Teen/Tween Economics, The War on Carbs, Etc.

This will come as news to their parents, but teens and tweens are losing interest in fashion. At least, they’re shifting their spending from apparel to other categories. In the 12-month period ending in July, says a new report from The NPD Group, kids age 13-17 spent 13.8 percent less on apparel than they had during the previous 12-month span. For 7- to 12-year-olds, the decline was 17.6 percent. In accounting for the data, the report notes that kids today have more things on which to spend their money than was the case a decade or two ago. “Clothing now competes with items such as cell phones, cable TV, DSL/Internet subscriptions, health clubs and bottled water.” Some of the gadgets now in vogue—notably MP3 players and portable DVD players—are especially pricey, thus crowding out spending in other categories. Kids are also becoming more value-conscious (aka cheap), just like their parents. Just 5 percent of tween apparel expenditures were for designer labels; 39 percent went to private-labels goods. One surprise among teens: The proportion of dollars going to designer labels was lower for the girls (4 percent) than for the boys (6 percent). And the percentage of dollars going to private-label clothes was correspondingly higher for girls than for boys (41 percent vs. 35 percent).

By the end of 2004, their waistlines will reveal whether they stuck to their vows. For now, a poll for the Grocery Manufacturers Association finds 53 percent of respondents claiming they’ll eat more low-fat foods in 2004. Conducted by Phil Lempert on his SupermarketGuru.com Web site, the poll also found heightened interest in the low-carb regimen. When people were asked to cite the sorts of food they’ll try to eat more of next year, “low-carbohydrate” got more votes than “fat-free” (40 percent vs. 27 percent). When people were asked to list the product categories in which they’ve purchased low-carb products, protein bars (cited by 54 percent) and bread (41 percent) elicited the most mentions. Low-carb ice cream (31 percent), chocolate (30 percent) and beer (20 percent) also had significant followings. Are low-carb diets a passing fad? Most respondents think otherwise, with 82 percent predicting the trend will persist—including 51 percent who think it will last “forever.”

Survival doesn’t come cheap for people who are HIV-positive. In Pennsylvania, the state government is publicizing a program to subsidize the costly HIV medications for those who can’t afford them. An ad by the Neiman Group of Harrisburg will ring true for those who’ve had to choose between buying these essential drugs and paying for life’s other little necessities—for instance, food.

Are kids outgrowing their toys? A study conducted for Playthings magazine by Reed Research Group suggests they are. Given the availability of computers, digital video players and so on, mere toys hold kids’ attention for fewer years than was once the case. Still, toys remain a big deal for the small fry. Among parents/caregivers of kids under 12 in North America, 42 percent said toys are “extremely important” to their children; 54 percent said they’re “somewhat important.” Such views are in sync with the parents’ recollections of their own younger days. Thirty percent said toys were extremely important to them as kids; 58 percent said they were somewhat so. Which were their favorites? Barbie dolls were tops for the women; Legos, trucks and bicycles were the most important for men.

When it comes to vacations, Americans have reservations about planning far ahead. A variety of uncertainties—about political instability, epidemic diseases, jobs, etc.—are leading 28 percent of consumers to make travel plans later than they usually would, finds a survey by New York-based ad agency WarrenKremerPaino. Forty percent also said they’re taking shorter vacations, but more of them—in part because they fear their jobs will vanish if they stay away too long at any one time. Even as such factors deter people from planning ahead, the Internet makes it easier (and cheaper) than ever to book flights and hotel rooms at the last minute. Half of those who’ve put off travel decisions said they look to the Internet for last-minute bargains.