Beyond strained peas

by Allison Sebolt
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Brands such as Gerber, owned by Switzerland-based Nestle S.A., and Beech-Nut, Latham, N.Y., don’t just offer baby food. Both companies, as well as others, are increasingly expanding offerings to include products for toddlers and young children as well.

Recent product launches include Beech-Nut’s Let’s Grow! line, which consists of 19 toddler meal and snack offerings that are all-natural with added vitamins and minerals.

"(Parents) are just looking to find a different variety and a different type of nutrition other than what they have had in the past," said Steve Hungsberg, associate director of marketing at Beech-Nut. "It’s one thing to bring on the different meal options, but if you can bring in additional nutrition, like bringing in DHA, that’s only going to be something better for them and their child."

The new Beech-Nut products include Wakey Flakes cereal, Tummy Meals, Mini Meals, Fruit Nibbles, Yogurt Nibbles, Seven-grain Nibbles, and cookies and biscuits. A key factor behind the decision to expand the age range of the products is simple — to provide convenience for busy families.

"It’s such a chore to work your way through the grocery store and figure out what’s going to be the best choice for you and your child," Mr. Hungsberg said. "We found an opportunity where we wanted to make it easier for the moms."

Additionally, Beech-Nut promises this isn’t going to be the only new innovation consumers see on the shelves in the near future.

"We’ve committed to our customers that we’re going to be coming out with new innovation every six months, not just for the toddler items but also for the infant items," Mr. Hungsberg said.

The new Let’s Grow! products are a way of keeping up with the competition from Gerber, which also has toddler and preschool meals and snacks. For preschoolers, Gerber has Gerber Graduates meals, snacks and treats. For toddlers, they have various Gerber Graduates meal options, side dishes and snacks.

Mr. Hungsberg said he believes Beech-Nut will grow the overall market for baby food with the new innovations it anticipates bringing to the market. Mintel International, Chicago, said during the 2005-07 period Gerber and Beech-Nut actually saw decreasing sales while Earth’s Best, a part of The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Melville, N.Y., picked up in sales. The growth of Earth’s Best shows an increased interest from parents in organic products for their children. Gerber has some organic offerings as well.

Earth’s Best has a line of Sesame Street products for preschoolers and toddlers, including products for breakfast, meals and snacks. All of the products are organic, and many contain whole grains. Earth’s Best also offers a Tots line with products such as Arrowroot squares, cereal bars, crunchin’ blocks and juice. Going even further, the Earth’s Best Kidz line includes organic chicken nuggets, milk, apple sauce and whole grain bars.

Mintel said one of the biggest influences for new mothers has been interactive web sites with bulletin boards that allow them to ask other mothers questions about their experiences, which in turn influences what foods they buy.

"While (mothers) may find themselves taking advice from virtual strangers, the bonds formed through these on-line relationships lead to trust that is often lacking when consumers read the web sites or press releases from company sites," Mintel said in a baby food and drink report.

According to Information Resources, Inc., a Chicago-based research firm, sales in the baby food category in channels excluding Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. for the year ended Sept. 7 were $932,630,000, up slightly from the previous year. As a subset of the baby food category, baby juice sales were down 3% to $82,771,160. In the baby formula category, sales were $3,067,634,000, up 3% from the previous year.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, there were 184 new baby food and drink products introduced in 2007, up from 129 in 2006. In the first nine months of 2008 there were 159 new products introduced. Other notable recently introduced products include toddler puffs and toddler puddings chocolate snacks, both from Nature’s Goodness, Bay Valley Foods.

Looking ahead, Beech-Nut believes the category is still underdeveloped with many needs yet to be met.

"It’s not about simply trading dollars with the other manufacturers out there, but it’s actually bringing new consumers into the category because we are going to be offering them things they just can’t get right now," Mr. Hungsberg said.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 14, 2008, starting on Page 49. Click here to search that archive.

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