In an increasingly competitive food and drinks market, children are just one of the specific sectors of the population receiving more attention. Compared to decades ago, many kids, ages 5 to 12, demonstrate greater independence, affluence and influence on family food purchases. That’s why products formulated and marketed specifically for children can offer considerable opportunities for manufacturers and retailers alike.

Think for a moment about the traditional supermarket layout—and specifically the check-out lane. That’s where retailers stocked the most common impulse purchase items appealing to kids—chocolates, gums and other sugar confections as well as savory snacks, soft drinks and even ice cream novelties. Today, a wider range of kids products exist throughout the store and are included during the regular family shopping trip. These items include fresh dairy products, cereals, cereal and fruit snacks and bakery goods.

While children do buy some products for themselves, most items are purchased by parents. So although youngsters may provide more input about product and brand choices—both generations need to be satisfied to achieve repeat purchases and ongoing product or category development.

Dairy Case Delights

Children are major consumers of fresh dairy products, including yogurts and cup desserts. A visit to the dairy case finds children’s products that tend to be differentiated in terms of flavors and packaging, as well as by the high level of character merchandising (both licensed and created).

While there are particular yogurts and chilled desserts targeted specifically at children, it is not easy to quantify. That’s because they are not necessarily regarded as a separate product sector in all countries. Likewise, older kids also consume more mainstream yogurt and dessert products and brands.

According to Innova Market Insights data, just 2.5% of global yogurt launches were targeted at children ages 5 to 12 during a 12-month period to the end of May 2015. This figure rises only slightly to 2.8% in the US during the same tracking period. These shares have fallen in recent years, probably reflecting the rising focus on healthy indulgence and more adult-orientated products in the market as a whole.

The US market has continued to see overall yogurt trends reflected in the children’s sector, however. The dynamic growth of Greek yogurt caused a rapid introduction of a number of children’s Greek and Greek-style lines from 2010 onwards. These have not only featured standard cup yogurts but also more specific offerings, such as hand-held lines.

One good example includes US Greek yogurt market leader Chobani. Having already established its Chobani Champions cup yogurt line, Chobani came back in early 2015 with its Chobani Greek Yogurt Kids. The new line features a range of five single-serve, screw-top pouches with flavors such as Strawberry, Banana, Chocolate, Watermelon, and Grape.

In marketing the line, Chobani emphasizes health credentials and the two areas of greatest interest: protein content and sugar reduction. It says each serving of Chobani Greek Yogurt Kids contains 8g of protein and 25% less sugar than other leading children’s yogurt brands.

Of course, General Mills pioneered and has dominated the hand-held kids yogurt market with its Yoplait Go-Gurt brand. Back in 2013,General Mills even introduced a Yoplait Go-Gurt Protein line with items delivering twice the protein (5g) of other similar 2.25oz kids products. More recently, Yoplait Go-Gurt has showcased “Star Wars” and characters from Disney’s “Frozen” as well as SpongeBob and the Avengers. Flavor offerings here include Strawberry, Strawberry Banana, Blueberry and Berry.

Rival Dannon has a hand-held Squeezables pouched yogurt in its Danimals children’s range. The line features other child-oriented lines, including Danimals Greek and Danimals drinkable Smoothies, as well as its flagship Danimals nonfat cup option.

Bakery Bites

Like yogurts, children’s bakery products also are primarily purchased during a regular family shopping trip. This means fewer impulse opportunities and greater parental control.

Like kids dairy products, the children’s biscuits market has seen some falling levels of interest. This is due to a number of factors—perhaps most notably, a rising focus on indulgence and treat lines, which tend to have a more adult profile, and mini-format and snack options, more often targeted at eating-on-the-go occasions for the whole family.

Of the US biscuits launches recorded by Innova Market Insights in the 12 months to the end of April 2015, just 4.6% were targeted specifically at children in the 5 to 12 age group, which is slightly ahead of the global average of 4.3%. Launch activity in the children’s market is being driven by interest in shapes and flavors, and by the use of bright graphics and character merchandising, with licensed characters continuing to prove popular, both established and new.

Globally, shares tend to be higher for children’s lines in sweet biscuits and cookies and lower for savory biscuits, although this is not the case in the US, where the shares are relatively evenly matched, with 4.5% for sweet biscuits and 4.8% for savory products. This probably reflects the higher share of savory biscuits in the US market as a whole in comparison with other countries and regions, with 33% of US biscuits launch activity in the 12 months to the end of April 2015, compared with 23% globally.

