Although sales of kids’ meals suffered during the recession, industry insiders say foods served to children will provide growth opportunities in 2013.
In fact, of the top 10 menu trends set forth by National Restaurant Association’s 2013 “What’s Hot” culinary forecast, three are related to feeding the smallest diners: healthful kids’ meals, children’s nutrition as a culinary theme, and whole-grain items in kids’ meals. Pretty good showing for a demo without a wallet.
While the NRA’s predictions focus on the efforts to improve nutrition, I actually see three trends at play when it comes to menu design for children:
1. “What kind of drink with that?” is not enough.
Adults’ desire to customize has swept the restaurant industry, but children are perhaps even fonder of choices than adults. The recently introduced Li’l Buckets (image right) from Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Fresh Fit For Kids™ menu at Subway and others are highly customizable, offering much more than a choice of side. Children follow step-by-step choices to fashion the perfect little meal.
2. Whole, Organic & Cultural Cuisine.
Nearly every restaurant with a child’s menu has made efforts to improve calorie, sodium and fat content. Also appealing to parents are unique foods with natural or ‘superfood’ status, such as the organic PB&J at Jason’s Deli and the Berry Beet It!™ kids’ smoothie from Jamba Juice (which sneaks beets in next to strawberries, bananas, and mangos). And as more parents fall in love with Mediterranean, Mexican, Thai, and other ethnic cuisines, children are also getting the chance to order falafel at Garbanzo Mediterranean, try a quesadilla from Taco John’s, or make a shrimp stir fry at HuHot Mongolian Grill.
3. Honest Interactivity.
Fun food and innocent interactivity with food packaging is taking the place of toys that moms have to throw away and feel entices their kids unfairly. Note the lid games, the QR code and the squeezable applesauce in the Li’l Bucket. Arby’s has a Find It! With Arby Jr. book coming soon, and Burger King slices apples like fries to get giggles. Moe’s Southwest Grill hands kids the classic “fortune teller” origami game, which the whole family can play at the table…and then toss in the garbage.
Advertising & promotion can follow this more enlightened direction of kids’ meal design, as well. For example, KFC used two feel-good social media contests to promote Li’L Buckets: the Li’l Playground Makeover Facebook Contest and the KFC Ultimate Playground Experience Sweepstakes. Winners will receive restoration of their local playgrounds and neighborhood block parties.
A few nights ago, when my son opened up the Li’l Bucket I set in front of him, he exclaimed, “Fancy!” What about the children in your life? What are their favorite restaurants and why do you think they prefer them? Let me know in the comments below.