Focused on Candy

by Tonia Becker
Children speak candidly about candy during Confectioner’s annual focus group sessions.
The primary purpose of Confectioner’s 2004 Kids Focus Groups was to learn more about kids’ candy likes and dislikes and what characteristics (packaging, product form, etc.) are appealing to them.
A total of 60 children — split into eight different groups — participated in the focus groups. Four of the focus group discussions took place in Lincoln, Neb., and four were held in suburban Chicago. Our participants included boys and girls ranging from second-graders to fifth-graders. Groups were divided by grade level and gender.
The kids liked candy that “does something.” Candy industry members would call this interactive candy. However, a child’s version of “does something” is not necessarily an adult’s definition. Especially to younger children, much of the world is a game or fantasy waiting to be explored. Often, it doesn’t take much to facilitate this adventure. For example, taffy can be formed into a roller coaster track, or a piece of licorice can become a bracelet.
The Bottom Line
Interesting-looking candy and packaging is enough to pique a child’s interest, but the product needs to taste good. And if there is a toy involved in the candy, the items need to work as promised. A couple of the items tested in the focus groups either malfunctioned regularly or had a design issue that prevented them from functioning the way the kids thought they should — and that definitely was not well received.
Television advertising is extremely influential. One product had been advertised fairly regularly on kid-oriented television programming. Not surprisingly, this new product was recognized by nearly all of the kids. Several of the kids had already tried the item, but the ones who had not were eager to do so. Nearly all of the kids loved this item, leading us to conclude that they were pre-sold on it.
Boys Want More
Quantity was important to the boys. In some ways, they tended to be less picky than the girls as long as there was a lot of candy in the package.
For all of the kids, flavor was critical. Of course, flavor preferences varied. However, the one thing that was nearly universal was that all of the kids liked long-lasting, true-to-life flavors.
Kids like to see the candy through the package. Bright, colorful, interesting packaging is also critical in attracting kids’ attention. Resealablity, portability and being able to save the rest for later is also important.
If the product needs to “work” in some way, it’s a good idea to try to make it clear on the packaging how it works. As long as the product looked interesting enough, they were okay with not knowing exactly how it worked until opening it. It was almost a bit of an adventure. However, there is a fine line between creating a mini-adventure and offering something that is so convoluted that it becomes uninteresting.
Mystery flavors seem to work if the brand has previously earned a child’s trust.
We found that kids appreciated creative products and packaging, and many were quick to note when they thought a concept was just “copying off” a product already on the market.
SENSORY Pro Explores Kids’ Preferences
Creating a real-life, down-to-earth scenario is one way to get at the heart of what a child thinks about a product, according to Janelle Elmore, Ph.D., who moderated Confectioner’s Nebraska-based focus groups.
It really helps to set up the questions in the context of a child’s life experience, Elmore explains, noting that children don’t always have a vocabulary sufficient to explain exactly what they’re thinking.
"For example," she says, "you might ask, ‘If you were trick or treating, which kind of candy would you prefer to receive?’"
Elmore says she’s also found it helpful to set up situations where children get to "tell a story" about a product. She cites the example of asking a small group of kids to create an advertisement or make a collage for a specific product.
"As they’re doing the advertisement," she observes, "I can hear that they’re focusing on the flavor or the fun aspects of the product."
Elmore, who has been involved in consumer and sensory evaluation since 1991, has worked for a number of major food and packaged goods companies. She currently operates her own business, Elmore Consulting LLC, which is based in Columbia, Mo. She holds a Ph.D. in food science and human nutrition from the University of Missouri-Columbia.