NEW YORK — Many moms would like to make their own baby food. But since most don't have the time to do so, they are increasingly doing the next best thing by seeking out frozen and other specialty baby food with no additives, preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, high-fructose corn syrup or pesticides.
That could help explain why baby food experienced the largest sales growth of any other category in the specialty food market between 2006 and 2008.
Specialty baby food generated $58 million in sales at retail (excluding Wal-Mart and Trader Joe's), a 69% increase from 2006, according to the annual State of the Specialty Food Industry report by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Mintel International and SPINS.
“As people become more aware of the foods they're eating, they're also becoming more aware of the foods their babies are eating,” noted Joy Kemp, healthy living director at Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio.
Frozen baby food is one product that appeals to such consumers. Frozen baby foods on the market include HappyBaby, Plum Organics, Peas of Mind, Nummy Nums and Baby Cubes.
HappyBaby, which has the endorsement of Dr. Bob Sears, son of renowned pediatrician William Sears, is fresh frozen organic baby meals packaged as frozen cubes in a tray so that parents can simply defrost the portions they need.
Publix Super Markets, Whole Foods Market, Kroger Co., Ukrop's Super Markets, Dorothy Lane and Winn Dixie Stores are among the retailers that carry it.
Dorothy Lane has been carrying the brand for the last year.
“We liked the fact that you could simply pop out a portion, thaw it and it's ready to eat,” Scott Achs, DLM's grocery and frozens manager, told SN.
Another reason Dorothy Lane carries the brand is to meet the needs of nutrition-conscious moms searching for alternatives to what's currently on store shelves.
“People are reading more about nutrition in magazines and other places, so they're more inclined to buy these products,” he said.
Despite being in the frozens case for the last year, sales have not taken off. Achs attributes that to its $5.59 retail price, a cost that many shoppers may not be able to afford in these tough economic times.
“The price point could be hurting sales,” he said.
But it also could be because consumers simply don't know it's available. The product poses a merchandising challenge because it's the only frozen baby food brand Dorothy Lane carries.
“The biggest problem is where do you merchandise it?” Achs noted.
DLM ultimately decided to place it next to frozen vegetables because of the similarities of both categories.
PCC Natural Markets, a nine-store cooperative in Seattle, tried one brand of frozen baby food, but stopped selling it due to slow sales.
“We tried it, but PCC customers aren't interested; it doesn't have the value perception that jarred food has and is outside of the sections where people normally shop for baby food,” said spokeswoman Diana Crane.
Another reason for the poor performance was that PCC's customer base is more inclined to make their own baby food. The chain encourages them to do so through programs like its “PCC Cooks” cooking class series. The program recently had a lesson themed “Organically Grown Babies” that included recipes like Avocado Banana Puree and Millet Porridge.