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Natural Foods Merchandiser

7 ways to attract parents and their children to your store

Be ready to serve the needs of new parents and their kids with these tips. Making a customer's day could mean making a lifelong customer.

A mom enters your store for the first time, toddler in her arms. Are you ready to serve her? “Families with new children and young children are at what marketers call an inflection point,” says Jay Jacobowitz, owner of Retail Insights, a Brattleboro, Vt.-based consulting service for natural products retailers. “A new child will cause parents to reevaluate their food-buying habits, with an eye toward a clean slate and a good start in life.”

Parents of children under age 3 are more likely to incorporate organic products into their kids’ lives, often for health-related reasons, according to the “2009 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs Study.” This  joint project of the Organic Trade Association and Kiwi magazine, which surveyed 763 families, also shows that despite the sagging economy, 41 percent of U.S. families report they buy more organic foods compared to a year ago, even cutting spending in other areas before reducing organic produce purchases.

The family market is clearly a natural fit for your store, but how do you satisfy new parents and their children, turning them into lifelong customers? Here are seven ideas.

Reach out to “organic influencer” mom bloggers
“Organic influencer” parents, according to the OTA report, promote buying organic products, seek information about organic foods and are sought out by friends and family on organic product questions. And these recommendations aren’t necessarily made in person. The Internet (48 percent) outranks magazines and newspapers (42 percent) for family meal ideas and menu advice, according to the September 2010 Supervalu “Back-to-Routine Survey,” a study of 3,074 parents of school-age children.

You can make the most of these findings by becoming partners with eco- and organic-focused mom bloggers, who can help you get the word out on healthful products, menu items and great deals. Ask the bloggers if you can add them to your media list, and invite them to participate in store events, such as new product samplings or cooking classes. “You’re identifying your store as a resource for new moms and families,” Jacobowitz says, when you collaborate with influencers.

Introduce your store
The OTA report found that “newly organic” parents (32 percent of all respondents) have shopped for organic products for less than two years and tend to choose conventional grocers over natural retailers. To entice these parents to your store, offer a “family day,” suggests Debby Swoboda, a Stuart, Fla.-based natural products consultant who has orchestrated similar events for her retail clients. Set up hands-on craft and activity stations (such as planting organic radish seeds inside soil-filled recyclable paper cups) next to food-tasting booths, so parents and kids alike will spend time in your store and get to know your merchandise and staff. “The child is having a blast while you’re teaching parents about the culture of the store,” Swoboda says.

Another idea: In 2010, Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany, N.Y., threw a Halloween trick-or-treating party with pumpkin painting, cookies and face painting. “It was very successful, in that it was good to get in people who’d never been here before,” says Jennifer Grainer, the store’s marketing and merchandising coordinator.

Promote inexpensive convenience foods
The shaky economy has hit families hard, with 63 percent of the OTA report respondents choosing to skip restaurant meals and cook at home. The report also indicates that among the 25 percent of families decreasing purchases of organic products over the past 12 months, nine in 10 did so because they felt organic foods are “too expensive.”

To draw in these types of customers, Swoboda suggests you ask employees to take turns creating a weekly endcap with favorite frugal meals. Cash-strapped families appreciate displays featuring organic chili mix ingredients, pizza fixings and prepared organic soups. Promoting bulk-ingredient recipes in store flyers, advertisements and social media sites also boosts cost-conscious buys, Swoboda says.

Give fruit to kids
According to the OTA report, families who purchase organic products tend to eat more produce than non-organic families, so offering free fruit to kids can hit a sweet spot with both parents and their children.

Sell parents on store values

Mom Teresa Youngblood appreciates how New Leaf Market’s quarterly newsletter discloses purchasing standards for the Tallahassee, Fla.-based co-op. “I could research all the brands myself before going in,” she says, “but it’s nice to know that I can expect a reasonable level of quality based on values that I know and support.” Overall, parents’ primary motivation to choose organic products is health related, according to the OTA report; 38 percent say they believe organics are “healthier for me and/or my children,” while 39 percent buy organics to “avoid highly processed foods and/or artificial ingredients.”

Even beyond organic, you can promote health benefits and natural qualities of all the products you stock. For example, Supervalu uses shelf tags to note one or two nutritional benefits of items across price points.

Help with meal planning
Supervalu’s survey found that 74 percent of children have some or a lot of influence on the meals their parents make. You can help mom or dad turn junior on to healthier menus by offering cooking classes for the family. PCC Natural Markets in Seattle holds frequently sold-out “PCC Kids Cook” courses for every age group.Two-year-olds, accompanied by an adult guest, learn to count ways to have fun with food in “Counting in the Kitchen,” or discover how to make breakfast in “Good Morning, Great Day!” Four- to 6-year-olds are offered hands-on classes in preparing seasonal produce (“Celebrate Summer Produce”) and making healthy desserts (“Just Desserts”).

Parents also seek assistance “making mealtime preparation easier” (48 percent), “being better prepared for meals” (44 percent) and “figuring out how to pack healthy lunches” (30 percent), according to Supervalu’s study. To make shopping a no-fuss experience for parents, Supervalu puts recipe cards next to ingredient-list items. Youngblood says her co-op anticipates parents’ needs and tailors promotions accordingly. “Two winters ago, a store endcap featured real cocoa powder along with honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon sticks and gelatin-free marshmallows for homemade hot chocolate,” she says. “I know it’s savvy marketing, but I love to share hot chocolate with my kids, and it’s not going to be made from a bottle of Hershey’s syrup.”

Provide a play area
In Laramie, Wyo., mom Cass Kvenild likes to shop at Big Hollow Food Co-op and Whole Earth Grainery because the stores put large plastic dinosaurs and other toys near their bulk bins. Not only do the toys distract little hands that might otherwise reach into the bins, but they also help keep kids occupied while parents fill and label bulk bags.

If you want to go all out, Jacobowitz recommends creating a staffed Saturday-morning playtime that leaves parents free to shop. But staffing isn’t always necessary. Honest Weight Food Co-op has an unstaffed play area with toys and books to help stave off kids’ tantrums, offer a chill-out spot for fussy kids and encourage a family atmosphere. The toys can also be carried around while a family’s shopping the aisles. “The area makes mom’s trip a little easier,” Grainer says.

Before you create a play area, establish rules about who watches the kids (store, staff or parents) and check with your insurance company to make sure you’re not taking on too much liability. The effort is worth it. “You’re removing barriers and showing an understanding and sensitivity to family needs,” Jacobowitz says. 

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