Baby food transcends the tiny jar

  • By Michael Hill Associated Press
  • Sunday, January 13, 2013 2:46pm
  • Life

Baby food used to have an image as stable — and bland — as a jar of strained peas. And its target market was limited to, well… babies.

No more.

Old-school glass jars of applesauce are still around, but these days they share shelf space in the baby food aisle with curious (and often organic) combinations like zucchini, banana and amaranth (it’s a grain) packed in brightly colored pouches intended to be squished and slurped by consumers with little — and not so little — hands.

“What we try to do is engage them, stimulate all of their senses,” said Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen baby food, a pioneer in the use of pouch-style packaging. “Not just their taste sense, not just putting a spoon in their mouth or a pouch into their mouth … but to try to stimulate all their other senses.”

Welcome to the world of premium baby foods, part of a $1.5 billion industry that’s no longer just about babies. Babies don’t generally care much about food packaging. But toddlers, older children and convenience-driven parents do.

Pouches have allowed baby food makers to broaden the appeal of their products beyond the traditional baby food years. Maureen Putman, chief marketing officer for the Hain Celestial Group, maker of organic brand Earth’s Best, says pouches have helped fuel 11 percent growth at Earth’s Best even as the U.S. birth rate declines.

“It’s allowing us to age up. Where moms may have stopped baby food at 9 to 12 months, the pouches have really helped extend the shelf life of baby food,” she said. “We see growth for a long time to come.”

Parents like Lindsey Carl, of Clarksville, Tenn., make the case, saying pouches are a less messy way to feed her 22-month-old daughter and 10-month-old son simultaneously. “They don’t require a spoon, which makes on-the-go easy,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about bringing a spoon: ‘Where do I wash the spoon? Where do I put the spoon?”’

And the premium baby food world is an increasingly crowded one, with other major players including Plum Organics, Sprout, the organic baby food company founded by Food Network star Tyler Florence, and even long established baby food maker Gerber.

“We’re excited about pouches and we’re the No. 1 in the segment and we want to continue to grow it,” said Aileen Stocks, Gerber’s head of integrated marketing.

Obviously, the premium trend also is about what’s in the pouches. And increasingly it’s organic. While organic accounts for only about 4 percent of total U.S. food sales, organic baby food represents a more impressive 21 percent of that category, Putman said.

Gerber, with more than half the market, also is No. 1 in pouch sales, with about a 30 percent share, Stocks said. She said while organic pouches are driving growth in premium products, Gerber’s product line runs from infants to preschool and they are focusing on growth and innovation in all the segments.

“Pouches obviously, it’s an exciting story because you’re seeing a lot of it in the aisles right now,” she said. “But it’s really just one part of the whole story as far as the child’s nutrition.”

Putman says the popularity of organics is a sign that parents are concerned about what they’re feeding their babies. But there could be other reasons, too. The creative new mixes available — such as Plum’s sweet potato, mango and millet, and Sprout’s pasta with lentil Bolognese — might speak to Mom and Dad’s inner foodie.

Not everyone is cooing over pouches, though.

One common criticism is that in some cases a pouch will read something like “spinach and apples,” giving an impression of a vegetable-rich meal even if the ingredient label lists more apples than spinach.

More pointedly, some critics claim that parents tend to over-rely on pouches.

Dina Rose, a sociologist who writes the “It’s Not About Nutrition” blog, said while pouches can be a beneficial “bridge” to fresh fruits and vegetables, they are no substitute.

“It lulls people into thinking that they’ve done their fruit-and-vegetable job. So they’re done,” Rose said. “And it gets them out of what they think of as the struggle to get their kids to eat fruits and vegetables.”

More in Life

This beefy ex-cop has a delicate hobby: intricate paper-cut art

You can see Tom Sacco’s creations at the upcoming Everett Art Walk.

Slow-roasted vegetables make sumptuous sauce for pasta

Make the basic but good spaghetti with red sauce blissfully better with this recipe.

Mocking meatloaf: One man’s loaf is another man’s poison

Some don’t like it and some do. Here are six meatloaf recipes to try.

Roasted Brussels sprouts can be the apple of picky eater’s eye

Toasted sesame seeds and diced apple add flavors that compliment the sprouts’ earthiness.

Arlington eagle fest wants your nature-themed artwork, haiku

Local residents of an artistic bent are invited to submit… Continue reading

Dylan Farrow says she wants to bring down Woody Allen

The 32-year-old said in an upcoming interview that she is telling the truth about him abusing her.

Kendrick Lamar, Sam Smith and U2 added to Grammys performance roster

Also unveiled is a performance by pop star Miley Cyrus and superstar piano-rocker Elton John.

Former NBA basketball star Dennis Rodman listens to a guide at the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea, last summer. Rodman was arrested Saturday on suspicion of DUI in Southern California. (Kim Kwang Hyon / Associated Press file)
Rodman checks into rehab after DUI arrest

His agent says he’s dealing with his longtime struggle with alcoholism.

Hau Tran sings as Vietnamese seniors eat at Homage’s Center for Healthy Living on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018 in Lynnwood, Wa. Each weekday the center offers its room for various cultures to get together for activities and lunch while speaking their native languages. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Seniors of four cultures gather for food, fitness and fun

Homage’s Center for Healthy Living offers a venue for programs in the seniors’ native languages.

Most Read