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Marketing to Millennial Moms: From Bad For You to Better for Them

By Hillary Zhu

There are many things that were different about me in my twenties… mainly less wrinkles and less pounds. My career was my priority and I was determined to work on the best teams with the biggest clients. As a young marketing professional, I started from the ground up at Landor Associates working with clients like Kraft Foods and Proctor & Gamble. This career path gave me the exposure to working on brands like Capri Sun, Planters Peanuts, Crystal Light, and Febreze. I even had the opportunity to help name and bring products such as MiO and McCafé Coffee to retail. 

Fast forward 10 years later… as a mom of two little girls (main culprits for said wrinkles and pounds), my focus has shifted. My career is still very important to me, but I am a mom first and I’m focused on my children’s future. That means that I care about the state of the environment and what is going into their bodies. And I also care about my own well-being–– raising happy kids as a happy mom.

Hillary with daughters Haley (L) and Mackenzie (R)

My career has evolved with me on a personal level and seems to fit in perfectly with my current stage in life. As Senior Project Manager at Freshmade, a branding and design agency focused on fresh foods and better-for-you brands, I work with brands and clients that allow me to deliver on my inherent desire to market to fellow millennial moms in a more positive way.

It took becoming a mom for me to understand that convenience and quality do not have to be mutually exclusive. And one feature doesn’t need to be marketed at the detriment of the other. 

We can do our part to combat the $8.8 billion spent on sugary snacks being marketed to our kids.

As I scoop up the rogue grains of rice off the floor that have just been tossed at me by my strong-willed 2-year-old, I can absolutely relate to picky eaters and headstrong toddlers. But as brand builders marketing to millennial moms, there are lots of ways we can encourage kids to try (or even ask for by name) foods that are better for them. We can do our part to combat the $8.8 billion spent* on sugary snacks being marketed to our kids.

As I’ve gone from researching and marketing to millennial moms to becoming one myself, I’ve learned some unique ways of pushing satisfying versus sugary in the snack world.


Let Them Be Little: Colorful, no-fuss packaging wins

There is no greater joy on a toddler’s face than when they set their mind to something and actually accomplish that task. That task may take twice as long (or 3 or 4 times) but usually it’s worth the extra wait time to avoid a meltdown of epic proportions. An easy-to-open snack like grape tomatoes that my toddler can reach for on her own, pull off the lid, happily dip, and munch completely on her own brings her such pride. 

Having fruit and vegetable clients like Sunset makes me feel good about the products I am marketing to millennial moms. Knowing our ideas will not only get kids to actually eat their vegetables, but also help moms avoid those daily battles brings me such pleasure.

We may not want to admit it, but function wins out over fashion these days. This is something that needs to be top of mind when marketing to millennial moms over any other consumer group.

No-fuss packaging that is also fun and colorful is a huge game-changer.  Convenience and accessibility should be communicated in the design, but it must reign true in the packaging structure. This is something that needs to be top of mind when marketing to millennial moms over any other consumer group. We may not want to admit it, but function wins out over fashion these days (she said as she drives off in her minivan she insisted she would never buy).


Keep Mom Moving: Portability is paramount

I thought I was the ultimate in organization and logistics when working at branding and design agencies across multiple projects and design teams.  Nothing could have prepared me for the level of organization and scheduling it takes to manage the lives of two little people. Between birthday parties, dance class, doctors’ appointments etc., we are always on the move and we need our food to be as well.

Brands need to leverage practical packaging that can withstand the twists and turns of everyday life. 

Individual containers and portioned-out snacks are the ultimate go-to for millennial moms, no sticky residue included. When marketing to millennial moms, brands need to leverage practical packaging that can withstand the twists and turns of everyday life. This doesn’t necessarily mean extra plastic or packaging, but durable materials that can survive in a large bag or in the car on road trips.

Looking back on my previous package design projects as a non-mom, I can’t even believe a pouch filled with liquid was considered a viable option. I see the amount of random items that go into my mom-tote (apparently that unicorn pen was essential for our park outing) and I know one puncture of that silver pouch and my bag is a goner. I love Sargento’s Balanced Breaks for a snack we feel good about that is individually packaged and can be tossed in a bag for ESS (emergency snack situations). They love it and I feel good knowing they are getting a wholesome snack sans the sugar rush.


If They Make It, They Will Eat It: Interactivity is essential

It should come as no surprise that kids are more likely to eat something when they are involved in the creating of it. I am such a fan of what Publix has done with their Kids Cooking Classes. My girls are much more likely to eat something if they contributed. A fun afternoon activity minus pestering or coaxing for “just one more bite” is a win-win. 

When marketing to millennial moms, we need to consider the bridge of offering convenience without it feeling like a cop-out. 

We also love using Hello Fresh with pre-sliced and portioned out ingredients. This makes for an easy weeknight meal that my young ones can participate in without too much of a mess. More and more, we are seeing consumers gravitate towards these easy home-cooking solutions and they are willing to pay a premium for them. These Meal Kits offer the peace of mind a busy mom needs to get a home-cooked meal on the table during the week without pushing dinner to 8 p.m. When marketing to millennial moms, we need to consider the bridge of offering convenience without it feeling like a cop-out.

