New York -- A conclusion of one whole-health summit, sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute and the General Merchandise Distributors Council, is that "first and foremost whole-health solutions must be a concept that responds to consumers needs." Gerber Products Co., Summit, N.J., is attempting to do just that with the introduction this month of the Gerber Wellness line.
The 14-item line, which ranges from hair and skin care to gas and vitamin drops, was presented here during a press conference, March 9, in which Gerber announced the results of its first-ever national survey of parents with children 4 years old and under.
The Wellness line is also Gerber's first foray into the health care arena and is part of a strategy Frank Palantoni, president and chief executive officer of Gerber Worldwide sees as a $3 billion opportunity for Gerber to market new categories outside of baby foods. The company commands about 75% of the U.S. baby food market, according to media sources. Although the line goes up against Johnson & Johnson's well-recognized baby care products, Gerber, owned by Novaris Consumer Health North American here, believes the strength of its name will give it the advantage. "Gerber is the baby care expert," Palantoni told SN. "We are 100% committed to babies."
While Johnson & Johnson and other baby health-related supplies are usually found in their respective categories in supermarkets' health and beauty care aisles, and some may be grouped near diapers, Gerber will integrate the line in the baby-food aisle. In doing so, it allows retailers to further expand whole health outside the traditional areas of HBC and pharmacy and target a lucrative consumer group -- parents raising young children.
According to National Vital Statistics Reports put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 3.9 million births in this country last year. These new babies add greatly to the overall shopping basket.
"I know from my own experience," said Henna Inam, Gerber's director wellness. "My shopping basket went from $30 per week to $60 plus a week after I had my child. A lot of grocery chains are trying to attract young parents to their store because the shopping basket is so much more valuable."
Gerber's research on parents' attitudes toward raising their children, conducted earlier this year by Yankelovich Partners, confirms the need for the wellness line and its position in the baby-food aisle.
Through a random national telephone survey, 506 mothers and fathers responded to questions about daily parenting activities, child nutrition, development and health, time constraints, sources of information and support and goals for their child.
Most noteworthy of the survey's findings for retailers are that nearly all parents feel it is important for their child to be healthy and happy (98%).
Related to health is nutrition that scored high as an important factor for their babies. Almost all parents place high priority on their child's nutrition, especially teaching healthy eating patterns (90%), having a balanced diet (89%), eating foods fortified with vitamins and minerals (83%) and eating a variety of foods (77%).
Besides bedtime, the biggest challenge facing time-pressed parents is shopping, the survey found. Twenty-two percent said bedtime was the part of day they enjoyed the least. This was followed closely by shopping or running errands (21%) and getting up in the morning (17%).
"We know the average mom only has 20 minutes to spend in the store shopping," said Inam. "We want to make it easier for parents to shop. This is a perfect opportunity for supermarkets to position themselves as a whole-health solution for new parents. These products are all going to be in the baby aisle. We are spanning the baby category with products from nutrition such as food to care with bottles to wellness, which encompasses health care.
"It's going to provide our consumers -- trade as well as Gerber consumers -- with a one-stop shop that is a total health solution for shoppers to be able to go into the aisle and get what they want across a span of different categories," Inam explained.
"We know from the survey parents enjoy the time they spend with their baby. So when they go to the retailer they want to see all baby products together," stated Palantoni. "Sometimes in a retail environment you get baby in four or five different locations and that takes a lot of time. We want to organize the category to have all baby products together and make it a lot easier for that consumer. It's one-stop selling and many retailers think that's the way to go in baby care," he added.
One wholesaler, Mike Donnelly, category manger at Unified Western Grocers, Los Angeles, agreed. "The supermarket baby aisle has become more of a destination, and the supermarket is more of a one-stop shopping place. With the husband and wife both often needing to work, convenience comes into bigger play," he said.
Related to time pressures, parents surveyed said they sought product innovations that made caring for their children easier. Some of the ways they cited to simplify shopping for their child were: modifications to product labeling and presentation, such as labels that offer the information parents need (96%), labels that are easy to understand (94%), products that are easy to find (95%) and located in the same aisle (86%).
Parents also said they want vitamins and minerals that are easier to administer in a convenient form (95%), a form their child likes (95%), with clear instructions (94%) or in well-liked flavors (93%).
Palantoni noted that the Gerber Wellness products are "the best quality and made for what the consumer wants today." As an example, he cited the bath wash with lavender to relax and sooth the baby especially before bedtime, which is a period parents said they don't look forward to.
Gerber's new line goes into stores this month comprising an average of six feet of space for the 14 stock-keeping units. However, Inam said Gerber will be extending the line. "What Gerber hopes to do is help retailers build the category by bringing in new ideas, innovation, marketing and spending into the category.
The company plans an extensive advertising and marketing campaign for the line with the first national freestanding insert dropped yesterday.
Inam declined to give Gerber spending for the marketing campaign, but said "it's very extensive and encompasses all key elements required to reach the consumer." With parents having little leisure time, Gerber is using a variety of vehicles to reach them, including television and print advertising.
Two-thirds of parents surveyed said they regard magazines as a resource for help and information, followed by television (37%) and the Internet (33%).
In addition, Gerber is supporting the rollout with an extensive direct mail and a trade support.
The direct mail will reach 80% of mothers during the first three years of a child's life on average of eight times during that period, Inman said.