Originally created 09/25/01

Snack attack



It might not be your money, but you sure know how to spend it - at least at the grocery store.

Few things have more impact on the family food budget than a teen-ager who lets food spoil because mom or dad didn't buy the right thing. And teen-agers have a lot more power over what's bought at the grocery store than many realize.

"I am the dominating force in what is chosen in my house - because I'm a vegetarian," said Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington, 15, a member of Xtreme's teen board and a sophomore at North Augusta High School. "That has totally changed everything. We get in arguments at the grocery store about what we can buy."

Teen-agers influence almost $20 billion per year in grocery shopping, according to a study by New York City's Channel One Network. Teens making specific requests for a product, brand-name preferences and teens' eating habits affect choices parents make when they push the grocery cart down the aisle. That influence is growing, making teen-agers a ripe market for advertisers.

"Teen-agers are making more and more decisions about certain brands of products - decisions that used to be reserved for parents," said Derek White, senior vice president of MarketSource, a marketing research company that tracks teen interests. "We're seeing a fundamental change in advertising. Advertisers are not talking to the masses anymore, they're targeting groups."

To grab teen buyers, more companies are turning from "indirect marketing" - ads in magazines and on television - to "direct marketing," which lets teens try out the product, Mr. White said. That means they set up booths at teen hangouts such as the mall and pass out samples. They also sponsor events like the X-Games and send representatives out on tour with the events.

Some advertisers even manage to market their brands in schools by sponsoring lighted display boards that schools use for information such as sports scores. Because a company pays for the board - and the school doesn't have to - the product will be advertised on one panel.

Teens are a hot market because they not only spend their own money but also influence their parents' spending, Mr. White said.

"In a week, I see maybe 15 to 20 teens come in alone and maybe 50 teens with their parents," said Nicole Smoak, 17, a senior at Hephzibah High School who works at Publix on Washington Road in Evans. "I think that teens have a lot of influence over what their parents buy for them. A lot of people check out with frozen pizzas, Hot Pockets, Cokes and candy and say that they're getting them for their kids.

"The parents usually shop in the yogurt and bread aisles for themselves."

Linda Seawright of North Augusta keeps her 17-year-old son, Sean, in mind when she goes to the grocery store, sometimes taking a list of his choices along with her, she said.

"On the rare occasions he goes with me, he's always getting something I wouldn't normally buy," she said.

The North Augusta High School senior likes snacks such as Fritos, canned soft drinks and microwaveable meals.

"Quick and easy - he likes to be able to fix it himself if I'm at work," Mrs. Seawright said.

That's par for the course with Augusta-area teens, who tend to choose snacks, candy, soft drinks and easy, ready-made meals such as frozen pizzas or Hot Pockets as their grocery-shopping selections when asked. Some include healthy choices such as fruit, vegetables and granola bars. Most are fiercely brand loyal, rather than bargain shoppers who picked whatever is on sale.

"There are certain brands we always stick to," said Sherie Gifford, 15, a sophomore at Lucy C. Laney High School who shops with her mother. "We get the same thing over and over - it isn't as if we try something different."

Like Sherie, Courtney Savoy, 15, shops with her mom almost every week, and she's responsible for some of the choices. The Evans High School sophomore also does some of the shopping herself, and that's not uncommon - more than half of teen-age girls and one-third of teen-age boys do some food shopping each week, according to a survey by Teen Research Unlimited, a national marketing research firm.

"I make out the list, and when we go to the store, we'll split up," Sherie said. "She'll say, 'I'll go buy half and you go buy half."'

Teen board member Jay James contributed to this article.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.