WINNING THE KIDS' GAME

While a few chains -- like Save Mart Supermarkets in Modesto, Calif.; Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. ; and Gooding's Supermarkets, Apopka, Fla. -- run comprehensive children's programs that encompass the fresh departments, most are woefully far behind when it comes to anything more than giving away cookies, industry observers told SN.ed consulting firm."You can win brand loyalty through the

While a few chains -- like Save Mart Supermarkets in Modesto, Calif.; Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. ; and Gooding's Supermarkets, Apopka, Fla. -- run comprehensive children's programs that encompass the fresh departments, most are woefully far behind when it comes to anything more than giving away cookies, industry observers told SN.

ed consulting firm.

"You can win brand loyalty through the kids. The best example of that is McDonald's. They have an absolute stranglehold on kids three to seven years old," Stern added.

While some retailers are getting better at target marketing, most have a long ways to go to get the attention of young children, he said.

"The best kids marketer in the supermarket industry is Stew Leonard's [Norwalk, Conn.]. They had it figured out a long time ago -- getting kids to want to go there because of the petting zoo and all the interactive things inside the stores. The kids can push a button in the dairy department and make a [mechanical] cow moo or a hen lay eggs," Stern said.

"Other retailers, if they do try to do anything kid-friendly, it seems like an afterthought, and sometimes it's completely insensitive," said Harold Lloyd of H. Lloyd & Associates, Virginia Beach, Va.

"I'm tired of seeing an out-of-order sign on those horseys out front. That's a real poke in the eye, a slap in the face. Not even a 'Sorry kids. It will be repaired Tuesday,"' Lloyd said.

He said he thinks about 10% of supermarkets are doing a 25% job of marketing to young children and maybe 1% are doing an outstanding job.

"But the rest just ignore the fact that kids exist. That has to change. The Internet is going to beat us up with the convenience factor and the Rainforest Cafes are going to take us down on the 'I-want-to-have-fun' factor. We're in no-man's land," Lloyd said.

"If McDonald's can do it in 3,300 square feet with what they serve and with inconsistent service, think what we could do in a supermarket."

Speaking specifically about meals marketing, Tom Miner, a principal at Technomics, Chicago, said he thinks something special for the kids could lure mothers into the supermarket deli for tonight's dinner.

"How about when you buy a roast chicken and sides, you get a game for the kids to play in the car, or how about a special kids' drink? Parents, by necessity, are spending less time with their children," and for that reason, it's particularly important to parents to be able to pick up something special for the kids, Miner said.