Buy Me That!

Parents weigh in on battles won and lost when grocery shopping with the kids

Dec 17, 2015, 05:05 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Dec. 17, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- "Can I have that?" It's the metaphorical shot across the bow that most parents know can easily lead to a full blown battle in the midst of an otherwise by-the-numbers grocery run. Nine in ten (91%) U.S. parents with kids under 18 in the household (hereafter referred to simply as "parents") can think of an instance when their child has made a specific request while shopping, and six in ten (59%) can recall at least one occasion when they've refused such requests.

On good days that's as far as it goes. On a bad day, though, questions, tantrums and even attempted larceny can follow. "She threw a total fit in the cart so I left the store," recalls one mother when asked to recount her worst grocery store battle. "He wanted a donut and cried the whole way through the store," adds a father, while another mom reports that her son "implored help from other shopper to get me to buy what he wanted; they wisely refused."

Given some of the experiences parents have shared from their time on these center-store battlefields, it may come as little surprise that four in ten parents (40%) try to avoid going shopping with their children whenever possible.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 1,009 U.S. parents with at least one child under 18 in the household, surveyed online between August 5 and 12, 2015 using the Harris Poll ParentQuery Omnibus. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

Top temptations
According to Nielsen Homescan Panel data, 90% of American households – and 97% of those households with kids under 18 – buy at least one box of cereal in a year. Moreover, cereal buyers with kids purchase an average of nearly 28 boxes of cereal in a year (compared to roughly 17 among those without children). Given all this, perhaps it's not surprising that cereal is kids' top request, with roughly seven in ten parents (69%) saying their kids have asked for something in the cereal aisle.

Next up is ice cream or other frozen treats (63%), while majorities have also heard requests for salty snacks (58%), cookies (56%), candy (56%), juice or juice drinks (55%) and dairy aisle products such as yogurt or smoothies (51%).

Just under half of parents have been asked for frozen foods or snacks such as chicken, pizza or French fries (47%), four in ten have heard asks for packaged meal kits (39%), and over a third have fielded inquiries around soft drinks (37%), boxed mac and cheese or other pasta meals (36%) or gum/mints (34%).

  • Sweet teeth may decline a bit as children get older, as reported requests for candy peak among those parents with 3-7 year olds (63%) and 8-12 year olds (65%) in the household before dropping to 54% among the 13-17 set. Similar patterns emerge when it comes to cookies (64% among those with 3-7 year olds, 68% 8-12, 57% 13-17).
  • Meanwhile, appeals for salty snacks (54% among those with 3-7 year olds, 61% 8-12, 68% 13-17) and soft drinks (32%, 41% and 50%, respectively) seem to grow progressively with age.

A lot of factors can lead up to that little finger pointing out an item on the shelf:

  • Just over half of parents (53%) believe their children have been influenced at some point by something to do with a product's packaging, with 43% specifying characters on the packaging (such as the "tantrum over a cereal with characters on the box" which one mom reports) and 32% more broadly citing the packaging's appearance.
  • Peer influence seems to play a major role as well, with 44% of parents believing a request has stemmed from it; more specifically, 30% each cite their child trying it at a friend's house and seeing a friend with it.
  • Thirty-five percent (35%) cite something to do with the display, with 25% indicating a special store display and 18% more generally referring to the item's position on the store shelf.
  • Roughly three in ten each identify ads/advertising (31%) and novelty (i.e., "It was something new/different") as factors, while approximately two in ten each cite brand preference (20%) and a prize/contest entry (18%) as driving factors. 
  • Those with girls are especially likely to cite characters on packaging (49%, vs. 34% among those with boys) and special store displays (29% vs. 20%) as instigating factors, while those with boys are more likely to cite brand preference (26% vs. 15%). But what might some of those preferred brands be? According to Harris Poll EquiTrend Study data examining families with kids under 18, the most loved brands for some in some of the top-requested product categories include Cheerios, Ben & Jerry's, Popsicle, Doritos, Oreo Cookies and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Among the categories most requested by kids, Nielsen's Breakthrough Innovation winners have demonstrated the ability to appeal to pint-sized shoppers and their parents, enduring in a competitive market and racking up big sales over the years.  In 2015, Lunchables Uploaded, Monster Energy Ultra, Mountain Dew Kickstart, Muller Yogurt, Special K Breakfast Sandwiches, The Red Bull Editions or Tostitos Cantina Tortilla Chips and Salsas were recognized as top innovations in some of kids' favorite aisles.  

