As consumers demand more elaborate grocery experiences, retailers are going out of their way to cater to their youngest critics. Tactics range from classics like free fruit, cookies and stickers to flashier perks like in-store cooking classes and car-shaped grocery carts — all provided in the hopes that these amenities will convince parents to return with their children.
Children and adolescent shoppers also spend most of their money in-store rather than online, making a quality in-store experience crucial to differentiating in an ultra-competitive grocery space. To drive maximum brick-and-mortar sales and build long-term loyalty, many studies cite the need to establish grocery brand preferences as early as possible.
Kid-centered marketing designs
Floor graphics can be used to better engage young customers and draw their attention to new products and sales that appeal to their age group. For example, many grocery retailers are combining these graphics with a point-of-purchase display near checkout. By extending the display to the floor, grocers can increase the brand impact and maximize excitement, bringing the product to life in a way that will appeal to smaller shoppers and — with luck — push parents to make an impulse buy.
“In-store promotion[s] like floor graphics and shelf-talkers can be used to easily catch younger shoppers’ attention to influence their parent’s purchasing decisions,” Steve Thomas, director of product branding for FLEXcon, told Food Dive in an email. “Specifically, floor graphics help retailers reach children due to the proximity of the ads to the child compared to adults.”
Thomas said this tactic also gives retailers the opportunity to improve the in-store experience, especially through brushed silver or clear films that help floor graphics pop.
“With the availability of more specialty materials to use with floor graphics, this allows for more creative design,” Thomas said. “Additionally, shelf talkers positioned at a child’s eye level can help draw attention to products that adults may miss. Shelf talkers, along with floor graphics, have proven to deliver chart topping ROI and increased lift rates.”
With new technologies and developments, there is a variety of materials grocers can use to enhance the look and feel of shelf-edge products. The shelf-side "talker" signs also attract any shopper's eye.
“Retailers have more options to make the shelf edge come to life,” Thomas said. “We are continuing to see retail grocery brands experiment with different materials and exotic shapes to fit their products and draw young consumers in.”
Educational and hands-on experiences
Whole Foods spokesperson McKinzey Crossland said that on any given day, kids and their parents can enjoy samples of products throughout the natural and organic grocery chain's stores. For example, the produce department offers free tastings on nearly every aisle. In addition to samples, Whole Foods Market stores have “Kids Club” stations — typically near the store entrance or customer service booth — where its youngest shoppers can snag a free piece of fruit or snack.
Crossland also noted that Whole Foods invests in spaces and activities dedicated to making the grocery store fun for the youngest consumers.
“Our stores really cater to the communities that they’re in, which is why you’ll see playscapes or kid-sized tables at some of our stores, and outdoor music stages or taprooms at others,” she told Food Dive by email. “Whole Foods Market team members often pass out stickers to kids in the checkout line, and some stores host weekly snack or story times.”
Finding opportunities to promote educational experiences is another tactic the retailer uses to capture child interest and meet parental approval.
“We look for unique partnership opportunities with like-minded brands like PBS KIDS so we can offer educational toys and products that meet our quality standards and appeal to both parents and kids,” Crossland said.
By catering to children, retailers can also draw a sought-after demographic to store: millennial parents.
Winn-Dixie has recently transitioned its store experience to attract this lucrative consumer base, adding small “shoppers-in-training” carts and kid-friendly tastings to stores. The grocer also offers discounts and coupons to family-friendly venues.
“We are constantly working to evolve and change to best serve our customers, and this was an area we thought was important," Kaley Shaffer, spokeswoman for Winn-Dixie, told Food Dive in an email. “We wanted to shift focus as an organization so that not only do the adult shoppers matter, but the children matter.”
More than a sugar rush
For decades, retailers have relied on sugar to pique children's interest, placing candy and gum at the checkout line. Today, grocers like Kroger and Wegmans have found value in stocking point-of-purchase sale shelves with healthier options, such as granola, oatmeal bars, nuts and dried fruits. These treats still attract kids, but also keep health-conscious parents happy.
A section devoted to seasonal products is another opportunity to draw in children. Whether it's summertime, back-to-school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, there are lots of opportunities to offer affordable, festive and quality items that engage grocery's youngest customers.
For example, a summer-themed display could include beach toys, Wiffle ball sets and other outdoor toys that appeal to kids and to parents looking for fun, outdoor family activities. When fall comes around, grocery retailers are finding success by selling fun notebooks and kits for decorating lockers.
Marketing analysts agree that retailers should take advantage of the latest trends, such as offering inexpensive toys that tie in to recently released children's films.
“Take a look at what upcoming movies are coming out and stock products with the hottest superhero or cartoon character,” John Tuttle, a marketing consultant who follows the grocery space, told Food Dive. “This summer, for example, [we saw] movies featuring 'Wonder Woman,' 'The Guardians of the Galaxy,' and the latest 'Cars' movie. Toys and craft items featuring these characters are sure to catch kids’ eyes. Also, be aware of popular TV characters.”
Beyond specialty items, Tuttle suggested that grocers incorporate fun campaigns that educate kids and their parents about nutrition and to look for opportunities to go the extra mile for in-store experience.
“Set up posters and displays informing kids about healthy foods to eat. Send the message that eating fruits and vegetables are a delicious way to stay healthy, and to succeed on the sports field and in class. Have fun facts about food set up throughout the store,” he said. “Train staff to be kid-friendly. A free slice of cheese at the deli counter can make a kid’s day.”