Retailers are paying more attention to children through a variety of innovative marketing strategies.
Kids' clubs, store tours, kids' food promotions, cooking or food preparation classes, school-related education programs and the creation of a child-friendly atmosphere in-store are among the programs offered.
Some chains use kids' clubs as the focal point of their marketing efforts to junior consumers. For example, Fleming's IGA kids' club has been so successful that the wholesaler began extending membership to all IGA stores, not just the ones it supplies, about four months ago.
The population of children ages 5 to 15 is 38 million, according the 1995 U.S. Census statistics. The "baby boomlet" (youngsters born between 1978 and 1995) accounts for 73 million people, a generation as sizable as the boomers themselves.
And these children have a big influence on adult eating habits, according to Dave Jenkins, vice president and general manager of National Eating Trends for the NPD Group, Rosemont, Ill. Adults in households with children eat more presweetened cereal, toaster pastries, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Hamburger Helper, Mexican dishes, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and peanut butter and jelly than do adults without children.
According to Mark Harsha, advertising director for IGA Fleming, Oklahoma City, IGA targets children in three ways: a kids' club, called IGA Hometown Kids; a scholarship endowment program; and event marketing promotions.
"The first thing the store wants to do is reach young families with kids," Harsha said.
The Hometown Kids program is flexible, allowing individual operators to use their own ideas for promotions, said Harsha. Fleming asks only that participants adhere to some basic guidelines, such as putting up the appropriate signage, using a club card and making sure that the "fun bucket" of trinkets and toys -- which is an integral part of the program -- is always well stocked.
IGA stores have been extremely creative with their child-oriented programs, noted Harsha. For example, one group of stores in Ohio sponsored an event at which kids who showed their club cards at a participating bowling alley could play for free. Another store in Ohio gave club members free rides in a hot-air balloon.
"We are working on a newsletter and more specific ways to grow the club," Harsha said. "The child will fill out a registration form asking some simple information, and then he or she will get the quarterly newsletter."
The club works best when one person in-store is appointed as the Hometown Kids coordinator, said Harsha. That person wears a special purple vest with the Hometown Kids logo. In addition to representing the club to children, the associate serves as a liaison between the store and Fleming.
Stop-n-Shop stores supplied by Riser Foods, Bedford Heights, Ohio, have highly developed clubs. For example, it sends a birthday card to kids' club members that tells them about free in-store gifts: a coloring book, crayons, a free balloon and a coupon for a discount on a birthday cake.
Riser tracks the birthdays using a database that has information on club members, according to Kathryn Lowe, director of marketing and public relations for Russo's Stop-n-Shop, Chesterfield, Ohio.
Russo's enters club members in a monthly lottery to celebrate their birthdays. The winner gets a $100 gift certificate to Toys 'R' Us.
Russo's assigns a store associate to be responsible for the club. Children who do not come in for their gift are called at home.
"When they come in we make a big fuss over them. We give them a badge that says 'It's my birthday,' " said Lowe. "Any associate who spots the child will then make a fuss over him or her."
To help attract more youngsters into the program, Russo's offer coloring contests four times a year. The bottom of the picture to be colored reads, "Would you like to join the Kids Club?"
A source at Riser Foods noted that Stop-n-Shop regularly advertises the club in weekly circulars, in-store flyers, and even radio and TV commercials. Members are between the ages of 2 and 12.
Households that have children enrolled in the program have shown sustained purchasing increases, said the source, who did not want to be identified. The retailer is able to track purchases through data gathered through its Preferred Shopper Card.
Russo's seized a unique opportunity to sign children up for the club when local elementary schools last year invited the supermarket in for career night. Store personnel taught kids how to crate strawberries, and also handed out forms for cookie credits. On the back of the form was an invitation to sign up for the club.
Randalls Food Markets, Houston, has also worked with schools to help educate kids about the supermarket. Some schools have set up a mini-Randalls in the classroom, where kids practice handling play money. The retailer donates empty boxes, old registers and mini-shopping carts as well, explained Kathy Schwartz-Lussier, director of public relations for Randalls.
A Randalls mini-market is also set up at the Houston Children's Museum, said Schwartz-Lussier. It's a miniature supermarket that provides children with interactive play.
In recognition of increasing efforts in retailing to target children, G&R Felpausch, Hastings, Mich., has plans to develop either a kids' club or a birthday club over the next year.
"We want to focus on customers with young families. They have a larger food dollar, since they eat at home more," said Bill Felpausch, vice president of sales and marketing.
But kids' clubs aren't the only method of reaching children or their parents. For example, Russo's runs a highly successful contest for Mother's and Father's Day. Entrants ages 5 to 12, get to write a composition beginning "My Mom (Dad) is the best because..." The winning child receives a lobster dinner, bib and crackers for their father, or a gift basket for their mother. The basket is filled with items like imported olive oil and balsamic vinegar, gourmet jam and pasta and box chocolates. The child also receives a basket, with cookies, juice boxes and other finger foods.
