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April 24, 2008
The foundation of a well-thought-out children's supplements and nutrition section is understanding common children's health issues and carefully considering what parents expect from these products. But commercial success begins with a well-trained staff who can answer parents' questions.
There are hundreds of potential questions a parent might ask a store clerk about a child's nutritional product. Employees may not know the answer to every question, but they should at least be familiar with the department basics and with the issues parents may be inquiring about.
A word of caution, though: Some medical practitioners believe that supplements—especially children's supplements—are unnecessary and even potentially dangerous. Be sure that staff members ask parents if a pediatrician has recommended that their child start a supplements program before they start offering advice.
Most health problems affecting children today involve the immune system and nervous system, says Murray Clarke, a homeopathic practitioner and licensed acupuncturist in Marina Del Ray, Calif., who also formulates and markets a line of liquid children's supplements. "You see the consequences of poor diet, chemicals and additives, and overstimulation," he says. "You see it in the learning disorders that are happening these days."
Food allergies are also common among children. Milk, tree nuts, eggs, wheat and soy can be life-threatening for kids who are allergic to them. Understandably, parents of these kids often are well-read. "They tend to do a lot of research," says Heather Isely, vice president of nutritional education for Vitamin Cottage, a chain of health food stores based in Lakewood, Colo.
Calcium and iron deficiencies also are frequent among American children. Only 14 percent of girls and 36 percent of boys between the ages of 12 and 19 get the recommended daily allowance of calcium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Calcium deficiency can lead to broken bones and, in the worst cases, to rickets. Iron poisoning is a leading cause of death in children younger than 6, so a physician must be involved in diagnosing iron deficiency and prescribing supplements containing iron.
With these common children's health issues in mind, a retailer can effectively plan a children's nutrition department that will meet the needs of most parents and their children.
Planning The Department
Retailers should carefully consider where and how they place their children's lines in their stores. Manufacturers often prefer to have all of their products grouped together in one section. "To split the products up throughout the store isn't helpful in building the brand," says Jennifer Hodges, chief executive officer of Hero Nutritional Products, based in San Clemente, Calif.
However, many retailers prefer to group kids' products together by subcategory rather than by company. "It's easier for the parents and easier for the clerks to be able to look at all the multivitamins and be able to compare them rather than having to search through each line to find the multivitamin," Isely says.
At VitaSmart Nutrition Center, a 5,100-square-foot store in Clinton Township, Mich., they have an 8-foot children's section near the front of the store. "Everybody who comes in has to go by it," says Frank Leonardi, who co-owns the market with his wife, Carolyn.
The Leonardis use this front section to cross-merchandise a variety of kids' products: herbal tinctures, multivitamins, liquid vitamins, homeopathic remedies, thermometers, baby foods, soaps, diapers, wipes, cereals—"anything for children 5 years old and younger," Leonardi says.
The nutritional supplements are located on the top two shelves, but VitaSmart also puts kids' multivitamins in its regular multivitamin section and has a separate shelf section dedicated to remedies used to treat symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. "I wish I had another 4-foot section for kids to add to my 8-foot section; then I would put all the children's vitamins there," Leonardi says.
The Vitamin Cottage stores place their children's department next to the homeopathy section. "The reason being that a lot of homeopathy is easy to use in children without risking or being fearful of overdosing. They fit well together," Isely says.
Isely also suggests having an RDA chart in the section. Charts, reference books, pamphlets and computer kiosks are valuable tools for educating staff and parents about child-specific issues. With a good selection of science-based reference materials on hand, parents can educate themselves, and retailers can concentrate on selecting and merchandising the best products for their children's nutrition departments.
Selecting The Products
"The No. 1 thing for a kid's supplement is that it has to taste good so the kids will take it," Clarke says. "A lot of the children's products out there are loaded with sugar and colorings and preservatives."
Most natural foods retailers have their own objective standards for nutrition products, but taste is something more subjective. It's a good idea, then, for buyers and store owners to personally taste-test each kid's product they plan to sell.
Retailers who subcategorize their children's supplements section by product type have many options. Multivitamins, immune support and brain nutrients are common category ideas; of course, certain products will cross over categories.
Children's multivitamin and mineral combinations are the best-selling child-specific nutrition products in most stores. Retailers should offer at least five different brands of children's "multis" in case kids don't like the taste of one, Isely says.
Multis come in both chewable and liquid form. Of the chewable brands, the most popular in natural foods stores is the "gummy" variety. They provide essential vitamins and minerals in a kid-pleasing form. Vegetarian and organic-ingredient varieties are available. Sugar may be the only objectionable ingredient.
Liquid multivitamins are useful for children younger than 4 because they can be mixed with juices. Like chewables, they should provide 100 percent of the RDA for essential vitamins and minerals. Some liquid formulas are sweetened with sugar alternatives, such as glycerin, brown rice syrup or stevia. Sorbitol, another alternative sweetener, should be avoided because it may cause diarrhea or an upset stomach.
Watch out for liquid multivitamins that are preserved with sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. Some research suggests these preservatives may contribute to hyperactivity.
Immune System Support
There are dozens of products that could be considered immune system support supplements. Here are some options, including general information:
Vitamin C: Chewable flavors such as orange, grape, cherry and lemon are popular. Sugar-free brands may be too sour for some children. Buffered C manufacturers claim that buffered products reduce irritation in sensitive tummies;
Probiotics: Many brands need to be refrigerated;
Echinacea: Chewable tablets and liquid extracts for kids are available. Good echinacea tingles on the tongue;
Zinc: Flavored lozenges are the most popular. Children's lozenges should not contain more than 10 mg of zinc. There's conflicting information whether zinc helps children with colds, although it may help improve respiratory functions;
Elderberry: Chewable and liquid forms are available. Elderberry can help relieve influenza symptoms, but not cold symptoms.
At least 1.6 million elementary school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 oils from fish may help improve this condition; however, products made specifically to help children with ADD/ADHD should not be sold as a one-size-fits-all solution. Accurate diagnosis, appropriate therapy, diet and exercise are also important factors in beneficial treatment. Some research supports the use of omega-3 oils for ADD/ADHD.
Other subcategories for a children's nutrition department should include a green foods section (for kids who don't like to eat vegetables) and an herb section (glycerin-based products are recommended).
Steve Taormina is a freelance writer and Web designer.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 8/p. 18
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