Come to think of it, I’m really not sure how Gen X moms managed to get food on the table at all. I wish we had these insider insights when redesigning brands like Kraft Mac and Cheese and Oscar Mayer at my former branding and design agency.


Monitor the Message: Violators can be vicious

I have spent my fair share of time and research on violator brainstorms.  “35% Less Sugar.” “No High Fructose Corn Syrup.”  Make it bigger and make it pop. As brand-builders for CPG companies, we convince ourselves that these messages are important and need to be displayed as a badge of honor on our packaging. Not only am I a mom, but I have actually spent countless hours studying millennial moms and understanding their pain points.  From focus groups, to shop alongs, eye-tracking, and home visits, I have studied moms in their natural element and can relate on a personal level myself.

We have heard from countless moms, when you shout these claims you are only adding more clutter and confusion to an already overwhelming space.  Focusing on the absence of something bad isn’t resonating with millennial moms as with past generations. Studies have shown “consumers had a more positive attitude towards claims that are based on positivity, the presence of something good.” When developing on-pack messaging, branding and design agencies need to keep it straightforward, honest, and positive. If the claim must be there, focus on the benefits and make sure it holds up against what you are delivering.

If the claim must be there, focus on the benefits and make sure it holds up against what you are delivering.

By focusing on the benefits and what IS in the food, millennial moms are much more likely to feel good about what they are picking out for their family. My family loves RXBAR because we can see right on the front of the pack what is in these bars and they are ingredients I can actually pronounce.  Clean, simple, and transparent—this is a brand I feel like I can trust.

We are living in the google age and shoppers and moms are much more savvy than we used to be. All it takes is one quick scan on my trustee app to know what is actually in this product and if it delivers on the messaging. If there is a giant violator telling me what’s NOT in the product, I can only assume this messaging is overcompensating for some not-so-great stuff that might be in this food. 


Be a Magician: Get creative with good-for-you ingredients

As a mom of two, I have pretty much mastered the art of distraction when I see little sister playing with big sister’s favorite toy.  I have also developed super-human strength by carrying two 30+ pound girls down the stairs because they both want “uppy” and only mom will do. I have now added magician to my mom-resumé by hiding vegetables in their favorite food. Well, actually I purchase products that do a better job of this than I could. 

Brands that can manage to create magic by developing wholesome foods that also taste good will withstand the test of time. 

We are obsessed with the Birds Eye Vegetable Pasta and have quickly added it to our weekly rotation.  My kids are still getting their favorite mac and cheese or spaghetti while also enjoying a full serving of vegetables without any complaints. We also love brands like Caulipower and Cali’flour Foods that make it easy for us to enjoy Friday pizza nights while simultaneously consuming our veggies. We as consumers (well mostly our kids) are quite demanding and we expect to have it all. Brands that can manage to create magic by developing wholesome foods that also taste good will withstand the test of time. By solving a need that millennial moms struggle with every day, you will be ingrained in their daily routine and regular shopping trips.


Be Part of the Change: Talk is cheap

In my current role at Freshmade, working with clients like Southern Selects and seeing them deliver on their values has been so refreshing. Southern’s partnership with Brighter Bites allows kids to try new fruits and vegetables that they may not have even known existed.

Kids aren’t born liking the taste of sugar or seeking it out. They are being influenced by what they see on TV, an ad that interrupts their YouTube episode, or whatever mom offers them that is convenient and quick. By offering our youth access to fruits and vegetables at schools or summer camps, we are encouraging them to try new things and go home and demand these nutritious foods instead.

Brands that live their truths earn credibility and loyalty from consumers, particularly millennial moms.

______________________________________________________________________________

As I reflect on my 10-year marketing journey in the branding and design industry, it is thrilling to see my personal values converge with the type of work I am doing. I take solace in knowing that while my kids are at daycare, I am doing work I believe in. I am helping to improve the lives of other moms and their kids by partnering with brands that I know have their best interests at heart. I have learned that we can still gain success as brand builders by sticking to our values and being honest and transparent. I am proud to be part of the 10% promoting healthier products* and I look forward to seeing that number grow. Having gone from promoting “bad for you” products to “better for you,” I can certainly say the latter is much more rewarding!

Hillary Zhu, Sr. Project Manager

As project manager, Hillary ensures all our projects run smoothly and that clients have a great experience working with Freshmade. She comes to us by way of Landor Associates in Cincinnati, where she worked on a range of food and beverage brands, including Ritz Crackers, Planters Peanuts, Sour Patch Kids, Gevalia Kaffe, Capri Sun, Crystal Light and MiO. With a background in market research, Hillary brings strategic expertise to every Freshmade project.

*Source: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/junk-food-ads-black-children_n_5c3d063be4b0922a21d7c3c5

*Source:  https://www.heart.org/-/media/files/about-us/policy-research/fact-sheets/healthy-schools-and-childhood-obesity/food-marketing-and-advertising-to-children-fact-sheet.pdf?la=en&hash=DEC1064FA20DD00E903C879AFD77231B72A6FF34

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