How Teen-Agers Can Smarten Up on Those Trips to the Marketplace : Experts Offer Shopping Pointers

Times Staff Writer

The average supermarket contains about 20,000 items from which the consumer must choose. Is the consumer confused by the array? Are consumers making the right choices for the health and welfare of the family?

According to Bettye Nowlin, representative of the American Dietetic Assn. in Los Angeles, there is reason for concern.

“With 7 out of 10 mothers--more than 50% of all married women with children--working outside the home, teen-agers have stepped in to shop for the family groceries,” Nowlin said. “This concerns us because the supermarket is a confusing place to shop if you don’t know what you are doing.”

While teen-agers are doing a fairly decent job of shopping, knowledge and expertise are required to make nutritionally wise food choices that affect the entire family, Nowlin believes. “Since many teen-agers are doing most of the family grocery shopping, they do need advice,” she said.


Teens Purchase Different Brands

A study conducted by the Teenage Research Unlimited in Lake Forest, Ill., indicates that in 1988 teen-agers, the prime family shopper today, will be spending $47.7 billion of the family funds for groceries and other household items, most of it in the grocery store. The study showed that teen-agers spend 1.38 hours a week shopping for the family, about 1.05 for males and 1.72 for females. The teen shoppers purchase just about every item a family might need at a grocery store, the study showed. But they may or may not be purchasing Mom’s favorite brand products and they are making independent product choices.

According to Peter Zollo, executive vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, “The studies are showing that more and more young shoppers are making major independent decisions in the supermarket and the numbers are on the increase. And they are showing a sense of responsibility. When they go to shop, they go with a generic list prepared by mothers. However, 56% of the shoppers are splitting their decisions between brands Mom buys and those they themselves decide upon. Only 11% follow Mom’s shopping list exclusively.

“We’re still exploring the group who does not ever purchase their parent’s brand choices,” said Zollo.


Teen-agers wield extraordinary influence on what is purchased, whether or not they do the shopping, the study showed. About 28% of the females studied have some influence over what brand detergent a parent will come home with. About 47% influence their parent’s purchase of cookies, 32% of salty snacks, 55% of cereal, 44% of juice, 20% of soup, 72% of soft drinks, 26% of frozen dinners, 28% of salad dressing, 11% of canned pasta and 38% of cheese.

“The marketers need to reach teens through advertising in teen media, and develop advertising executions that appeal to teens and very few are doing it,” Zollo said. “These numbers will only get higher each year. Because of mothers working outside the home we can expect more and more teens spending the family grocery budget, whether we like it or not. After all, teen-agers have the time to spend waiting in a grocery line. It’s a responsibility that is being forced upon them.” Also interesting, according to Zollo, is that the teen population is rapidly declining, so per capital expenditure is actually higher than before. “That gives stronger meaning to the $47.7 billion they spend in the market,” said Zollo.

(The teen-age population is expected to continue to decrease until 1992, at which time there will be an increase until the turn-of-the-century, according to Zollo).

Teen-agers, Zollo said, are far more sophisticated shoppers than is often believed. “Our studies are showing that their attitudes toward health and important nutritional issues such as sodium intake, are as much a concern to them as their parents.

“They worry about what ingredients go into their bodies these days,” he said. In fact, about one-third of the kids are more concerned in 1988 than they were last year as to whether the cereal they eat is good for them.

About 42% also purchased frozen meals. About 39% brought home salad dressing, 42% cheese and yogurt, 51% cereal and 28% rice.

Even though teen-oriented groceries are high on the list, they also are becoming good label shoppers.

Teen-Oriented Products


Among the teen-oriented products strictly for their own use, the study indicated the following: 32% purchase cookies for themselves; 35% purchase potato chips; 22% tortilla chips; 33% ice cream; 5% buy salad dressings for their own use and 7% buy frozen dinners for themselves.

Family shopping habits were reported in yet another study conducted for the Food Marketing Institute by Opinion Research Corp. The study showed that nutrition-related shopping behaviors have shifted on certain major nutrition issues since 1984. The number of all shoppers who frequently select foods to balance their families’ diet and serve nutritional snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, has dropped slightly over five years ago. However, those who check labels for caloric content and for protein and fat content have increased.

According to the FMI study, consumers who are more concerned about fat, cholesterol, sugar, preservatives, additives, freshness, purity and naturalness have increased over five years ago. There was an increase of 11% of consumers who are now concerned about fat content in the diet and specifically about low-fat content. Those concerned about sodium increased by 4%, cholesterol levels by 8% and sugar content by 2%. Since 1983, concern about vitamin content dropped, as did concerns about color dyes and empty calories.

Today, however, time and convenience--not health--are the most critical factors considered when grocery shopping. As a result more shopping is also being done in the deli sections for ready prepared foods.

“If the women are cooking, it’s now being done for holidays and special occasions, not on an everyday basis, as was once done by our mothers and grandmothers. Consumers today want to spend more time with families than in the kitchen,” said Nowlin.

In an effort to help the consumer learn how to make nutritious food selections from the vast number of items in markets day, the California Dietetic Assn. came up with pointers for healthful “supermarket survival.”

“Shopping the outer limits of the grocery store is one way to assure selecting a variety of nutritious foods from the four food groups (fruits-vegetables, grains, meats and dairy products), and avoid foods too high in fat, salt, sugar and calories,” said Nowlin.

Shopping the Outer Limits


The usual layout of the supermarket places produce, meat, bakery and dairy products in the outer limits, making it easy to shop the periphery of the market for the basic four food groups before entering the inner zones, where much of the impulse buying can take place.

One way to avoid the pitfalls of impulse grocery shopping within the danger zones, is to become a label reader. “Labels will tell you which foods are high in fat, salt, sugar and calories,” said Nowlin.

Here are Nowlin’s tips for wise supermarket shopping:

--Shop at one or two stores to save time. “You can get in and out of a store faster if you know the layout,” said Nowlin.

--Have a shopping list and save up to 20% on the grocery bill, claims Nowlin. “Use coupons only if you would normally buy the product and know it is a saving.”

--Try the less expensive generic items, suggests Nowlin. “Many such items are just as nutritious as the more costly brand-name products.”

--Never shop when you are hungry. And if a sale item is sold out, ask for a rain check. Most reputable grocery stores will honor a rain check.

--Buy fresh produce during the peak season, when they are lowest in price and highest in quality.

--Shop for bright-colored fruits and vegetables. They are highest in vitamins A and C.

--Store any perishable items immediately upon returning home to avoid deterioration.

--Check for open-dating on food items to be sure you are not taking home an older item.

--When you need sound food and nutrition advice, consult your local registered dietitian. Or if there is a question about food safety, call the public health department. The private Consulting Nutritionist of Southern California will provide a referral list of registered dietitians in California, who will answer specific questions on nutrition. For Southern California, call (213) 459-9343. For Northern California, call (415) 834-7897, and for the San Diego area, call (619) 222-1660.