On-the-go snacks are where it’s at

Long gone are the days when student lunchboxes enclosed an ordinary bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread and a Granny Smith apple - a diet that's as about exciting as math class. As kids reluctantly return to classrooms across Canada, at least they can be assured that their backpacks are probably stuffed with appealing goodies, thanks to marketers who continue to develop playful and convenient, single-serve treats.

Long gone are the days when student lunchboxes enclosed an ordinary bologna sandwich on Wonder Bread and a Granny Smith apple – a diet that’s as about exciting as math class. As kids reluctantly return to classrooms across Canada, at least they can be assured that their backpacks are probably stuffed with appealing goodies, thanks to marketers who continue to develop playful and convenient, single-serve treats.

According to Marion Chan, VP of Toronto-based market researcher NPD Group Canada, packaged food manufacturers realize that busy parents search for handy alternatives that are a cinch to pack.

‘[Brands] can gain a lot of volume by designing a package that is portable, so it’s easier for parents to grab a bag and throw it in, rather than take the time,’ she says. ‘I think they’ve seen the success of granola bars, which have always been individually wrapped. Kids still eat candy, chocolate and potato chips, but putting it into convenient packaging gives [parents] more incentive [to buy].’

In fact, a recent study by NPD found that granola bars were the top snack foods consumed by a child (under the age of 18) at school in 2001, when the parent made the purchase at the kid’s request. (However, if it were solely up to the parents, the top choice was fruit; if it were up to the kids, it was chocolate. No surprises there.)

But innovation also drives sales, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute, which reports that 50% of food product sales are due to new items. Plus, in the 25 segments with the greatest sales increases over five years, salty snacks among them, new brands accounted for 60% of category growth.

It’s no wonder then that snack food companies are delivering cool-looking munchies for fickle kids in individually wrapped packages that are favourable to time-strapped parents.

Witness, for instance, the new Squeez ‘N Go Portable Pudding from Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods Retail Products. The product rolled out in North America this month, and is the very first ‘fridge-free’ pudding product in a tube; the best part is you don’t need a spoon, because according to company research, moms often forget to pack them. Squeez ‘N Go’s casing is splashy and playful, depicting a sunglass-sporting cartoon cow engaged in physical activities like soccer or boarding.

In research, ConAgra also discovered that 71% of moms found it challenging to pack a ‘fun’ lunch – almost all children surveyed declared they like ‘cool, fun snacks’ – that’s also convenient, nutritious and won’t automatically end up in the trash can once kids leave home.

Squeez ‘N Go, which comes in four flavours, hopes to turn heads as a sponsor of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk’s Boom Boom Huck Jam Tour, a U.S. sports and music event starring extreme sports athletes, like BMX bikers and Motocross riders, as well as skateboarders. ‘Moovers and Squeezers’, a street team on wheels, will dish out free pudding tubes.

‘Tony Hawk’s so popular, particularly with our target audience, which is on-the-go, active tweens,’ explains ConAgra spokesperson Kay Carpenter. ‘The whole idea [of the product] is that you can stick it in your backpack and take it with you.’

The marketing initiative will also stretch into cyberspace; kids can log onto squeezngo.com for a chance to win a trip for four to Southern California to meet Hawk. Secondary prizes include a remote control Tony Hawk toy and, of course, a free box of Squeez ‘N Go.

Moms can also use the site to find snack packing advice from registered dietician Barbara Albright, who has authored cookbooks such as Cooking with Regis and Kathie Lee. Says Carpenter: ‘Obviously, there’s a gatekeeper component. Parents need to feel comfortable with the wholesomeness of the product, and she [Albright] is a dietician and a busy mom, so she can relate.’

Carpenter adds that a US$10-million TV ad campaign from Euro RSCG Tatham in Chicago is also in the works for early 2003, with potential spillover in Canada. ‘We haven’t really finished it – we know it will be along the lines of ‘this is for active kids and adults,’ and it will reflect the convenience of the food, that there’s no need for a spoon.’ (Another ConAgra product, Snack Pack pudding, has five new flavours depicting Scooby-Doo, The Powerpuff Girls and Looney Tunes on packaging, through a licensing agreement with Warner Bros. However, these aren’t available in Canada.)

Mississauga, Ont.-based Hostess Frito-Lay also wants to make it simpler for folk to consume its potato chips; in other words, there’s no need to reach into a plastic bag. The manufacturer recently launched Go Snacks, mini-versions of core brands, such as Dorito 3-Ds and Cheetos, in canisters. The cans fit neatly into backpacks, or a car cup-holder, and they have a portion control mechanism. The chips themselves are smaller too, so consumers can chug them; no more sticky fingers.

