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How to tell if kids really do like sushi

How to tell if kids really do like sushi

While chairing a kids’ conference in London a number of years ago, I remember hearing a pair of speakers extol the virtues of their newest insight:  the next big thing for kids, according to these two enthusiastic presenters, would be sushi. 

I remember cringing a bit when I heard that.  Based on my experience working with kids throughout the UK – and indeed many other markets outside of Japan -  I can think of a number of more realistic expectations than a significant trend involving 6 – 9 year olds demanding their parents to get them sushi on a regular basis. 

Certainly there are a number of aspects of the sushi experience that are grounded in genuine kid truth – the element of control provided; the idea of having a variety of items that together make a meal; even the packaging and interaction. 

Maybe that’s what the presenters were going to say?  Maybe they didn’t mean that kids were going to be wanting sushi?

But they did say that.  They told the crowd of 200 attendees, all keen to glean the latest kid insight, that sushi would be the next big thing. 

The crowd dutifully scribbled their notes, presumably to remind themselves that they needed to rush out and develop sushi concepts to test with kids.

As marketers, too often we are provided a slick, gimmicky ‘marketing’ snap-shot of kids that looks very different than real-life kids.  What had actually transpired in the ‘sushi insight’, was a group of children were brought together, and tried to ‘talk cool’ and brag about trying sushi. 

This made others keen to try the idea and seem really excited by it.  What was forgotten in the discussion, apparently, was to let the kids know that it was made of raw fish, and that the texture was something very different than they had experienced before.

Learning from kids can be challenging, especially when trying to understand their attitudes and behaviour to food. 

Food is not like iPods, video games and instant messenging, it is very different.  We can certainly learn from other, more high-tech categories, but certain aspects of food are very different and need different strategies.
According to CKC's research, children relate to a whole host of eating occasions that go far beyond what we as adults might expect.  At the surface it may appear to be breakfast, lunch, tea and snacks, but the nuances of the various occasions vary greatly. 

In-home and out-of-home experiences of each are certainly critical to understand - and not just the practicalities of each, but the emotional drivers for the occasion and context.  Children, like most consumers, are situation driven, rather than just time of day or meal occasion. 

Eating at home can be split out into the traditional (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, desserts and snacks), special occasions (parties, celebrations), after sport, social (friends/family come round) and ‘state of mind’ (feel peckish, feel bored, etc.).

Out of home eating occasions are either regular occasions like packed lunch/school lunch, at sports events, at friend’s houses or when out shopping, or irregular treat based occasions like restaurants and on holiday/days out. 

On each occasion their ‘favourite food’ choice can be different in each of these situations.

Kids talk old but eat young
What children say when they are out-and-about with friends can be very often different when they are at home.  When with their friends, they act their ‘aspirational age’ (usually 2 or 3 years older than their chronological age).  When they are at home, they often act younger than their age, and this is particularly important of food.  

That is why the foods that were favourites of kids 10 and 20 years ago have broadly remained the same.  Certainly new ideas can take hold, but the most successful of these are usually familiar foods, flavours or textures, but presented with a ‘twist’ of new. 

It is critically important to have foods presented and available in as many different eating occasions as possible in order to maximise the number of connections with kids’ ‘real lives’.  

Context plays a very important role in how children respond to ‘favourite food’ and even food and beverage ‘liking’ questions.  We need to know when we are asking the question, and in what context.

Finally, convenience and portability will be key for many of the out of home occasions.  In home occasions are about the familiar experiences, particularly from their younger years, and are influenced greatly by siblings, and the ritual of everyday life.

Marketers and researchers need to know and understand these contexts in order to build kids’ brands, products and services, but also to understand responses to products and ideas being researched and developed. 

And whatever you do, don’t expect that sushi is the ‘next big thing’.  I expect that will probably take a while.


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