Consumer perceptions of child-friendly shaped healthy fruit and vegetable snacks
Fruits and vegetables (FV) are widely recognized as healthful foods by the public, and most individuals are aware of dietary guidance recommendations to consume more FV. However, actual consumption of FV has been and continues to be low in the United States and many other countries, despite public health efforts to change this trend. The sub-optimal intake of FV among children and adolescents is of particular concern due to high nutrient requirements for proper growth and development during these life stages. Fruit and vegetable intake patterns in childhood have been shown to track into later life and may affect individuals' risk for the development of overweight and obesity, as well as risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Children's food intake behaviors are guided by their likes and preferences, which are influenced by many factors such as the taste, appearance, and familiarity of foods. The food industry has capitalized on the direct and indirect purchasing power of children (e.g. children's purchase of items using their own money versus the influence they exert on their caregivers' purchasing decisions) by targeting a large number of foods to children via child-friendly (CF) packaging and "fun" attributes of the foods themselves, such as attractive shapes and colors. The vast majority of these foods are less healthy options such as sweet and salty snack foods and entrees that are high in fat and sodium. To date, a very limited number of healthy fruit and vegetable options targeted specifically to children have been available in the marketplace. Providing ready-to-eat fruit and vegetable snacks in CF shapes may positively influence children's liking of these foods, which could in turn lead to increased consumption. Also, ready-to-eat CF-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks are a convenient, readily accessible food form that would require no kitchen skills or preparation on the part of the child, all of which are factors that are positively associated with fruit and vegetable intake in children. Price is another important factor in the purchase and consumption of FV; therefore, parents' and caregivers' willingness to pay slightly more for CF-shaped FV as compared to produce items currently available in the marketplace might be an important factor as processing costs would increase the purchase price at least marginally. A consumer behavior survey and optional taste-test procedure were developed in order to explore children's and adults' consumer perspectives regarding CF-shaped foods, adults' purchasing habits pertaining to CF-shaped foods and pre-cut FV, and participants' sensory assessment of CF-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks. To quantify children's self-reported liking of CF-shaped foods and to examine their sensory perceptions (appearance, taste and texture) of CF-shaped and regular-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks, a child survey was developed and conducted in a large (n=365) convenience sample of children in an urban area of northwest Indiana. Children were asked how much they liked fun-shaped foods, and how fun the shapes of the sample foods were. Next, child participants were offered an optional taste-test of a CF-shaped fruit and/or vegetable or a regular-shaped fruit and/or vegetable, (shape and fruit/vegetable combination were randomly selected by day). Likewise, adults (n=298) were invited to participate in a consumer behavior survey that assessed family demographics, purchasing habits regarding CF-shaped foods and pre-cut FV, and perceived sensory appeal of the CF- and regular-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks. Individuals who declined to taste-test the study foods were asked to visually rate them. Study results demonstrated that children self-reported a high level of liking for fun-shaped foods, and that children who assessed the CF-shaped FV rated their shape as significantly more "fun" than participants who received and rated the regular-shaped fruit and vegetable samples. Girls reported higher ratings for how "fun" the shapes of the foods were compared to boys (for both CF- and regular-shaped samples). Girls also reported higher visual appeal and taste ratings for the samples. Parents consistently recognized the CF-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks as CF-shaped foods and adults' average ratings of the visual appeal, but not the taste or texture, of the CF-shaped FV were higher as compared to visual appeal ratings for the regular-shaped FV. Furthermore, a greater percentage of adults stated they were willing to pay extra for the CF-shaped FV as compared to adults who were willing to pay extra for the regular-shaped pre-cut produce. A number of independent variables, including female gender, the presence of children in the home, and frequent self-reported purchase of pre-cut produce and CF-shaped foods were positive predictors of one or more of the aforementioned outcomes. Notably, CF-shaped fruit and vegetable samples were 34% more likely to be selected for taste-test than regular-shaped FV and fruits were more frequently selected than vegetables. Sensory ratings were high among adults and children for both the CF- and the regular-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks. In summary, CF-shaped FV were perceived as having a "fun" shape by children and were seen as highly visually appealing by adults; they were more likely to be selected for taste-test than regular-shaped pre-cut produce; and, they received high sensory appeal ratings. Furthermore, adults reported willingness to pay a little extra for CF-shaped produce as compared to fruit and vegetable options currently available in the marketplace. These findings indicate that providing CF-shaped fruit and vegetable snacks in grocery stores may be a promising approach for increasing children's purchase requests for FV and their consumption of these foods, contributing to overall diet quality and long-term health benefits.
Kranz, Purdue University.
Marketing|Behavioral psychology|Nutrition|Public health
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