New Developments in Foods for Babies and Toddlers

Baby and toddler foods grow more important each day, already raking in nearly $30 billion in sales. Capitalizing on this growing market means attracting ingredient-jaded millennial moms with simple healthy foods featuring better-for-you ingredients.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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In fact, national survey findings show moms are indeed reading food labels in search of nutritious, natural foods without synthetic colors or preservatives, according to commissioned research from the Natural Colors Div. of Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee. "Moms are sending a clear message to food manufacturers: She wants healthy and natural foods, she’s paying attention to ingredients and nutrition when making food purchases, and she's willing to pay more for foods she perceives as being healthier," the company's report states.

The survey involved more than 1,100 moms across the U.S., the majority of whom (71 percent) believe the foods they eat affect their quality of life. Nutritional content is extremely important to moms, the survey found, which was cited by 86 percent of respondents as the key purchase factor.

Plum Organics, Emeryville, Calif., is borrowing an idea from another Campbell Soup business, Pepperidge Farm, which manufactures Goldfish crackers. Plum is unveiling a new line of organic cheddar crackers for toddlers called Mighty Dinos. One of several new products Plum Organics highlighted at Natural Products Expo West, Mighty Dinos look like smaller Goldfish crackers, but easily dissolve in toddlers' mouths. This year, Plum Organics also will launch the GrowWell line of purees and add to its successful Mighty snacks line with new Mighty Veggies and Mighty Sticks for tots on the go.

New spoonables

Speaking of borrowing ideas, Annie's Homegrown, Berkeley, Calif., is rolling out organic whole-milk yogurt, presumably manufactured by General Mills sibling Yoplait. The four-packs come in Strawberry, Very Vanilla and Berry Patch as well as a grass-fed version. Free of artificial flavors, synthetic colors and preservatives, the products are Annie's first dairy offerings, made with milk from cows not treated with antibiotics, synthetic hormones or exposure to persistent pesticides. All are sweetened with organic fruit and cane sugar and like other Annie's products claim zero artificial flavors, preservatives or GMOs.

Aimed at kids, the yogurt should be well received, according to Annie's customer surveys, which have long requested the company to add yogurt to its lineup.

And Beech-Nut Nutrition, Amsterdam, N.Y., claims it's taking transparency to a new level with the spring launch of 100 percent "natural" food for babies. The new jars for the Naturals and Organics lines have no paper label. Instead, a small transparent film label emphasizes transparency and shows off the products' textures, color and ingredients. The products contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives.

"What we’re putting on the front, which is a key to who we are with this product, is 'Just Honey Crisp Apples.' When you flip over to the ingredients, it says Honey Crisp Apples," explains Andy Dahlen, vice president of marketing and sales. The products are processed using a method said to eliminate ascorbic acid and leave vegetables such as carrots bright orange and beets red. The foods are first pureed cold and are next deaerated, cooked using indirect heat and packed.

"To avoid losing any nutrients or flavor, we blend our food before cooking," Dahlen adds. "That’s why we call it a cold puree. The process also allows our fruits and veggies to retain their true color, flavor, aroma, texture and nutrients." The new line includes varieties such as mango, chicken, curry & rice, corn & potato chowder and prunes.

Beech-Nut says it realized moms were preparing more baby food in their own kitchens and wanted to address that segment with a line inspired by the creativity of millennial moms. 

Gerber, the No. 1-selling baby food brand in the U.S. from Nestle Infant Nutrition, Florham Park, N.J. expanded its organic 3rd Foods group of products late last year with its Lil’ Bits Recipes dinners. The toddler-sized, soft pieces of fruits and vegetables have a texture that helps tots learn to chew. Lil' Bits also are made via what Gerber calls a "unique and revolutionary cooking method" that allows the chewy bits to be soft enough for the transition to table food but not too soft.

Introducing pureed foods with soft pieces at this time allows children to explore multiple textures before transitioning fully to solid, table foods, according to the company's research. The foods come in handy plastic tubs and a variety of flavors, including seven fruits and three vegetables.

Nielsen polled respondents in 60 countries to understand what's driving product choices in the baby/toddler segment and found in developing countries a rising middle class and more working moms. Buchanan says more than a third of those surveyed specified good nutrition and safe ingredients/processing as most critical when deciding what to purchase. "Consumers are increasingly health conscious and looking for natural, minimally processed foods, and the stakes are even higher when it comes to their babies," she says. "More parents are seeking foods that set their children up for a healthy life -- even if it comes at a premium. This segment will continue to grow as more parents can afford to trade up."

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