The demand for food manufacturers to enhance nutritional profiles of children's products is rising, and parents want more vitamin and mineral fortification as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.
The children's foods market climbed to $6.9 billion in 2016. With an increase in the birthrate, Mintel predicts the market for convenient, healthy baby/toddler and children's food and drinks will continue its steady growth.
But balancing children's needs and wants with the interests of their parents isn't child's play. Parents are willing to pay a premium for better-for-you foods, providing the quality meets their expectations and the child enjoys the flavor, Mintel notes. Higher-income parents have more available income to pay the prices organics and other premium products typically command, but such recession-hardened consumers are also aware that organic and clean-label claims are just as viable from less-expensive alternatives and private-label offerings.
Product developers are answering the call, forgoing production of softer, downsized versions of adult foods & beverages for kids in favor of more specialized, functional products with age- and stage-appropriate textures, flavors and nutrition.
After an extensive examination, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that what kids shouldn't eat is as important as what they should. The AAP issued new recommendations in May advising parents to pull back on giving fruit juices to children of all ages. This update is the first in 16 years to the group's guidelines on fruit juice for kids.
Especially noteworthy was the academy's insistence that parents avoid giving fruit juice at all during a baby's first year of life. A cup of fruit a day may be given to children ages 1 to 4, with only up to 4 oz. of it from 100 percent fruit juice. Like soda, juice carries plenty of sugar and can contribute to an "energy imbalance," the AAP notes, alluding to the belief that too much juice can lead to obesity in children.
Likewise, government statistics say about one-third of kids aged 4 to 8 aren't getting enough calcium. Calcium is critical for developing bone mass, nearly all of which is built during childhood and adolescence. Being deficient can interfere with growth and increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life − especially for girls. An added bonus, many foods high in calcium are also high in vitamin D, which not only strengthens bones but may help prevent type 1 diabetes and other diseases.
Many food companies are fortifying products, such as cereals and frozen waffles, with vitamin D and calcium. Yogurt and smoothies are also good options if kids avoid drinking milk.
General Mills in late June and early July filed several patents for improving its ready-to-eat cereals. One focuses on replacing some of the sucrose in the coatings with maltotriose, maltotetrose and a high-intensity sweetener. Another improves the eating quality of puffed cereals fortified with dietary fiber and calcium, removing a sometimes gritty taste and uneven surface appearance. The company also has been on a multi-year mission to add more whole grain to several brands.
Improving products for the children's market is great, but skeptical parents want proof.
"Creating products that meet the demand for supporting children’s health and wellness through functional foods can help improve market share. But consumer demand also calls for safe, natural and clinically proven ingredients in products that taste great, appealing to family lifestyles and picky eaters," observes Molly Fitzgerald, senior digital communications manager for Wellmune, an immunity-enhancing ingredient from Kerry Functional Ingredients & Actives (www.kerry.com), St. Paul, Minn.
"Manufacturers should seek functional ingredients that can not only be easily incorporated into their food products but also supported by clinical research," she continues. "Research is an important part in the understanding of how a functional ingredient works. It helps earn credibility among consumers and provides validation by demonstrating a product’s proven benefits."
Starting infants on solid food after about 6 months (when their teeth begin to come in) provides them with a source of iron as their internal stores from breast feeding decrease. Getting enough iron, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium — primary muscle and bone-building components — as well as vitamin C, K and omegas can be next to impossible if kids don't like what they're tasting. Whole wheat bread, lentils, beans, raisins, lentils, soy nuts and tomato paste are good sources of iron (vitamin C-rich foods can also increase iron absorption).
HappyFamily Brands (www.happyfamilybrands.com), a mom-founded company now owned by Danone, adds iron to its organic infant formula, which is modeled after breast milk. Breast milk offers optimal nutrition, but the company wants to help make it as easy as possible for mothers to provide babies with the best nutrition if breast feeding isn't always an option.
Likewise, Jennifer and Johnny Kien, founders of Canada's Keen Bean (www.mykeenbean.com), Winnepeg, Manitoba, focused on incorporating iron-rich ingredients when developing their cold-pressed, organic baby food blends, both to set them apart and to align with Canadian governmental recommendations to introduce iron-rich ingredients in foods for children 6 months and up.
Some food companies are going strictly organic in formulations for children's and infant foods, as the organic category surged 20 percent in 2016, according to Innova Market Insights. Plum Organics (www.plumorganics.com), Emeryville, Calif., now owned by Campbell Soup Co., last year added the Grow Well organic brand of infant formula to its product lineup. Using organic lactose as its only carbohydrate instead of corn syrup solids, the formula is made with organic plant-based oils, organic nonfat milk and organic whey protein, and it contains no GMOs.