Growing Trends in Healthful Baby and Toddler Foods

The growing trends in healthful foods finally spilled over to better foods for babies and toddlers

By David Feder, RD

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Considering the sudden flood of healthful, organic baby and toddler foods to hit the market in the past couple of years, it’s hard not to wonder what took so long. After all, for more than a decade supermarkets have been adding to the shelves thousands of healthy and organic foods and beverages for adults.

 

Note to Marketing

Organic is still a much sought tag. In spite of rising food and energy costs and stagnant salaries, Americans are pushing growth in the organic and healthful categories at an increasing rate. Several surveys, especially a large survey released April 30 by Collingswood, N.J.-based Mambo Sprouts Marketing Inc. (www.mambosprouts), show that, even in hard economic times, consumers are willing to pay up to 20 percent more for organic items versus their conventional counterparts, especially so when it comes to foods for their little ones.

While the 20-40-year-olds were feeding on the double-digit growth of the health and wellness category of comestibles, kids were having to go straight to adult foods from jars of mainstream pureed foods and juices whose health score was measured by the sugar to “real fruit juice” ratio.

One catalyst might have been the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), conducted by Gerber Products Co., Fremont, Mich., and Princeton, N.J.-based Mathematica Policy Research Inc. The groundbreaking study found too many of us were feeding our infants and toddlers on junk and semi-juices.

“Two of the biggest strategic issues for the food and beverage industry worldwide are the problem of rising rates of obesity and overweight among children and the still-untapped opportunity for the food industry to develop and market healthy kid-specific products that delivers real benefits,” observed Research and Markets, a Dublin, Ireland, market research and data firm.

In just the few years since that February 2006 report, dozens of companies, small and large, paid heed with new lines of foods for babies, toddlers and young children. Organic baby food sales alone have leaped by over 20 percent per year since 2006, according to the Nielsen Co.

As the Research and Markets report noted, these trends hold true not only for the current market but will “continue to resonate for many years to come.” That the demand for such products is running against economics proves the viability of developing and producing healthful and organic foods formulated specifically for our little ones.

Yogurt takes the lead

Yogurt was one of the first food categories to see formulations developed specifically for babies and toddlers. It’s cold, sweet yet tangy, smooth and creamy and dairy — all things that appeal to kids starting on solids. YoBaby and YoKids, by Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., is an example of how successful and well-entrenched yogurt for the young quickly became.

The Stonyfield lines are made with whole milk from cows fed organic feed and without antibiotics or artificial growth hormones. They also are fortified with iron and DHA, one of the key omega oils, and made without gelatin or any artificial ingredients.

The company also makes smoothies, dairy-free soy “yogurts” and cereals. The yogurt products contain six live active cultures, and all the fruits and grains in Stonyfield Farm products are grown without toxic/persistent chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Another sharp marketing move recently made by Stonyfield was to reduce the amount of sugar in all YoBaby yogurts.

 

Feeding the fetus

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are the major structural fats in the brain, spinal cord and retina. This makes them vital to growing fetuses. Whereas folate, critical to proper development of the spine, is now added to most flour products in the U.S., omega oils have yet to reach the level of inclusion folate enjoys. But a number of products are on the market to address this early intervention for baby’s health. Baltimore, Md.-based Vincent Foods LLC (www.ohmamabar.com) makes its Oh! Mama bars specifically for pregnant and nursing women. Fortified with DHA, they’re a satisfying alternative to regular energy bars.

Yogurt may have blazed the trail, but other products soon followed.

Although healthy/organic pioneer Hain Celestial Group Inc., Melville, N.Y., certainly wasn’t the first to “go organic” with baby formula and food, its Earth’s Best line, released a few years ago, marked a turning point for the category. Experienced at taking once-fringe health foods into the mainstream, Hain’s Earth‘s Best bridged the gap between the small and regional processors of healthful, organic baby foods and the big-brand processors who were still making traditional products.

Earth's Best, which recently became the first baby food brand to be certified free of genetically engineered ingredients, uses vegetarian omega oils from Martek Biosciences Corp., Columbia, Md. Martek specializes in the production and refinement of DHA from algae. DHA is critical for development and function of brain, nerve and eye tissues in both developing fetuses and infants, and it remains an important nutrient through adulthood.

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