WHAT DO OUR KIDS EAT?
This review presents results of “Kids’ Nutrition”, a cross-cultural study carried out in Moscow and Warsaw in autumn 2016 by the research companies “MarketSense” (Russia) and “Almares” (Poland).
The research was conducted among mothers of children aged 3-12 and involved an ethnographic step (kids’ food diaries, home visits) followed by a survey performed via personal interviewing*. Mothers were interviewed in the presence of their children, with some questions answered by children instead.
The main questions concerned habits and settings in children’s diets. What are the key principles of healthy eating in Russia and Poland? Which products are restricted in consumption and which are not? What are children’s preferences, what food do they choose, and what flavors do they like or dislike? What brands are popular among mothers and their kids in both countries? How significant are the differences in children’s nutrition as well as in attitudes towards brands and product categories?
HEALTHY AND BALANCED DIET
The principles of healthy eating in Russia and Poland are similar and imply naturalness of the product, a balanced proportion between proteins, fats and carbohydrates, consumption of fruit and vegetables, and daily consumption of hot meals.
It is important to emphasize that naturalness and balance are the two key components of a healthy diet, which both have an equally high priority in Russia and Poland.
Freshly cooked meals, fruits and vegetables and restricted amounts of sweets in the diet are more often priorities of Polish mothers, whereas daily hot meals, restricting carbonated drink intake and the presence of soups in the diet mainly concern Russian mothers. In Poland, soup is not an essential element of lunch, as opposed to Russia, and the soup recipes are less heavy – for instance, tomato soup or pumpkin creamy soup with yogurt, whereas Russian traditional soups involve a meat or chicken broth, cream added to pureed soups etc.
ANTI-GLUTEN TREND AND THE DANGERS OF ‘HIDDEN’ SUGAR
The qualitative stage of the research revealed several interesting trends that define the difference in product perception in terms of healthiness. For instance, in Russia, compared to Poland, the popularity of breakfast cereals for children (flakes, muesli, pads and others) as a product regularly consumed for breakfast is rather low and is noted by 40% of Russian mothers against 84% of Polish mothers. In Russia, breakfast cereals are considered to be sources of ‘hidden sugar’ by mothers – regular consumption thereof, according to them, may lead to diabetes in children.
At the same time, Russians tend to include a wide variety of wheat flour products into the children’s diet, such as cookies, wafers, buns, pastries, pancakes etc. On the contrary, in Poland consumption of such products by kids is discouraged due to gluten they contain, as it may lead to digestive disorders and allergies. Therefore Polish mothers replace wheat bread with corn or rice bread and avoid giving pasta to children (as opposed to Russia, where macaroni are extremely popular), replacing it with grains such as millet or buckwheat. The anti-gluten trend in Poland contributed to the popularity of ‘healthy homemade fast food’ – that is, mothers cooking hamburgers or hot dogs using gluten-free buns and considering these meals to be substantially less harmful for children’s health in comparison to regular fast food.
These differences in concerns and fears by mothers as well as the polarity of perception of certain products and ingredients can be explained by different discourse and consumer contexts parents are involved in in Russia and Poland. Among others, these are opinions formed by the media, online parent social networks, recommendations by pediatricians, and marketing of gluten-free products or products free of hidden sugars. It should be noted that information on the dangers of gluten is being spread in Russia as well these days, and it is possible that in the near future the anti-gluten trend in children’s nutrition will be more prominent in Russia.
WHAT DO MOMS FORBID?
Russian mothers restrict their children unfavorable products more often than Polish mothers (89% against 82%). Even though the list of such products does not differ between the two countries, the ‘anti-rating’ of certain items varies significantly.
In Russia, the negative attitude towards sweet carbonated drinks, salty snacks and fast food is much more pronounced. Consumption of these products by children across the two countries is restricted by mothers as follows: carbonated drinks – 51% of Russian mothers and only 37% of Polish mothers, salty snacks such as chips – 49 and 33% respectively, fast food – 31 and 17% respectively. The presence of sweets in the kids’ diet is more discouraged by Polish mothers. 70% of Polish mothers restrict their children’s intake of sweets, against 29% of Russian mothers. Unlike products containing ‘hidden sugar’, regular sweets seem less harmful to Russian mothers as the sugar content therein is obvious and their consumption can be regulated by parents when necessary.
WHAT DO KIDS LIKE?
It is interesting to note that both Russian and Polish children are remarkably similar in their tastes in food. Regardless of age, the ‘hits’ in both countries are sweets (in particular, chocolate for kids), potato chips, spaghetti, sausages, packaged juice, and milkshakes. For the youngest age group (3-6 years) preference for sweets ‘for kids’ prevails (e.g. chocolate eggs with a toy inside, and gummy candy in various shapes, such as Haribo bears); children aged 7-12 tend to prefer more nutritious products that have an ‘adult’ image to them, such as burgers and pizza. It is no wonder that children often prefer exactly what is discouraged and restricted by mothers – forbidden fruit is sweet!
The results of the study revealed a number of factors that determine how successful a product becomes among children in both Poland and Russia.
1. Texture. Soft (in the age group of 3-6 years) or combined (7-12 years old), e.g. crispy on the outside and soft inside;
2. The product format. Toy and ‘animated’ formats (3-6 years old) and unusual scary monster images (7-12 years old);
3. Taste. The favorite flavors in both countries are sweet, and the least preferred ones are spicy and sour. Russian children tend to enjoy the taste of ice cream, Coca-Cola and yogurt more than Polish children, whereas Polish children are more tolerant of the nutty flavor and the taste of gingerbread. All in all, Polish children are more open to consuming products with spicy, savory flavors than children in Russia.
The first place in the rating of favorite brands among Russian and Polish children is rightfully held by “Kinder” (including the most famous varieties – “Kinder Surprise” and “Kinder Chocolate”).
In Russia, kids’ favorite brands include “Chudo (Miracle)”, “Agusha” and “Frutonyanya (Fruit Nanny)”. These are recognized children’s brands, which are attractive in their quality, popularity and memorable advertising communication.
In Poland, the brands mentioned as favorites more often are “Nestle” and “Danone” with 33 and 22% respectively, against 13 and 6% respectively in Russia.
The study has shown that today’s children in Russia and Poland are a generation of ‘global kids’ united by common interests, cultural references and, as a result, consumer preferences. Nevertheless, certain cultural differences remain, and they have to be taken into account in development and promotion of brands for the child audience.
* The total number of interviews is 200 – 100 interviews in each of the two countries.