Snack cracker brands such as Sunshine Cheez It (Kellogg) and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (Campbell Soup) are family brands but market strongly to children in their shapes, flavors and characters. Recent additions to the Goldfish range include Princess-themed packs for girls, as well as more unusual flavors such as Vanilla Cupcake and Cheeseburger. Meanwhile, Kellogg has promoted new Cheez-It packs themed with Disney’s Phineas & Ferb or the Marvel Avengers Age of Ultron movie.

Meanwhile there is a new wave of healthier kids options (in both savory and sweet biscuit options) that appeal more to parents. One example involves My SuperFoods. This Summit, N.J., start-up launched MySuperCookies, a new line of organic biscuits with non-GMO ingredients, including superfruits, chia seeds, flax seeds and coconut oil. The cookies come in Chocolate, Honey and Blueberry flavors.

Interest in healthier alternatives also has encouraged the rise of snack bars for children, encompassing both cereal and fruit lines. Some estimates say snack bar sales have reached more than $10 billion in the US alone. Meanwhile, ongoing competition has resulted in category segmentation including growth in children’s lines. This development perhaps best demonstrates the nature of retailing kids’ products—where any type of sustainable growth will mean formulating a balance of child appeal against parental approval.

The US is the world’s largest and most sophisticated market for snack bars. The nutritional health bar sub-sector is now the largest part of the market, with more than one-third of value, ahead of granola bars and fruit bars. Traditionally, breakfast and fruit bars have been the most popular areas for children’s products, but the nutritional health sector also is seeing growing levels of interest, including children’s varieties for some market-leading brands.

Abbott Nutrition, for example, extended its Zone Perfect range of nutrition snack bars in April 2013 to include three varieties aimed at kids—particularly those with active lifestyles. Kidz Zone Perfect Yellow Cupcake, Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip and Fudge Brownie are the three current flavors, with Fudge Brownie having replaced the original Caramel Crunch line. Zone Perfect already is the number four brand in the overall $2.1 billion US nutritional health bars market (through multi-outlet stores). This children’s initiative added a new dimension to its activities.

Elsewhere, breakfast bar leader Kellogg has continued to develop its child-oriented Rice Krispies brand, with new Blasted Rice Krispies Treats with Chocolate & Marshmallows.

There’s still more competition coming into the category. Baby food brands are expanding into the sector to increase their target markets, with companies such as Plum Organics launching its Go Bar line in 2014. Plum described kids Go Bars as “chewy oat bars with veggies” using a fruit and vegetable blend with apples, dates, sweet potatoes, dried carrots and dried kale. While these ingredients were designed to add parental appeal, child appeal is more likely to come from the three flavor varieties: Chocolate Brownie, Chocolate Chip and Snickerdoodle.

Fruit Frenzy

Fruit bars—including those with processed fruit pieces and shapes—represent one of the largest and most established sectors within the fruit snacks market, particularly in the US. More recently, however, this fruit bar category has faced controversy about the relatively low fruit content and relatively high sugar content in some traditional confectionery-style products, which are mainly targeted at children.

The US market was worth more than $1 billion through multiple retailers in 2014 and encompassed a range of different products, including fruit bars, rolls and sticks. Traditionally, the market relies on ongoing product and promotional activity, often using limited editions connected licensed characters (from either long-standing or current films or TV programs). General Mills’ Betty Crocker brand has been the long-term market leader, ahead of Kellogg, which entered the market in 2003 and further developed its presence with the 2005 purchase of Nabisco fruit snacks brands from Kraft.

These brand owners have been busy around the launch of Universal Pictures’ movie: Minions. Betty Crocker introductions have included Minions-themed Fruit by the Foot and Fruit Gushers. Although their popularity and use in the food industry appears to have reached new heights in 2015, there already was some activity tied in with their earlier introduction in the Despicable Me movies. Betty Crocker also launched Despicable Me-themed fruit snacks featuring Minions back in 2013.

Talk about kid appeal. Minions-themed products have appeared across several other food and drinks sectors during 2015. Confections have seen Haribo Minions Gums, Just Born’s Peeps Minions-shaped Marshmallows and Ferrero’s Tic Tac Minions fruit-flavor mints. The bakery category features Hostess’ individually wrapped Chocolate Creme Twinkies featuring Minions. There’s a special Minions edition of Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese and Minions freezer bars from Jel Sert.

While it seems that health adds parental appeal to children’s food and drinks, kids themselves are more likely to be interested in traditional features such as shapes, flavors, bright packaging and the use of licensed characters. Specifically, limited-edition new products—connected to characters in current release movies and TV programs—remain particularly popular.