she has to know it's healthy, with over 70 percent of moms purchasing some organic foods for her family. And second is sustainability. She needs to feel like she is doing her part in the community."
Moms will tend to steer clear from products packaged in a way they perceive as "overly marketed, shiny [or] corporate," or lacking in authenticity or transparency, she says. They will gravitate instead to packaging that confidently "tells it like it is" with a "relevant benefit-oriented passion."
Day admits that reaching moms with the quality and price message remains a challenge for retailers. In fact, she says, a recent study revealed that more than 90 percent of moms feel that advertisers don't understand them.
"More than ever, they are relying on word-of-mouth for product recommendations," Day adds. "The implications for product manufacturers can be devastating if they don't embrace the way moms consume information."
Shopping habits differ from childless counterparts
Parents or caretakers of children also boast shopping behaviors that differ, sometimes dramatically, from those of their childless counterparts. For example, households with children are more likely to shop multiple channels, notes David Moore, vice president, strategic insights for The Hartman Group. In the company's 2012 "Shopping Topography: Mapping the New Consumer Pathways to Purchase" study, 80 percent of respondents representing households with children indicated that they shopped two or more channels in the past 30 days, while only 69 percent of those from childless households admitted to doing so.
Respondents from households with children indicated they are more likely to respond to in-store merchandising and promotional efforts within grocery stores, too, Moore says, including:
- Cross-promotions – 18 percent of households with children versus 12 percent of childless households.
- Single-product end-cap displays – 17 percent versus 12 percent.
- Themed multi-product end-cap displays – 9 percent versus 4 percent.
- Floor ads – 12 percent versus 8 percent.
- Free-standing displays at entrance(s) – 11 percent versus 6 percent.
- Discounts for buying multiple products – 48 percent versus 35 percent.
What's more, parents and caretakers of children appear to be more likely to want grocery retailers to get social when it comes to communications. Moore notes that 12 percent of survey respondents representing households with children said they would like their grocery store to communicate to them via text messages (compared to 5 percent of respondents representing childless households), and 23 percent would like such communications via Facebook (compared to 15 percent of respondents from childless households).
Age counts, too
Product and packaging wants and needs – and shopping behaviors – also differ between the parents and caretakers of young children and those of older children. For example, two in five moms with children under the age of 2 serve organic products to their children, Days says, but by the time the children reach age 6, less than one in three moms serve organic products to their children.
And moms don't necessarily make all the decisions related to their "tweens" – children aged 13 to 17, Day suggests.
They "tend to choose products and packaging that [allow] them to feel like they belong, feel like they are unique, like they're being talked to specifically by the product, rather than having those decisions so heavily influenced by their moms as they did when they were younger," Day says. "In a $200 billion market such as tweens, the greatest opportunity exists in brands that succeed in reaching children with hip, youthful packaging, while also conveying important and relevant quality messages to the purchaser of the household."
No matter what the children's ages, however, retailers that view their own brands as an extension of the banner, as another "brand touch point and equity-builder" for parents and caretakers in households with children, stand to win, Day suggests.
"Because of the cost, quality and value that private brands can represent, now more than ever, they play a leading role in convincing moms to shop one particular retailer over another," she says.