A study with Portuguese children offered them gendered packaging options of breakfast cereals.
Researcher: Luísa Agante
A gendered packaging makes children choose healthier breakfast cereals.
This is the evidence from a study with 288 Portuguese children aged 6 to 9 which was conducted by masters student Catarina Montellano and Nova SBE’s Professor Luísa Agante.
Breakfast cereals and child obesity
Breakfast cereals are an important product category especially in the children’s market and are worth €4.5 billion in Europe. However the cereal’s industry is claimed to produce children’s cereals with excessive levels of sugar and sodium, and thus contributing to children’s obesity problem. This research aims at seeing if this industry could counteract obesity trends by using a gendered packaging to make children choose healthier breakfast cereals.
In 2012 there were 44 million obese children from 0 to 5 years old. If this trend continues, these figures will grow up to 70 million in 2025 (WHO). Gender segmentation is already used in the children’s food industry but mostly in the so-called unhealthy products. There is a natural disposition for children to like foods high in sugar, fat and salt, and therefore it was not clear if this marketing strategy would have the power to change children’s choice from a product they are naturally inclined to enjoy, to a healthier option.
Among the findings:
• Introducing a gendered packaging in a non-familiar brand of healthier cereals increased the attitude towards the product and the intention to consume and to buy the healthier product, while having the opposite effect on the unhealthier cereals (also from the same non-familiar brand).
• The major finding was that children’s choice changed completely from a mere 30% who choose the healthier cereals in the control group, to 75% picking it when presented a gendered packaging.
Gender stereotypes in marketing
The results surpassed even the most optimistic expectations, and suggest that the child’s gender identification in this age range can be used for the benefit of the child, in order for them to make healthier choices.
However, there is controversy on whether marketing should make use of gender stereotypes to promote products. In this case the researchers believe that the use of a packaging that is appealing to each gender, when used to promote healthy food, can be beneficial to the child’s wellbeing. But marketers should be cautious on deciding the packaging characteristics, by making sure that it is not reinforcing detrimental gender stereotypes.
This article is based on the paper ‘In what extent can a segmented packaging make children choose healthier breakfast cereals’ authored by Catarina Montellano (former master student at Nova SBE) and Luísa Agante (Adjunct Assistant Professor at Nova SBE).
The paper has been accepted for presentation at the prestigious European Marketing Academy Conference (EMAC) in May 2015.