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Baby report: Parents want products that are functional, and healthy

Blogs about babies. Community centre programs for new moms. Dietitians everywhere advising what’s best for little tummies. Parents are savvier than ever thanks to the explosion of baby-related resources. They want the absolute best for their little ones, and they’re not fooled by health-related marketing messages that aren’t backed up by a quality ingredients list. “Some kids’ cereals claim to be healthy because they’re high in   fibre, but they’re full of colouring and sugars. People don’t fall for that,” says Heather Eigler, author of the Calgary-based parenting blog Home to Heather and mother of a three-yearold and a two-month-old.

As a result, health-conscious parents are turning to organic baby food. “Organic products like Earth’s Best and My Organic Baby out-sell Gerber and Heinz by three-to-one here,” says Mike Bayer, assistant manager at Vancouver based Stong’s Market. Bayer has noticed the natural trend has carried over to diapers, too. He says the chlorine-free diaper brand Seventh Generation is out-selling its mainstream rivals in spite of its higher price point. “People have come in and specifically asked for Seventh Generation,” he says. Even though diapers are a low-margin item, he makes sure to keep them in stock because they’re products that new parents come into the store to buy.

Moms change stores if they don’t find what they’re looking for

That’s a wise move, according to Nestlé Canada research about parents’ shopping habits. “Moms tend to shop baby first,” says Jan Fuller, infant nutrition marketing leader at Nestlé. “She will change stores if she does not find what she’s looking for.” Eigler’s own experience as a mom is proof. “If I can’t find the brand I’m looking for, I don’t have time to hunt,” she says. “I want to be in and out.”

The organic trend has also spilled over into one of the baby category’s hottest new segments: snacks. Infant snack sales in Canada are up 21% over last year, according to Nielsen data. Toronto-based organic baby food company Sweetpea noticed that snacks were on the rise and decided to seize the opportunity by launching a line of cookies in November 2009. “In a time crunch, moms always want to have something healthy on hand,” says company co-founder Tamar Wagman.


Best for baby

The hottest trends in the infant category are all about health:

*Probiotic, etc.

Parents are keen on integrating probiotics, prebiotics and omegas into their babies’ diets. The Big Carrot’s Christine Dychangco says parents are interested in the role probiotics play in preventing gassiness, asthma, colic and eczema, and the brainboosting benefits offered by omegas 3 and 6.

*Yogurt

Canadians have been steadily increasing their yogurt intake over the past decade, and that trend has trickled down into the baby category. Yogurt is popular both on its own and as an added ingredient for small children. “I’ve called yogurt the food of the decade,”  says NPD Group food industry analyst Joel Gregoire.

*Organic

With even mainstream brands securely on the bandwagon, it’s clear that organic baby food is here to stay. Parents are eager to steer clear of toxins like pesticides, and are willing to pay a premium to do so.

*Snacks

Manufacturers are pumping out more products to meet the growing demand for baby and toddler snacks and retailers are making room on shelves.

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At Stong’s Market, Bayer says one of his biggest sellers in infant snacks is the Hot Kid Organic Toddler Mum Mum line of biscuits, which feature nutrition labels on the front of the box. Another big seller is the Gerber Graduates line. It’s not organic, but touts healthy ingredients like real fruit and vegetables. (Fuller reports that Gerber Graduates sales are up 32% over last year.)

Heinz Canada is also tapping into snacks. It launched the Heinz Little Kids line last October, which includes products such as rice cakes. And its new Yoghurt Muesli Fingers hits another hot food in the infant category: yogurt. “Yogurt on its own or as an addition has been a big trend,”  says Ainsley Mercer, group marketing manager for infant nutrition at Heinz Canada.

Part of yogurt’s appeal in the infant category is its healthy bacteria, which calms little tummies.  The category has seen a rise in products infused with probiotics and prebiotics for the same reason. Some parents are even adding probiotic supplements to baby food themselves, says Christine Dychangco, a naturopathic doctor at Toronto organic food store The Big Carrot. They’re also increasingly asking for fish oils to help their children get more omega-3s, she says, which aid brain development in children.

To have more control over what’s in their children’s food, many parents are making their own baby food with fresh fruit and vegetables, adds Bayer. “I’d say that 30% of the market makes their own baby food. That’s from talking to customers,” he says. Those numbers are difficult to back up with hard industry research, but Joel Gregoire, industry analyst at NPD Group in Toronto, agrees that, anecdotally, the homemade segment is growing. Even though today’s timestarved parents want convenience, at the end of the day, health trumps all in the baby category.


Top 4 Merchandising Tips

1. Parents never want to run out of diapers, so they tend to stock up. You may not have the kind of shelf space required to carry Costco-sized bulk packs, but you can create volume deals. For example, two regularsized packs for $35.

2. New mothers stick with whichever formula they’re given at the hospital. So find out which one hospitals are providing and be sure to stock up on it so it’s on hand when those new moms come looking for it in-store.

3. Sort the baby section by stage. “Keep beginner foods together, followed by Stage 2 and so on,” says Heinz Canada’s Ainsley Mercer. “Parents appreciate guidance.”

4. Parents don’t have time to hunt for baby snacks that may be in the regular snack aisle, then frozen baby food in the freezers. Sweetpea offers standalone freezers (either 32 or 43 inches wide) to place in baby aisles. Sweetpea co-founder Eryn Green says Sweetpea products sell up to 50% better at stores with the freezers, such as Longo’s. “We ship the store the freezer and they put it in the baby aisle and plug it in.”

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