CHICAGO -- Five teenagers here were sent to local food and discount stores with $50 in their pockets to shop and rate their in-store experiences. While their store scores and experiences varied widely, their opinions serve as indicators to retailers as to how they can capture the loyalty and significant spending of their future shoppers.The teens are members of a national online Trendspotter community,

CHICAGO -- Five teenagers here were sent to local food and discount stores with $50 in their pockets to shop and rate their in-store experiences. While their store scores and experiences varied widely, their opinions serve as indicators to retailers as to how they can capture the loyalty and significant spending of their future shoppers.

The teens are members of a national online Trendspotter community, comprised of 12,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 24, brought together by Teen People magazine for their opinions and attitudes on developing trends. The five teens discussed their shopping preferences during a close-up session entitled, "It's Not Your Mother's Supermarket Anymore!" sponsored by Teen People during the Food Marketing Institute's convention earlier this month.

The stores the five shopped at were Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Wal-Mart, Jewel-Osco, Walt's Food Center, Super K, Super Wal-Mart and Target. Each teen shopped two stores. Here's a glimpse of what they found.

Chris, 19, shopped Wild Oats for the first time and gave the store a C grade, while he gave Trader Joe's an A. "I thought Wild Oats looked exactly like Trader Joe's. But the longer I stayed there, I realized it was a lot less personal than Trader Joe's," said Chris. "Even though Wild Oats offered the same type of products as Trader Joe's, the staff wasn't as helpful. When I was in Trader Joe's, they had more sampling of products. The people were warm and helpful. I also liked how the music was playing loud, and it was more of an upbeat environment. Wild Oats is like Trader Joe's on a mega scale without the personal attention that Trader Joe's gives."

Gabby gave Wal-Mart and Jewel-Osco nearly failing grades, even though she regularly shops at Jewel. "At Wal-Mart, the employees were not very upbeat," she said. "Everything was out of place. They didn't have well-stocked shelves."

It would have been better if the "employees were doing something. Working. I saw a lot of them talking to fellow co-workers. And when I asked for help, they gave a dirty look," she noted.

Gabby went to Jewel on a Sunday and found empty shelves. "They didn't have anything I really wanted," she said.

Janel, 18, regularly shops at Walt's, which is his neighborhood store. He gave both Walt's and Super K a B. "First thing I noticed was brightness. Sometimes you go into stores, and they have dingy floors. Selection also is very important. A lot of people are becoming more health-conscious. And even as a teen, I am becoming more health-conscious. When I see a new line for kids' products and it's sugary, I don't like to buy those kind of things," he commented.

Brittney, 18, enjoyed her experience at Whole Foods overall and gave it a B-plus. Super Wal-Mart received an A. "I've never had anything organic before, so it was intimidating when I walked into Whole Foods," she said. Once acclimated in the store, she added, "It was really nice because they had samples and I could try some of it. Overall, the store was organized and easy to follow. I didn't like the product packaging. I thought it was plain and not exciting."

Brittney said she really liked the Super Wal-Mart experience. "I am a busy person, and it was nice to do one-stop shopping. If I wanted to go and grab a magazine or something, I could do it all at Wal-Mart." Unlike Gabby, Brittney found the people at Wal-Mart to be friendly. "The people were great and smiling and greeting you. That is really nice."

Rachel, 13, gave high scores to Trader Joe's and Target, an A and B-plus, respectively. While she didn't engage any sales help at Target, she said she liked the Target experience and its selection of health and beauty products. She said the personnel at Trader Joe's was "really friendly."

According to the Trendspotter panelists, some key elements of an enjoyable shopping experience are:

A friendly, helpful staff.

Good selection/wide variety of products.

Low prices/sales.

Clean/organized store environment.

Tristan Coopersmith, manager, Trendspotter Marketing, Teen People, New York, said it's important to excite teens in order to win their loyalty. "This generation has been coined 'consumption ADD' [Attention Deficit Disorder]. They get really bored, really fast," she said. She suggested the brand marketers and retailers engage teens in unique ways. "Show up where they least expect to see you, like at a concert," she said.

Coopersmith pointed out that the world for teens "is filled with a lot of mistruths and deceits," so it is important to be honest and straightforward. "This generation of teens has grown up in a media and marketing saturated world. They can smell a sell a mile away. It's important to extract the soul from your brand, and present it. Go right to the source to find out what teens want and how they want it delivered. By looking closer and listening harder to teens, you'll create products and brand identity as well as messaging that effectively earns and keeps their respect."

Teen Insight

Teenagers -- people ages 13 to 24 for the purposes of this report -- are 35 million strong and are big-time shoppers, according to Teen People magazine. Despite today's rocky economic climate, teens' weekly spending is up 38% in the past six years vs. only 14% for adults, said Tristan Coopersmith, manager, Trendspotter Marketing for Teen People, New York.

Last year teens, 12 to 19, spent $175 billion. "That makes this generation the most consumption-oriented generation in history," Coopersmith said.

Teens' pocket money comes not only from their parents, but 80% of teens have part-time jobs that contribute to their incomes, noted Coopersmith.

Moreover, with both parents working and single-parent homes common these days, more teens are being asked to do the family shopping, said Coopersmith.

"Many traditional parental responsibilities have been shifted to children. One of these responsibilities is food shopping and preparation. It's one responsibility that is easy to pass on to teens especially if teens are of the age to drive," said Coopersmith.

"In fact, 43% of teens shopped for their family in the last month. And, they are spending a lot of money. In fact, they spent or influenced $1.3 billion per week in 2003, and that is up significantly from just six years ago."

Not a surprise, girls are more in command of shopping than boys, the publisher found. However, both genders claim to largely determine which brands are selected despite what their parents want them to buy.

"Teens are lots of times more brand exploratory so they are selecting new types of brands for their parents. That is typical of teen rebellion. Teens are far more experimental than their parents so it's common for them to go outside of the household standards."

Coopersmith said parents credit teens for influencing their brand choices more in food categories. "It's likely to do with the low cost of food so teens are more likely to take risks."

Advertising, followed by recommendations from friends or other family members, will drive teens to try new brands. But Coopersmith warns that advertising and recommendations alone won't cut it. "Although teens are the new drivers of purchasing decisions of households, as well as economically confident, they are financially savvy and extremely educated shoppers for themselves and on behalf of their families." Summarizing what this generation of teens is all about, Coopersmith said, "It's a generation of mix and variety in ethnic backgrounds, of values and interests. It's a generation of youth that I am confident will be productive, contributing adults.

"They are more numerous, affluent, better educated and ethnically diverse. It's a generation characterized by their optimism and self-reliant attitude. It's a generation that is far more independent, responsible and mature at a much younger age. Today's teens are much more independent because the American family is not the Brady Bunch.