CHICAGO — Parents are more likely to seek foods and beverages that appeal to the whole family than products and meals just for kids, according to new consumer research released by Cargill, Inc., Minneapolis, at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists Food Expo, held in Chicago.

The company surveyed more than 1,000 consumers to investigate parents’ attitudes and drivers involving purchases of foods and beverages for their children.

“We know it’s important to meet the nutrition and budget expectations of parents while also satisfying kids on the taste dimension,” said DeeAnn Roullier, marketing research manager, Cargill. “Our research provides a more specific understanding of gatekeeper purchase drivers in categories heavily consumed by kids.”

Cargill conducted this proprietary research as part of its childhood nutrition initiative aimed at helping food and beverage manufacturers and foodservice operators formulate products that improve the nutrition profile of products targeted to children.

Other principle findings reported by Ms. Roullier were:

•           Parents are unsatisfied with the healthfulness of current options across key categories of foods and beverages popular with kids.

•           Parents tend to seek positive attributes such as whole grains and fiber rather than avoiding the things they perceive to be unhealthy such as fat, sugar and sodium.

Today’s parents are more likely to take a family approach to food than seek products and meals that are just for kids, according to Ms. Roullier interpreting survey results. This means parents apply greater scrutiny to both taste and nutrition for the broader set of foods and beverages that the entire family consumes.

Only one-third of parents said they “often prepare separate adult and kids meals” and 81% of parents said it is important for the foods they purchase to appeal to the entire family.

The study probed whether it was the kids of the parents who compromise on the kinds of foods they eat. It was the kids. Eighty-nine percent of parents said they ask their kids to broaden their tastes, and 69% said they ask their kids to try more adult foods.

It was the millennial parents, those aged 18 to30, who were more likely to say family appeal was important compared with older parents.

The Cargill study looked at nine food and beverage categories popular with children: cereal, cookies, crackers, bread/rolls, snack bars, fruit juice/drinks, frozen pizza, ice cream and carbonated soft drinks.

Compared with the general population, parents showed a low level of satisfaction with the healthfulness of most of these categories. This low satisfaction drove high purchase intent for healthier products, in eight of the nine categories. The biggest opportunity was with cookies, which showed a purchase intent satisfaction gap of 24 points.

These shoppers seek positive attributes more so than avoiding foods they perceive to be unhealthy, according to the study. More than three-quarters of parents said they check nutrition information on unfamiliar products; however, parents were less likely than the general population to check the Nutrition Facts panel (65% vs. 71%). Instead, they are more likely to look for nutrition highlights on the front of the package (65% vs. 55%).

“Pressure on food and beverage companies to formulate more nutritious products for kids are coming from all angles — consumers, nongovernmental organizations and government as well as many customers’ own internal nutrition targets,” Ms. Roullier said. “Those pressures are typically focused on limiting nutrients that are perceived to be less healthy, especially fat, sodium and sugar.

“Our research suggests that consumers are largely interested in positive nutrition,” she added.

Cargill’s marketing group conducted its survey online during November 2012. The sample consisted of a mix of general population consumers and parents of children aged two to 12. This allowed comparison of parents’ attitudes to those of people in the general population. More than two-thirds of respondents were parents.

Cargill announced its childhood nutrition initiative in April. “Cargill believes we all have a stake in improving kids’ nutrition — families, government, public health organizations and the food and beverage industry,” said Pat Bowe, corporate vice-president of the company's food ingredients and systems businesses.  “With this initiative, we are focusing resources to help customers develop formulations with less trans and saturated fat, sugar and sodium, and more whole grains, fiber and protein.”

The company launched a web site, www.childhood-nutrition.com, to provide ideas for formulation challenges that come when trying to develop healthier and good-tasting products for children. The web site was developed to connect food makers with updates on nutrition news, government policy, stakeholder actions and consumer trends.