Improving Access To Healthier Food For Children: A Balance Between Nutrition, Clean-Label & Engagement

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

As health perceptions evolve to include more holistic attributes beyond the nutrition label, clean-label represents a way for brands to connect with parents’ values of a more wholesome meal suitable for their child. Contributed by Emil Fazira, Consultant (Food & Nutrition), Euromonitor International

Children’s nutrition is coming under greater scrutiny. Growing economies are seeing a more diverse array of processed and packaged food on shelves. The combination of a widening middle-income group and shrinking households over the years mean that parents have a deeper pocket per child.

Source: Euromonitor International


There is talk of cooking at home becoming a lost art in some countries, partially driven by the vast availability of fresh food choices out of home. In a digital age, food delivery and ordering from online platforms are fast becoming the new norm—but where does that leave home-cooked meals for the younger generation? As young working parents get their groceries delivered, does the grocery list include kid-friendly snacks as well?

The Non-Variable: Parents Want Their Children To Eat Wholesome Food

One thing does not seem to change regardless of population make-up: parents consistently want their children to maintain a healthy diet. The definition of healthy, however, is constantly evolving. In this generation, healthy is more closely related to wholesomeness and generally good for the overall well-being instead of a definition limited by nutrition content. Hence, the way that adults and the general population perceives health changes the way they view what’s healthy for their children as well.

Natural, low sugar/sweetened, and organically certified are the top types of ingredient an average parent prefers for their child in 2019, according to Euromonitor International’s Health and Nutrition survey carried out across a 8,504-strong global sample. Closely linked to the concept of healthy food that is seen as wholesome, clean and generally good for the body, natural is the top preference, and among the top preferences are also claims like “non-artificial”, “no GMO” and “free from preservatives”. Limiting the sweetness of children’s food is also a common preference, either by limiting sugar, having no added sugar, or not containing artificial sweeteners.

Transparency through clean labels is a way to boost the health benefit of a product as well as further support the nutrition profile that the product offers.

Implementing Healthy Eating For Children Is Deterred By Factors Outside The Home

In the same survey mentioned above, parents have cited external factors as barriers to implementing a healthy diet for their children.

Source: Euromonitor International Health & Nutrition Survey, 2019 Where n=5,709


It is pertinent that manufacturers ensure their products suit the taste and nutrition profile that parents think are suitable for their children. As is usual with products whose purchasers are not the same as the consumers, brand choice is most likely to stick once the consumer approves of a certain brand, product, and even flavour. This is essential in securing brand loyalty not just with the parent but also with the child who might grow up consuming this same brand or product and will likely pass it on to their own children years down the road. Peer recommendations are common for child-related products.

However, with the increasingly plentiful amount of choices in the market, brands can further engage with consumers (the children themselves) through various formats—digital and own label stores for instance—and raise the brand familiarity of consumers and gain consumer endorsement.

On the flipside, any negative review or controversy will have an impact on the brand image and sales. In such cases, it will be very difficult to regain the trust of consumers. For example, the 2018 case of Heinz and the misleading health claim about its Little Kids Shredz resulted in the company being fined in Australia and New Zealand. Hence, there needs to be a careful review of clean labels that brands adopt to successfully gain consumer endorsement and engagement.

The Gap Between Regions In The Nutritional Profile Of Packaged Snacks Leaves Room For Recipe And Formulation Refinement

Source: Euromonitor International

From the sales of packaged snack food in 2018, there is a clear disparity between more developed regions (North America, Australasia, Western Europe) and emerging markets (Latin America, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific). This could be attributed to the abundance of unpackaged snacks, but also the nutritional content of processed food available. For manufacturers of packaged snacks whose consumer base will significantly be comprised of children, it is crucial that their products are nutritious and generally wholesome. The nutrition profile, however, does seem to align with the percentage of the overweight and obese population—with greater consumption of nutrition through snacks corelating to a greater proportion of overweight and obese population.

Note: The ‘overweight’ category is defined by those with BMI 25-30kg/sq m. The ‘obese’ category is defined by those with BMI 30kg/sq m and above. Population only applies to those aged 18+.
Source: Euromonitor International

From a nutrition perspective, this will also help to lower the incidence of obesity and weight gain in adulthood. As of 2019, the population of overweight and obese people across the regions vary quite vastly across various regions. The more developed regions have a significant overweight and obese population (more than 65 percentage of them), although Latin America and Eastern Europe are also regions of concern with more than half the population considered overweight or obese. It is, therefore, imperative for children to be sufficiently educated on proper eating and be accustomed eating healthier food in their growing years. Manufacturers, educators, regulators and foodservice operators have a strong role to play in this agenda.

Innovations Positioned As Wholesome More Likely To Appeal To Parents

Beyond snacks, other products targeting children are also shaping their formulation and positioning to be aligned with the current health perceptions. For example, Alce Nero’s new launch of Organic Tricolour Alphabet Pasta in certain Southeast Asian markets claim to be organic and made of durum wheat infused with spinach.

Within Asian emerging markets—where consumption of dried pasta is rising as consumers seek convenience and easy-to-prepare dishes—parents are also preparing Western-style dishes for their children. Organic pasta is still a niche market in Asia Pacific, partially due to the limited number of brands available, but dried pasta is set to grow healthily at a 4 percent CAGR in constant value terms for the region, led by major growth markets like China, Vietnam, India and Thailand, all of which are expected to perform at double-digit growth rates over the period 2019 to 2024.

Image source: Alce Nero on Isetan Singapore

Looking Ahead: Clean-Label And Engagement Tools To Enhance The Availability And Access To Nutritious Food For Children

Although the child population is declining globally, they still represent a lucrative market for packaged food firms. This is based on the precedent that brand loyalty is effective from a young age and will create nostalgic, emotional connections between brand and consumer for a lifetime. Parents are also more willing to spend on their children as the household structure continues to evolve and economies grow—this will affect how parents prepare food for their children with the changing landscape of food delivery and foodservice.

As health perceptions evolve to include more holistic attributes beyond the nutrition label, clean-label represents a way for brands to connect with parents’ values of a more wholesome meal suitable for their child. Constant engagement through various formats is also key to gaining trust among both parents and their children.

However, it is still important for the nutrition of packaged food—whether on-the-go, portable snacks or meals at home or away—to be suitable for children, and to be portioned appropriately. The rates of overweight or obese adults indicate that there is room for improvement for children’s diets in various regions.


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