Byerly's, Edina, Minn., a division of Lund Food Holdings, Minneapolis, doesn't have a kids' club, but offers a variety of kid-friendly events.
For example, kids' days are held frequently, even monthly in a few stores. Face painters, clowns and local bands are invited in for these events, according to Tracy Wiese, director of communications for Lunds.
There are also plenty of store tastings during kids' day, said Wiese, of foods like mini-pizzas, Lunchables and cereals, for example.
'It helps to make Byerly's stores family friendly," said Wiese. "We develop a rapport with customers. We're saying 'We welcome children here and we want to make your grocery shopping experience enjoyable."'
Byerly's recently hosted a children's recipe contest, publicized through a special back-to-school edition of the Byerly Bag, the store's in-store monthly magazine.
The store received 400 entries from children ages 7 to 12. Entrants were judged by Byerly's culinary staff and about six children on such qualities as taste, presentation and ease of preparation.
The culinary staff also runs children's cooking classes quarterly, and hosts birthday parties as well, at the St. Louis Park store. For many birthdays, the featured activity is a mini-cooking lesson, in which guests help to prepare the birthday meal, explained Weise.
Along with its kids' club, Randalls caters to children in several other ways, including offering miniature shopping carts.
"We recognize that children are our future customers," said Schwartz-Lussier of Randalls. The chain also has introduced carts that have special toddler seats.
Most of the retailers SN spoke with conduct store tours for children. The tours usually involve education about food and nutrition.
Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., has been running store tours for years, with the end of the school year being the busiest season for such activities.
"We take them behind the scenes," said Claire D'Amour, vice president of corporate affairs, "and show them how hamburger is ground or how to identify produce."
Some Fleming stores in Ohio allow children to punch in grocery items, under supervision, at the cash register one day each week, said Harsha.
During Randalls tours for schools, churches and Brownie troops, kids get a free coloring book with healthy recipes. The corporate nutritionist will often lead a tour, explained Schwartz-Lussier, but sometimes it is done by the store director.
Lunds and Byerly's also conduct tours, which are sometimes "behind the scenes" with the department managers.
Big Y has been conducting school tours for years, said D'Amour, along with magazines with an educational focus. One of them, called Educating Kids, is published periodically and distributed free throughout the Big Y chain. It contains education-related articles and tips on how to help youngsters achieve in school. Inside the magazine are over 200 electronic no-clip coupons, good for about a month, which are tracked with the Express Savings Club card.
Big Y also offers a homework hotline that kids can call in the evening to get help from certified teachers.
Promotions on foods that children enjoy are another aspect of targeted marketing efforts. For example, IGA groups in Ohio and West Virginia feature a Kids' Corner every week in print ads in the newspaper, where items like cookies and other treats, cereals, ice cream and Lunchables are featured, according to Harsha.
For back-to-school season, Russo's creates a large display on the front end, with lunch boxes and Lunchables, raisin packets, juice boxes and cookies. The display goes up after Labor Day, said Russo's Lowe, and stays up for the whole month of September.
Randalls creates large back-to-school displays that include Lunchables, lunch boxes and school supplies, noted Lussier.
Also, Randalls' "Kindness for Kids" program, launched in 1995 to raise awareness of childhood cancer, is now chainwide.
The centerpiece of April's Kindness for Kids event is a 20-page advertising flyer, which highlights items and information on the children's hospital in a particular market area, as well as facts about childhood cancer.
Manufacturers donate a percentage of the profits on the featured items -- which include tuna fish, mayonnaise, frozen bagels and cat litter -- and customers can also donate money through their scan cards.
Teen-agers have a strong influence on the products their parents buy and, therefore, should be included in supermarket target marketing efforts.
Teens directly influence about 20% of the grocery purchases their parents make, according to a survey sponsored by Channel One Network in New York, which broadcasts to middle and high schools across the United States.
About $19 billion in yearly purchases made in U.S. supermarkets are directly influenced by teens. Sports drinks, breakfast bars, pretzels, nachos and tortilla chips and potato chips are among the categories most influenced by teens, according to the study, designed by David Michaelson & Associates, New York and conducted by International Communications Research, Media, Pa.
The survey is representative sample of 433 participants who were asked to mark grocery receipts for one week. Respondents indicated which items were specially requested by teen-agers. An average household was defined as including at least one teen-ager -- ages 12 to 17 -- and one adult and spending an average of $108 a week at the supermarket.
Some supermarkets are developing special programs to recognize this important demographic. For example, a ShopRite in Whitehall, Pa., a member of the Elizabeth, N.J.-based Wakefern Food Corp. cooperative, has put the town's high school football team and its cheerleaders on a box of corn cereal called "Hometown Stars."
The product is produced by Carlisle Cereal Co., Bismark, N.D., which customizes cereal boxes.
The 18-ounce box retails for $5.99, with 25 cents donated to the high school's booster athletic club. The ShopRite logo is featured on the front of the cereal package.
"This is a great way to bolster community pride, school spirit, and our kids' self-esteem," noted Mark Laurenti, who operates the Whitehall ShopRite.