Saturday, March 5, 2011

Consumer Trend: The Parent's Dilemma

Raising a child can be a stressful experience.

Not only is it a completely new situation for many, the ongoing changes in consensus on "What to do" and "What not to do" has parents of all levels of experience struggling to keep up with the latest research. Each day seems to bring new findings, new recommendations, and reversals-of-direction on previously airtight facts. It can be tough for a parent to know just what to make if it all.

Ultimately, though, the mindset and behaviour of parents when it comes to raising their children can be boiled down to two primary consumer trends: the fear of "contamination" or "infection", and the need to give one's child a developmental advantage - both of which were captured in two recent articles from Newsweek.

This post will touch upon these two diverging but closely related consumer trends.

The Fear of Contamination

Top to bottom: a Newsweek article on emerging allergens, two Government of Canada ads that preach protection
The fear of contamination or infection from the innumerable maladies and allergens that populate our world is the first trend that has picked up the pace over the past few years. Think about the Swine Flu, H1N1, the BPA scare, lead in the toy industry, salmonella outbreaks - each of these incidents has fuelled the fire of both concerned parents and health and safety commissions alike.

An article in the Dec. 13, 2010 issue of Newsweek, titled "Beyond Peanut Butter", captures the situation perfectly. According to the piece, a late 2010 meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology resulted in a report that many substances that were previously not a threat are now leading to brand new allergic reactions. The metal in cell phones, temporary tattoos, pumpkins - each of these are cited as potentially dangerous substances for children to be exposed to. As the list of ingredients to avoid grows, so too, it seems, has the prevalence of our reactions to them. A recent American study reported that food allergies are on the rise: 1 in 70 Americans are now diagnosed with one, compared to 1 in 250 in the 1970s.

What's the cause of this? On the one hand, as we live in cleaner, safer, more disease-free environments, the article says, our immune systems don't have as much experience in encountering and fighting off infections, and so they increasingly overreact. On the other hand, our children are also being exposed to new types of foods and foreign substances at younger ages - resulting in the development of all new reactions.

"It's all just another reason to keep those cell phones and temporary tats away from young hands." - Newsweek (Dec. 13, 2010) 

Below are several brands that appear to be tapping into this ongoing fear of contamination and infection. The first two, from McCain and Colgate, play up the fear itself, while the last three, from Club House, Tide, and Wonder Bread, offer "nothing to hide" solutions to that fear.

Providing a Developmental Advantage

The second trend is the desire to provide our children with a developmental advantage, a helpful "boost", so to speak. The days of giving our kids a Flintstones vitamin every night are over - these days, parents have an entire toolbox of bacteria cultures, vitamins, and formulas to turn to. Part of the functional/fortified trend that has enveloped the food industry over the last few years, this trend appears to have turned into an all-out arms race among brands.

A Jan. 10/17 article in Newsweek titled "Probiotics: Panacea or Just a 'Big Fad'?" discusses the ongoing debate surrounding the use of probiotics during pregnancy and the early development years. Though the bacteria culture has been said to prevent the development of future problems like asthma, many researchers have stressed the need to look into its effects a bit closer.

 "Could something as simple as a probiotic drink stop a colicky baby from crying so much?" - Newsweek (Jan. 10/17, 2011)

Many brands are taking advantage of this trend as well, with several below as an example. Each of the ads from Kraft Dinner, Kellogg's, and Nutella sell parents on the developmental advantage of an ingredient that's been added to (or had always been in) their product.


  1. Another nice post, John.

    Nice try, Nutella. I get why they're going that route, but I wouldn't have a hope of serving anything else for breakfast if I offered it to my kids. Call it 'real cocoa' all they like, chocolate at breakfast is strictly for holidays and birthdays at my house! My monkeys can have that glass of a glass.

  2. Thanks, Liz :)

    (By the way, I practically lived on Nutella when I was a kid...!! Chocolate butter!)


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