Skip to main content

Better baby food gets a boost at mass


Better baby food is a big deal and the evolution of the category is changing what’s critical for its success. Given the intense sensitivity of today’s parents regarding their children’s well being, it’s hardly surprising that wellness issues have manifested themselves so powerfully in the baby food category.

The effect is intensified as baby food producers have expanded into food developed for kids transitioning into solid food and carried the predominant trends along with them.

While manufacturers scramble to find new formulations that satisfy parents, entrepreneurs are developing products specifically suited to emerging concerns, including a variety of new organic brands. But organic isn’t the only consideration. For example, TastyBaby and Jack’s Harvest are labels launched over the past few years to expand frozen baby food in the market—frozen being considered nutritionally superior to shelf stable by some consumers.

In October 2007, TastyBaby rolled into Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, Mollie Stones and PC Greens while Jack’s Harvest products became available nationwide one month later. Such products have other advantages because the entrepreneurs were mothers themselves, thus incorporating practical insights they instilled in the products that bear their labels.

Indeed the founders of TastyBaby and Jack’s Harvest focused on factors that could set them apart from some of the national brands. “Our differentiators include that our food is frozen into individual cubes,” noted Connie Pope, Jack’s Harvest co-founder with Heather Schoenrock, who developed what became the company’s product line in an attempt to find better food for her own children. “We specifically chose 1-ounce cubes. They’re perfect for babies who are just starting to eat, and they reduce waste. Our cubes mix well together, too. So, let’s say baby loves apples but isn’t super crazy about peas. You can mix them and that gives a different flavor, so you can get babies to eat their peas.”

In the meantime, specialty companies are building on leading positions in baby food and related products for young children.The Hain Celestial Group, makers of Earth’s Best Organic baby foods, just announced that it had completed its acquisition of TenderCare International, a marketer and distributor of chlorine-free and gel-free natural diapers and baby wipes under the Tushies and TenderCare brand names.

In September, Hain expanded its Earth’s Best Sesame Street brand of baby and toddler food products to include two new frozen entr?es and the new Organic Smiley Snacks. The Sesame Street line is an Earth’s Best extension into the market for young children that has existed for several years and covers a range of products, including snacks. But, specifically, said spokeswoman Melissa Kreinces, “Smiley Snacks were just introduced.” As for the Sesame Street frozen entrees, they are an extension of a main dishes line introduced the new products, Kreinces said, is they contain a main dish item and vegetables.

Of course, the big kid in the baby food sandbox is Gerber and it has been addressing nutritional considerations lately by adding DHA to its product lineup, a nutrient that is credited with supporting brain and eye development.

Gerber’s leadership of the category has made it a standard, one to which Wal-Mart has responded to with its recently launched Parent’s Choice baby food line. In mid-March, Wal-Mart will roll with three new Parent’s Choice baby food flavors,Very Berry Banana, Tropical Fruit Medley and Pear and Apple Pie Dessert. Also in mid-March, Parent’s Choice is introducing cereal bars as a line expansion for older children. Parent’s Choice cereal Bars contain no artificial flavors or preservatives, and no trans fats. They are made from real fruit and are formulated as a good source of calcium, iron and zinc.

The baby food line is not only expanding but also adding new nutritional factors to meet parental demand for flavor and healthfulness. “We have calcium and DHA and we have probiotics coming in.We see that as a trend, ” said Paul Manning, president and ceo of Parent’s Choice producer PBM.

However, nutrition is just the half of it, Manning pointed out. PBM has been a manufacturer of baby formula, a product area that is subject to ongoing regulatory scrutiny. Manufacturing and related processes for making baby formula are subject to strict quality control requirements, thus making PBM particularly well aware—and well suited to understand—that care in production is critical. The high standards to which it abides in producing formula helped sell Wal-Mart on PBM as its producer of private label baby food, Manning said, as the retailer wanted to set the highest marks for quality and wholesomeness.

“The idea was to integrate our baby formula operations into the next stage of children’s food,” Manning said. “It was the logical next space for us to go into.We’d been looking at it for several years and began testing puree in tubs. Gerber had gone into tubs, and we really needed a sophisticated company approach to compete on product quality and packaging.? We took time developing that opportunity to bring to retailers the best in class.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds