Abunch of 20-somethings slumped on a sofa in their pyjamas may not be the most obvious starting point for a multi-million pound product launch. But for confectionery heavyweight Nestlé it was the perfect beginning - and when manufacturers take a target market that seriously, c-store retailers need to take notice.

Nestlé spent just over a year conferring with its target audience of 16- to 24-year-olds to ensure that its new Randoms jelly sweets hit the mark. It turns out that young adults are particularly good to work with because their candid attitude helps to speed up the development process considerably.

"It was 14 months from the very first flicker of an idea to the development of the product," says UK trade communications manager Graham Walker. "Normally, the process would take two years, and it would be one step forward and two steps back. But this time it was quick because the focus groups (basically groups of students in their pjs!) were so clear about what they wanted."

Brothers Drinks has also taken advantage of young adults' keenness to speak their minds. "Consumers in this age group aren't afraid to ask for things," says consumer marketing manager Matthew Langley. "We regularly send out an online questionnaire link to 10,000 people (over-18s only, of course) and we'll get about 700 responses, so it's a good robust piece of data."

The company uses the survey partly to find out who is drinking its product and why, and partly because it is a good way to interact with consumers and get an idea of what they want from the product. "We ask people for flavour suggestions - really it's just for fun, but it does give us a general idea of the type of flavours that people like," says Langley. "Someone proposed gooseberry & apple, so we tried it out in the development kitchen and it really didn't taste bad at all."

Langley explains that young people are big fans of diversity and so flavoured ciders are a big hit with this age group. "In addition to our original pear variant, we have strawberry, lemon and toffee flavours and they are really taking off at the moment."

Young adults' desire for variety has been reflected in Nestlé's research, too. "The big insight for us was the fact that young people really do live in the moment - they don't have many commitments and they don't want to feel tied down to one particular thing."

Point of difference

This insight lies at the heart of Randoms, which, as the name suggests, are anything but the status quo. There are four different packaging varieties, four different textures, six different fruit flavours and 70 different shapes, which offers consumers a total of 258 different sweets.

Vimto has picked up on young people's spontaneity and diversity as well, with its 'Seriously Mixed Up' ad campaign, which works on multiple levels. In a basic sense, the ad shows the Vimto ingredients grape, blackcurrant and raspberry being mixed together in a variety of different ways. However, the term 'seriously mixed up' could also refer to young people's impulsive nature and their aversion to 'the norm'.

Senior brand manager Emma Hunt claims that Vimto's approach appeals to young adults because they are thinkers: "You can't talk down to your audience - if anything, this age group is more media savvy and sophisticated than other groups."

Young people are very much clued up when it comes to getting a good deal, she claims. "Teens and young adults are just as likely to be cost-conscious as mums doing the weekly shop. Teens actively seek out promotions as they have only limited pocket money.

"To meet this trend, we have introduced a special 59p pricemarked pack on our 500ml still and fizzy bottles. They would normally be priced at 85p, so this is a significant discount."

As well as being price-conscious, young adults display a growing awareness of food quality, according to Rustlers manufacturer Kepak. "They're looking for more quality and they are keeping an eye out for E-numbers more than they used to," says marketing director John Armstrong. "Our packaging was always very speed-orientated - highlighting how quick it was to heat and eat the product. But we've recently improved the photography and quality cues so that now packs emphasise our beef sourcing policy, which is exclusively British and Irish meat. People had assumed that microwaveable meat must be lowest of the low, so we wanted to change that perception."

Brands in demand

While young adults are very forthcoming with their opinions, they are still very impulsive when it comes to shopping, so retailers must choose their products wisely to maximise their business.

A lot of young people's decision-making is on the spur of the moment, claims Hunt, meaning that retailers really have an opportunity to gain incremental sales with this market. "We found that convenience is a critical driver for this market, so being able to find the brands and products they want easily is vital," she says. "They want cool brands based on labelling, designs and advertising."

Kepak agrees that acting on impulse is very much part and parcel of the young adult shopping experience and that brands can essentially act as signposts around the store. "Most c-store shopping trips are fairly well planned in terms of customers knowing what they are going to buy, but young adults have a much less formed idea of what they want," says Armstrong.

"Because young people tend to be less planned in their shopping, I think c-stores need to use beacon brands such as Coca-Cola, Wrigley, Ginsters, and ourselves, to make it easier for them. Young people can be easily influenced by what they see in-store."

Nigel Thomson, senior brand manager at Super Noodles' maker Batchelors, is also of the view that branded offerings are vital. "Sales of hot snacks can be maximised by ensuring that the top sellers are stocked in a place that is easy for the consumer to find," he says. "Young people are looking for their favourite branded offerings and are less likely to try niche brands or brands they are unfamiliar with."

So, it may involve analysing the brands you stock more carefully, and perhaps a little reshuffling in-store to make shopping easier, but if the wealth of suppliers targeting this market is anything to go by, it's certainly worth your while. As Nestlé's Walker says: "Young adults aren't big-shop people - they are

c-store shoppers. They're big customers, so if retailers aren't looking after this group, they are missing a massive opportunity."
consumer view
"I visit the corner shop about twice a week, usually if I've run out of food or just fancy something for lunch that day. I generally buy chocolate - I like Kit Kat Senses or Mars Delight - and probably a Sprite. I usually have a rough idea of what I want, but I can be led astray depending on what catches my eye. I tend to go for branded products so I know what I'm getting."

Claire Abbott, Student, Brighton University
consumer view
"I go to my local store two or three times a week, mainly at about 10 or 11pm when the other shops have shut and I've come home to an empty cupboard.

"I pick up the basics like bread and milk and then I might grab a Nesquik or a Frijj milkshake. I don't really read food labels closely, but if there's a choice between standard or low-fat, I'll go for the low-fat option."

John Britton, Student, Brighton University
retailer opinion
"Most of our customers are students. We're particularly busy during exam time when students are studying hard and don't have time to get to a supermarket. We're open til 9pm and they're still coming in then.

"Coca-Cola is popular - students tend to follow brand names.

"Although young people are health-conscious to a degree, their main priorities are convenience and low prices. We do a good range of noodles at a reasonable price and they sell well. I make my prices as cheap as possible and students pick up on that.

"We had started to stock organic food, but people abandoned it as soon as the recession hit."

Nick Brown, Bradleys, Brighton, East Sussex
ones to watch...

Telly time

Nestlé will be advertising Randoms throughout the year. It claims that 83% of young adults aged 16 and 24 will see an ad at least once.

rrp: 39p

tel: 0800 121 4688

Counter active

Rustlers is looking into self-service counters for c-stores. Consumers would have access to menu boards and sauce dispensers to liven up their hot snacks.

tel: 01772 688 312

O Brother

Brothers Drinks is running its first national TV ad for its pear cider. The £2m campaign will be running on terrestrial and digital channels in July.

tel: 01749 333 456

Class of 2009

Student staple Batchelors Super Noodles are now available in thai green curry, spicy curry and low fat chilli chicken flavours.

rrp: 49p

tel: 01727 815850

All change

Vimto has been repositioned to appeal to teenagers and young adults who live life on the go. A £5m marketing campaign will support the brand throughout 2009.

tel: 01925 222222