Drawing the battle lines
More than four in ten parents (43%) agree that they often feel the need to "pick their battles" when grocery shopping with their children, and the battles they're picking can be seen – at least in part – in which items they're saying "no" to. Of those who've refused requests on a grocery run, the highest percentage have nixed requests for candy (35%), followed distantly by ice cream or frozen treats (24%, with 28% of moms putting their foots down in this department vs. 18% of dads) and cookies (22%).

Next up are salty snacks (19%), soft drinks (16%), gum/mints (15%) and cereal (15%), while over one in ten have refused pleas for juice or juice drinks (12%), frozen foods or snacks (12%) and packaged meal kits (11%).

Why we fight
So what's setting off these center-store skirmishes? Among parents who have put their foot down during a grocery run, the top three factors are diverse. Two-thirds (66%) have refused a request based on sugar content, while six in ten (59%) have drawn battle lines over the price of the item and over half (53%) have delivered a "no" vote based on their child's behavior.

Four in ten of these parents (39%) have denied a request based on high-fructose corn syrup content, over one-third (35%) due to artificial ingredients, and roughly one-fourth based on calories (26%) or total fat content (25%). Meanwhile, roughly two in ten have drawn a line in the sand over food dyes/coloring (22%), trans or saturated fat (22%) or sodium content (18%).

  • Moms seem especially worried about sugar, with 73% saying they've ever vetoed a request for this reason (vs. 58% among dads).
  • Though low percentages of these parents mention allergen content (11%) or gluten (7%) as factors in a "no" vote, it's worth noting that dads (16% allergens, 12% gluten) are much more likely than moms (7% and 4%, respectively) to cite these factors as cause to take up arms.

Ask, ask again
Kids don't always respond positively to "no's," and the opening salvoes in their counteroffensives tend to come in the form of a question. Among those parents who've refused requests, majorities say their wee ones have proceeded to ask for it repeatedly (64%) and that they've asked why they can't get it (61%).

One in three (33%) parents – and four in ten (39%) among those with kids aged 8-17 – say their children have offered to pay for the item with their own money, while over one-fourth say their bundles of joy have made a scene/thrown a tantrum (27%) and that they've snuck or put an item in the cart without asking (26%). Six percent (6%) even say their children have stolen or attempted to steal the item.

  • Those with younger kids (7 and under) are more likely than those with 8-17 year olds to say they've been asked for items repeatedly (74% vs. 62%) and that they've faced tantrums or scenes in the grocery aisle (35% vs. 19%).
  • Perhaps dads are more prone than moms to catch their kids in the act – or perhaps kids are just more likely to think they'll get away with something when dad's pushing the cart. Either way, dads are more likely to report that their kids have tried to sneak or put something into the cart without asking (31% vs. 22%) and that they've stolen or attempted to steal the item (10% vs. 3%).

Other kids have exhibited some more creative behaviors. For example, one mother recalls the incident when her children "asked for advice from another customer." That's not to say creativity always pays off, though. "Turns out she felt the same way I did, so the kids do not do that anymore."

Whatever the tactic, kids do seem to enjoy at least some success, as one in three parents (33%) indicates that they frequently give in when grocery shopping with their children. "They threw themselves on the floor," recalls one mom. "I ended up giving in to make them stop."

  • Whether it's persistence or passion, boys seem to be wearing their parents down most as those with boys in the household (35%) are more likely than those with girls (29%) to say they frequently give in.
  • Dads seem especially likely to give in to sons. 41% of fathers with sons say they frequently give in, compared to 30% of mothers with daughters. "Crying over candy, and I gave in," concedes one dad.

