Processors Increasing the Vegetable Content of Baby and Toddler Foods

Research finds a severe lack of vegetables in the infant/toddler food market … unless you count French fries.

By Jeanne Turner, Contributing Editor

The infant/toddler food market has a new look compared to 10 or even five years ago. Think pouches and organics.

While growth for the overall category is projected at 2.5 percent for the time period of 2018-2021, according to Statista, smaller segments are soaring. Organics are growing at 10 percent, already with global sales of $5.4 billion in 2017 and projected to reach $10 billion by 2023, according to ResearchAndMarkets.com.

Pouches are now ubiquitous. Although introduced just 10 years ago, they account for 25 percent or more of baby food sales in the U.S., according to Nielsen. This makes it more convenient than ever for parents on the go to provide quick and easy snacks and even meals for progeny in vans, parks or homes across the country.

Despite the ease, convenience and variety of baby foods available, studies show that America’s youngest segment of the population isn’t quite getting the nutrients it needs for optimal health. The updated Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) released in June found approximately 27 percent of children between 1 and 3 years old do not eat a single serving of vegetables on any given day.

For those who do, the most common “vegetable” consumed is a serving of French fries. This finding dovetails results reported in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that analyzed data by studying more than 800 infants and toddlers between 6-23 months old from 2011-2014.

If you can’t beat ’em

Sprout CrinklezIf fries are a snackable finger food easy for toddlers to manipulate, perhaps one strategy is to create a healthier snack that looks a bit like a fry. Sprout Foods Inc. (www.sproutorganicfoods.com) offers toddler snacks that are either crispy, curly or crinkly with its newest line addition called Crinklez, currently available in Cheesey Spinach or Pumpkin Carrot flavors.

The snack is designed to be highly nutritious, crunchy and easy for toddlers to hold. One serving of Pumpkin Carrot Crinklez has just 25 calories, is plant-forward and gluten-free with no added sugar, color, flavor or preservatives. In March Sprout won a National Parenting Product Award for “its commitment to clean, organic ingredients, outstanding flavor and innovation within sustainable protein sources.”

The company’s other snacks for the younger set include Crispy Chews and Curlz. These highlight Sprout’s commitment to creating vegetable-leading recipes in a category where many other company or brands use fruit as the primary ingredient. Sprout also claims to be first to market with a complete line of plant-based protein purees and snacks for both babies and toddlers. 

Curated home delivery

Parents in previous generations used to make their own baby food, and those with enough time still do. For those with a bit less time but the desire to create healthy homemade meals for infants, there are home meal delivery services designed specifically for tiny humans.

Raised Real (www.raisedreal.com), launched in January of this year, curates meals for babies and toddlers, delivering subscription-based, organically sourced, plant-based whole ingredients to your front door. Parents open and steam the packages, then can choose to puree, mash or serve it as finger food depending upon their child’s developmental stage.

The delivery service is recommended for infants ages six months and up. A subscription gets the parent a package of 20 flash-frozen, organically sourced baby-ready meals that might include, for example, peas and zucchini with hemp hearts, seasoned with basil and avocado oil.

The HPP solution

For parents trying to find a balance among minimal processing, no preservatives and good shelf life, high-pressure processing (HPP) may be the answer.

HPP has been employed within the food industry for some 20 years but is more commonly associated with juices and guacamole. But now the technology is gaining ground in the baby food segment, as well as spreading into hummus, sauces and nut-based milks. The non-thermal process destroys bacteria, extends shelf life and, best yet, helps retain more of the original flavor and nutrient content compared to other methods of preservation.

“This enables manufacturers to create products with a shorter label, one that contains a minimum number of ingredients,” according to Tom Egan, vice president of industry service for PMMI (www.pmmi.org), which provides association management for the newly formed Cold Pressure Council. He says the use of HPP is driven by consumer interest in products that remain as close to fresh as possible while retaining the same amount of vitamins and nutrients as the original whole-food ingredients.

True Food Innovations (www.truefoodinnovations) is one company offering copacking of certified organic baby food in a variety of packaging configurations. The process begins with either fresh or individually quick frozen (IQF) fruits and vegetables brought to its facility in southern California for an end-to-end or farm-to-pouch solution. The fruits and vegetables and other ingredients are blended, packaged and cold-pressure processed, then popped into case-ready packs for distribution. Total annual capacity at the True Fresh HPP facility is 100 million lbs.

Mintel reports point to millennial moms being on board with chilled HPP baby foods that are fresh, healthy, flavorful and convenient. The market research firm says launches of new baby/toddler foods bearing organic, GMO-free and additive/preservative-free claims has doubled since 2014.

In addition, the study says 87 percent of younger millennial parents (18-24) and 84 percent of older millennial parents (25-34) want to expose their children to a variety of foods, while at the same time seeking solutions that will help feed baby on the go. Add in clear and "clean" labeling and you’ve got the picture of today’s millennial parent.

There is a proliferation of organic and healthier baby and toddler foods in convenient packaging forms, with or without plant-forward formulating in an ever-widening array of flavors. Couple all that with new parents' determination to feed their children a healthy diet and the reign of French fries may be ending.

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