Frozen, fortified and allergen-free baby foods are entering the market as parents increasingly seek out convenience and better-for-you options
Every parent is concerned about her baby's nourishment, but the clout of parenting websites and nutrition-sensitive consumers such as “Alpha Moms” have led to increased demand for frozen, DHA-fortified and other new baby food.
Over the last five years, parents have sought out alternatives to the products that are typically found on store shelves, according to Chicago-based research firm Mintel.
Retailers, in response, are making room on their shelves — and in their freezer cases — for new foods that use no additives, preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, high-fructose corn syrup or pesticides, as well as those that have reduced sugar and sodium content or are gluten-free and lactose-free.
Baby food with no additives/preservatives claims accounted for more than 50% of new product launches between July and September 2007, according to Mintel.
“Parents are reading nutritional labels and ingredients more than ever, asking questions and talking with one another and their doctors,” said David Bennett, owner of Mollie Stone's Markets, Mill Valley, Calif.
This has led to the birth of a relatively new category: frozen baby food. Several specialty manufacturers are offering organic frozen baby foods packaged as frozen cubes in a tray so that parents can simply defrost the portions they need.
Mollie Stone's carries a variety of frozen baby foods, including HappyBaby, Plum Organics and Peas of Mind.
Dayton, Ohio-based Dorothy Lane Market started carrying HappyBaby about two months ago, according to Tom Winter, marketing vice president.
Winter saw the brand at a food show and felt it would meet both the health and convenience demands of Dorothy Lane consumers. Winter merchandises it in the freezer case next to the Ian's brand of better-for-you kids' meals.
Marketed by Brooklyn-based Nurture Foods, HappyBaby includes frozen organic baby meats, veggies, grains and fruits packaged in convenient ice cube-style trays.
HappyBaby has the endorsement of Dr. Bob Sears, son of renowned pediatrician William Sears. The Sears connection could give HappyBaby an edge, as 89% of moms with kids under 3 rely on doctors, nurses or nurse practitioners for nutritional information, according to Mintel.
Along with HappyBaby, other specialty frozen brands include Nummy Nums, available in such flavors as roasted sweet potato and mango and vanilla; Baby Cubes, frozen Certified Organic fruit and vegetable purees; and BoboBaby, Certified Organic, kosher, frozen food that is free of the most common allergens. Available in individually packaged portions, BoboBaby is delivered directly to consumers.
Such brands are gaining a following thanks to parenting socialization websites, blogs and other Internet tools that help parents communicate in new ways. About 46% of moms rely on other moms (word of mouth) for information regarding nutrition. Indeed, Alpha Moms — a name coined for the educated, tech-savvy, higher-income mothers who research all facets of mothering in an effort to provide the best for their babies — are said to influence how other moms spend.
“Parents are looking to the Internet for recommendations, often relying on word of mouth from other parents in determining what products to buy,” according to the Mintel study.
New mothers join bulletin boards and pose questions to those in similar situations or with similar experiences, or read about others' trials and tribulations through personal websites or blogs. While these moms may find themselves taking advice from virtual strangers, the bonds formed through these online relationships lead to a trust that is often lacking when consumers read company websites and press releases.
“Moms are no longer limited to Dr. Spock's book,” said Frank Dell, president of Dellmart & Co., Stamford, Conn., a management consulting company.
While organic baby food products cost about 69% more than conventional varieties, according to Mintel, parents don't mind spending more for what they perceive as a healthier, safer food for their babies, according to Mintel.
“In general, product naturalness will remain a strong trend in this market, with many parents who may not buy organic for themselves purchasing organic formulations for their babies/toddlers,” according to Mintel.
Indeed, Dorothy Lane's Winter is confident the $5.59 price tag for HappyBaby won't deter purchases.
“People are willing to pay a premium for their children,” he said.
This is especially true at a time of heavy media coverage of food recalls, ranging from bagged spinach to beef to dog food. Such recalls have made parents more concerned about what they feed their babies, said Dell.
“With recalls, people get nervous, and many feel natural and organic is a healthier alternative,” he said.
Retailers are contributing to the growth of alternative baby foods by buying specialty brands more than they once did. The change of heart is an effort to differentiate their stores from the competition.
“Retailers want to make sure their stores are unique in terms of product selection,” Dell said.
While new specialty brands are carving out a niche in food stores, brands with larger distribution are also strengthening their better-for-you positioning.
Hain Celestial's Earth's Best brand includes a variety of Sesame Street Frozen Entrees, including USDA Certified Organic Elmo Pasta 'n Sauce with carrots and broccoli, a 95% organic blend of whole wheat and whole grain semolina pasta and organic vegetables.
Mollie Stone's shelf-stable baby food assortment is also increasing. Some of its more popular brands include Earth's Best, Healthy Times, Gerber Organic and Mum's. It also carries a number of natural, organic and gluten-free kids' items, including Ian's frozen gluten-free chicken nuggets and fish sticks.
“We find that our organic baby food is doing extremely well, and we at Mollie Stone's are looking forward to the expansion of offerings from our natural/organic manufacturers,” said Bennett.
Along with organics, new fortified baby food is entering the market. Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., for instance, recently launched a DHA plus+ line of baby food containing DHA with prebiotics. Prebiotics are said to help digestion by stimulating the growth of good bacteria, while aiding in calcium absorption.
As food allergies become more common, now affecting about one in 18 children before their third birthday, Mintel also predicts manufacturers will start fortifying their foods with probiotics to help strengthen the immune system.
Likewise, baby food is a leading category in launches of foods containing “superfruits” — cranberries, blueberries, pomegranates and other fruits that are said to be high in antioxidants and other nutrients such as phytonutrients.
In 2006, some 8,000 food and beverage products containing superfruits were launched globally. Of those introductions, 159 products were in the baby food and drink category in 2006, increasing to 187 in 2007, according to Mintel. For instance, Apple & Eve, of Roslyn, N.Y., offers several superfruit-enhanced juices.
Retailers are also developing specialty private labels that include baby food. For example, there's Safeway's O Organics for Baby and O Organics for Toddler — USDA Certified Organic products for infants, babies and toddlers that include organic milk-based formula with iron; cereals and oatmeal; and baby food.