War stories
Parents respond in a wide array of ways to some of the behaviors their children exhibit, as seen in many of the responses when asked to cite some of their top battles.

Many parents report incidents when they left the store empty handed (well, save for a screaming child). "Full meltdown. Kid didn't get a thing and neither did I. I aborted the shopping trip," reports one dad. A mom recalls a similar shopping trip when her son "lay on the ground kicking and screaming because I would not buy some character cereal.  I picked him up and we left." Sometimes the threat of leaving is enough though, as in the case of a dad who reports that "My threats to abandon the cart in the store and leave usually put the kibosh on shenanigans."

Walking out isn't always an option though, hence many parents sharing stories of their efforts to work it out instead. "We took him outside, had him calm down, and then went back to finish shopping," reports one mom, while another describes a time when her son "wanted to go home and I needed to finish shopping. I hugged him and we talked about it. I gave him a favorite book, and he calmed down."

But of course, sometimes neither walking out nor working it out are viable options, so sometimes parents just need to ride it out. "I said no and my 10 year old boy gave me the silent treatment for the rest of the shopping trip," shares one mom, while one dad recalls a trip when his son "started to cry - we continued on shopping and eventually he quieted down."

Other parents look for common ground and settle on a compromise with their child. One mom tells of her children "asking for candy," sharing that she handled it by "letting them choose a different snack that's better for them." A dad tells a similar tale: "She wanted some overpriced juice boxes, so we settled on a different brand." Sometimes the issue – and the solution – isn't even about what's on store shelves: "They wanted to push the cart but the store was too full," another mom shares. "We compromised and pushed together."

That's not to say that all families are embattled. "None," responds one dad when asked to tell of his worst grocery shopping battle; "my kids are angels, and understand that 'no' means 'no.'" A mom writes in a similar response: "We don't really have battles in the grocery store. My kids know that once my husband or I say no we mean no." Perhaps the most hard-lined response along this theme though – and the one most in the spirit of the battle field – comes from a father who responds simply, "I do not battle or negotiate with subordinates."

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Harris Poll Methodology
This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between August 5-12, 2015 among 1,009 parents (aged 18 and over) with at least one child 17 or under in the household; interviews were conducted using the Harris Poll ParentQuery Omnibus. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

About the Nielsen Homescan Panel
The Homescan national panel consists of a randomly dispersed sample of households that is intended to be representative of, and projectable to, the total U.S. market. Panel members use handheld scanners to record items that they purchase from any outlet.

About the Harris Poll EquiTrend® Study
Harris Poll EquiTrend® is based on a total sample of 88,609 U.S. consumers ages 15 and over surveyed online in English language between June 10 and July 10, 2015. The survey took an average of 30 minutes to complete. The total number of brands rated was 2,267. Each respondent was asked to rate a total of 40 randomly selected brands. Each brand received approximately 1,000 ratings. Respondents were asked their familiarity with brands and rated the brands they were somewhat, very, or extremely familiar with. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll® surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Data were weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. population of consumers ages 15 and over based on age by sex, education, race/ethnicity, region, income, and data from respondents ages 18 and over were also weighted for their propensity to be online.

About the Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Report
Over the past years, Nielsen has evaluated more than 20,000 new product launches, singling out those that truly "break through" the clutter—skyrocketing consumer demand right from the get-go and sustaining growth over time. From these remarkable cases, we know that success isn't the result of magic or randomness; it's a science that begins with putting the consumers' struggle at the center of innovation. While this year's winners are among an elite few, studying their paths to greatness tells a more inclusive story: that it's possible for any company—of any size, in any category—to launch successful new products. Read the 2015 Breakthrough Innovation Report to get inspired and learn from this year's winners.

The Harris Poll® #81, December 17, 2015
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll® 
Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world.  The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public.  New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly.  For more information, or to see other recent polls, visit us at

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