Flavors for Kids: Crafting Products that Appeal to Children & Parents

by | Nov 16, 2023

Creating tasty and fun foods and beverages that keep kids (and parents) interested and coming back for more is a unique challenge. Not only do kids’ preferences differ and change often, but parents want to make sure the items in the cart have the right nutritional benefits.

And while parents’ and children’s food choices may diverge, there are flavors for kids and parents that make everyone happy. Let’s examine the preferences of each audience and ways food and beverage producers can craft products that appeal to kids and have the benefits and qualities that parents want.

Which Flavors & Formats Appeal to Kids?

Although infants are born with a predisposition for sweetness, sensitivity to the complete range of tastes fully develops between 12 and 19 months. And children as young as age 3 begin expressing preferences for different tastes. Formulating foods that kids love starts with understanding the flavors that appeal to them across categories.

Flavor Preferences Change with Age

While many flavor preferences form very early, kids still experience shifts in the flavors they like as they grow.

  • Flavors for kids under seven tend to be natural, simple, and easy to understand. Classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry and flavor combinations like peach blueberry tend to work well for younger children.
  • Flavors for kids between eight and twelve reflect a desire for excitement. “Fantasy” flavors like superman ice cream or unique flavor combinations are popular in gum, beverages, and yogurt. Cool-sounding, real-world fruits like dragon fruit can also satisfy this age group’s desire to be more adventurous with food and beverage choices.
  • Flavors for teenagers start reflecting adult foods and beverages like chocolate or coffee. Chocolate flavors designed for younger kids tend to have more dairy notes, while chocolate for teenagers can include nuances like mocha or cappuccino and deeper, darker chocolates. Teenagers also like extremes like extra caffeine, spicy, or sour.

Sweet Classics and Fruits Are Top Flavors for Kids

Kids love classic flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Innova notes that fruit flavors for kids are beginning to diversify. Red apple, peach, pineapple, and red raspberry made it into the top 20 flavors and niches like pear, blackcurrant, and passion fruit show strong growth. Flavor combos like fruit and marshmallow and apple and strawberry are also making an appearance in the top flavors for kids from Mintel’s launch data.

Kid’s Supplements Lead Innovation

Child-oriented food and beverages make up about 2.3% of global launches (Innova). While launch data shows overall NPD is flat, kid-focused vitamins and supplements top the list of innovative launches in the last two years. The top five categories represent about 60% of launches developed for children between 5 and 12 years old. Supplements to support children’s health and well-being are often in gummy format. Launches around sleep aids for kids are up 300% and digestive health is +100% (Mintel).

Although NPD directed at children between 5 and 12 years old retreated in North America during the last year, some categories continue to invest in innovation for the age group.

North American Kid Focused Launches, % chg vs prior 52 weeks, October 2023

Breakfast Is An All-Day Favorite

People are eating more breakfast foods, and not just in the morning. A survey commissioned by General Mills found 79% of Americans say they eat breakfast foods outside of the traditional morning hours. Chartwell K12, a company that creates custom dining programs for over four thousand schools around the U.S., notes that breakfast food is a big crowd-pleaser with school-aged kids.

A breakfast burrito or a sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit sandwich are menu favorites—no matter the time of day. Smoothies that combine fruit and yogurt are also a popular choice and can be a good solution for busy schedules. Bringing breakfast flavors into new categories is a novel way to connect with children and parents. For example, a berry flavor from cereal crossing over onto a popcorn snack gives kids a sweet-and-salty treat in a lower-sugar snack that parents can approve (and enjoy, too).

What Flavors Influence Parents?

Children often plead a compelling case for putting a new flavor or food in the shopping cart. But crafting products that will stay in the cart and entice parents to buy again takes a formula that addresses parental priorities.

Make Healthy Options an Easy Choice

While kids look for fun flavors and colors, parents want healthy choices. Highlighting natural ingredients, no added sugar, or protein can help parents feel more confident when choosing more health-conscious products for their kids. Innova found that 65% of households with kids are willing to pay more for natural products (vs 49% of other households).

Proper Good’s Ready Oatmeal had parents in mind when they launched a pre-cooked, shelf-stable oatmeal targeted at making mornings a bit less chaotic while still getting a healthy, tasty breakfast. Chia, flax, hemp seed, and coconut oil make for a high-fiber and filling breakfast with added appeal from kid-friendly flavors like apple cinnamon and chocolate, peanut butter, and banana.

Yummy Bear launched a low-sugar, peach-flavored gummy bear with natural peach juice concentrate. The naturally sweetened snack is plant-based and high in fiber.

Give a Boost with Benefits

One of the myriad effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been parents’ concern for their children’s wellbeing. Mintel reports that 28% of parents in the U.S. are worried about their children’s stress levels and are looking to nutrition as a solution.

Parents may prefer products with a little extra boost, whether giving products a functional benefit with probiotics or including ingredients that support brain health. Flavors can play a role here too, as people often have flavor associations with different mood benefits. For instance, flavors like berry, citrus, and mint are popular for products that promote relaxation (Mintel).

Forager Project launched an organic mango cashew milk yogurt for kids. The kid-sized pouch is packed with probiotics, calcium, and vitamins for an easy on-the-go snack.

Functional water can help parents get their kids to stay hydrated and boost focus and concentration with B-group vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. Unique liquid, powder, or cube formats and kid-friendly flavors can make drinking water a fun experience.

Millennial Parents Want Adventurous Options & Comfort Food

Millennials now make up the majority (59%) of parents with small children. A driving force behind the foodie movement, millennials now want to see more adventurous and internationally-inspired food options for their kids. Incorporating global flavors such as yuzu or ube will appeal to millennial parents looking to expand their child’s palate. Innova found that 47% of North American households with children look for flavors they have never tried before compared to 34% of all other households.

Café Menu, Colorado. Ube offerings are showing up on menus across the United States.

And while many parents are looking for new tastes for their children, they also turn to comfort foods when dealing with stress. For Millennial parents, sharing dishes like mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly with their kids could include an approachable adventurous or healthy twist to old classics. Adding a bit of Havarti to the ‘mac’, fresh blueberries to PB, or using bread with inclusions like raisins brings fun and new flavors to the table.

Ready to Craft Innovative Flavors for Kids?

Whether you’re looking for flavor inspiration or need help with formulation challenges, it’s essential to work with solutions-focused partners like FlavorSum. Our experts are ready to bring your innovative ideas to life and help craft products that create brand loyalty with kids and their parents.

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