‘We noticed a huge opportunity in portability, single-eat occasions,’ says group marketing manager Dale Hooper, who reports that more than 80% of teens in focus groups described Go Snacks as cool and unique. ‘Consumers are on the go, and out of their homes a lot more than ever. Snacking is on the rise, and dashboard dining has doubled in the last five years.’

Hooper says the U.S. offices are pushing Go Snacks via an ad campaign south of the border, but here in Canada, the chips are supported in-store, with a rack that contains the slogan, ‘Go anywhere but hungry.’

At 7-Eleven stores across Canada, Go Snacks are currently pictured alongside the retailer’s Big Gulp beverage on P-O-P, adds 7-Eleven spokesperson Trish Lee. She also says the convenience store chain introduced ‘Candy Gulp’ two years ago, featuring, for example, chuggable gummy bears in a cup.

‘We’re always looking for portability,’ she says. ‘This is convenient packaging – it’s easy for customers to pick up and take with them.’ The chain will continue to develop its on-the-go goodies, she adds, pointing out that in the U.S. the retailer is currently considering Reeses Pieces in a cup. In Canada, Candy Gulps are selling well; an average of between five and 10 are purchased per day in each individual store, and there are approximately 500 locations across the country.

Kraft Canada, Toronto, also recognizes portable snacking as a significant trend; last year the packaged goods company extended three of its Mr. Christie cookie properties into a new snack bar lineup – Oreo, Chips Ahoy and Rainbow Chips Ahoy Cookie Barz.

Supported by an ad and radio campaign from FCB Toronto, the cookie/chocolate coating concoctions come individually wrapped, six to a pack. This year marks the arrival of a new addition – Fudgee-O Cookie Barz.

‘The main message of [the advertising] is that we’re taking people’s favourite cookie tastes and smashing them together with chocolate to create cookies reinvented,’ explains Allan Lindsay, category business director for Kraft’s cookie division. Meanwhile, the Oreo cookie bars are being sold individually at gas stations and convenience stores, for adults and kids craving a quick bite.

The Fudgee-O variety has also been incorporated into a back-to-school promotion based on the adventure flick Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, thanks to a licensing agreement with Alliance Atlantis. If they see the words ‘Access Granted’ inside the pack, they can win a trip to Hawaii. Plus, a secret password will lead them online where further prizes are available. Says Lindsay: ‘The first movie was really successful, so it’s a property people recognize and it generates additional excitement in stores.’

Kraft isn’t the only firm to strike up an entertainment tie-in deal. Toronto-based Parmalat Food has developed a contest called ‘Discover the Secrets of The Star Wars Saga’ in conjunction with its Black Diamond Cheestrings brand (Ficello from Lactantia in Quebec). A free Star Wars Connector Card is included in four million packages and a secret code will drive kids to the Web for a chance to win a Game Boy Advance system, as well as other giveaways.

‘Cheestrings/Ficello has always been about fun through discovery and developing an emotional connection with kids,’ says Sharen Hills, brand manager of snack cheese. ‘Its marketing over the past decade has focused on the discovery of fun new ways to peel and play with the product, and the objective of this program was to reinforce the same.’

Hills believes the reputation of the Star Wars name with the target – kids aged six to 12 – and the collectibility element will ‘help drive sales volume and promote increased frequency of purchase.’ Currently, the program is being promoted solely in stores, through P-O-P created by Millenium in Vaughan, Ont., but TV advertising, from Toronto-based Landmark Communications, is set to debut this fall too.

Movie tie-ins are obviously designed to pique kids’ interest, especially since according to ‘The U.S. Kids Market,’ a new report from New York-based research firm Packaged Facts, 71% of mothers purchase items specifically requested by their children. ‘There’s a nag factor for any of those licensed products as kids love them,’ says NPD’s Chan. ‘They’re quick, faddish and fun. That’s how brands get kids’ attention.’

Parents concerned about health factor

In the future packaged foods marketers could have their work cut out for them, particularly with parents worried about their children’s health. The media continues to focus on obesity issues. (And with good reason: A 2001 study from the Canadian Research Institute for Public Policy at the University of New Brunswick estimates that about 13% of children are obese, triple the rate of 20 years ago.)

In the U.S, the public has already begun to blame corporations. For instance, in July a New Yorker sued McDonald’s: he is overweight, has suffered two heart attacks, and blames the restaurant chain for not warning him that his regular Big Mac diet might be harmful. In L.A., schools have banned the sale of soda. It may only be a matter of time before the collective consciousness also realizes that chuggable potato chips are probably not a good idea, no matter how convenient.