Baby food boom

Move over, plain peas and carrots, baby food is going gourmet with cool packaging and unique flavour combos.

Afew years ago, it would have been far-fetched for parents to find tantalizing pureed veal, vegetable lentil dahl and vanilla banana-berry risotto in the grocery baby aisle, but not anymore. As consumable food offerings for adults go upmarket with innovative flavours and packaging, so does baby food. Intriguing menu options combined with new pouch packages and organic ingredients is bringing much needed excitement to the sometimes stale baby-food aisle.

The timing couldn’t be better. Overall sales of baby food are down three per cent in all channels this year, according to the latest Nielsen figures. Innovative pouch packaging may be a boon for the category, with Edmonton’s Baby Gourmet leading the charge. The company was the first to enter the Canadian market, according to founder, Jennifer Broe, and the first to be listed by retail behemoth Walmart.

While still relatively new to Canada, pouch packaging is well represented in the U.K. market, says Ari Sirmakesyan, baby food category manager at Walmart. He adds that pouch packaging has been an easy sell with time-strapped moms because it offers portability, reusability and convenience. It’s likely to be a game-changer to the glass jars that currently dominate baby food aisles, as baby food giants Gerber and Heinz follow suit with their pouch offers. Sirmakesyan says retailers are now rejigging their baby sections to give moms more pouch options.

But it’s not just what’s on the outside that’s driving baby food sales; it’s what’s inside as well. Parents are looking for better-for-you and tastier options for their tots, and companies are happy to oblige. “When people have kids, they often rethink their food choices, and for many people that means going organic whenever possible,” explains Desiree Nielsen, nutrition operations manager for Choices Markets in British Columbia. She adds that when parents can’t make homemade baby food, health-conscious moms and dads opt for premade upscale organic baby food, which can be inexpensive and easy to find.

One company with a back-to-basics approach is Montreal-based Mother Hen, which Sirmakesyan says is doing “fairly well in Walmart stores in Quebec.” It is now being tested elsewhere in Canada. The products are frozen and carried in a little cubed freezer, across from the baby section in newer stores, he says.

Marion Chan, of TrendSpotter Consulting, adds it’s not difficult to upsell the gourmet stuff to people already purchasing non-organic jarred food. She suggests grouping together similar items on shelves. Meanwhile, Toronto speciality grocery store McEwan carries baby food in its high-traffic cereal aisle.

One thing’s for sure, the category has come a long way, baby.

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