Get ‘em while they’re young

Natural and organic food manufacturers are offering an array of products geared toward babies and young children.

Natural and organic foods are still in relative infancy. So it makes complete sense that many of these manufacturers’ products lines are geared toward infants—and children too.
Just like the clientele it feeds, the category is growing at a rapid rate. Particularly within the baby food segment, industry observers say sales of natural and organic products are significantly outpacing traditional and they expect the trend to continue.

EB-90g-FrtGk_BananaObservers add that natural and organic children’s foods have proven to be a profitable choice for retailers. Many brands have high purchase frequencies while also increasing the basket ring for retailers. Even better, it appears as if there is plenty of room for growth.
“The baby food category in Europe is 50% organic. In the U.S., it’s only 20% but it’s driving much of the growth in the category,” says Tyler Ricks, chief marketing officer for Emeryville, Calif.-based Plum Organics. “We have retailers specifically expanding the organic set. For many, organic has become the sole, primary growth driver for the baby food category.”

One reason for the growth is that many parents are more educated and aware of where their family’s food comes from and how it is produced. That makes natural and organic options a logical step for them. Beyond natural and organic options, non-GMO certified and gluten-free products are in demand and many manufacturers are answering the call to action.

“We understand that it’s not just the absence of negatives that concerns parents, but also the presence of positives,” says Matt Herzog, president of Funky Monkey Snacks, based in Indianapolis.

Funky Monkey creates freeze-dried fruit snacks using a variety of non-GMO-certified and USDA-certified organic tropical fruits. “We only use the best quality fruit from Brazil,” says Herzog. “We want to provide consumers with unique tropical combinations that allow for a more interesting flavor profile.”

While parents can buy natural and organic foods, getting kids to eat what is put in front of them is an altogether different story. Picky-eaters are not only a parent’s dilemma, but food manufacturers as well. Often children transitioning from baby food to table food can be hesitant. Plum Organics created its line of culinary inspired Bistro Bowls for toddlers to help transition little ones to table food.

With a blend of organic vegetables, grains and free-range or pasture-raised meats, each meal contains five plus grams of protein, 2-4 grams of fiber and 10% to 25% suggested daily value of iron. Officials for the company say this mini-medley of complex tastes and textures can help inspire children to expand their interests beyond peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The Bistro Bowls are available in three different blends: Tuscan Greens & Beans, Beef, Barley & Wild Mushroom and Chicken, Corn & Quinoa.

In addition to bringing the “foodie” trend to younger generations, Plum Organics officials say they are committed to revamping lunchbox staples for a healthier lifestyle. The company has taken the traditional interactive snack stick and dip tray, and exchanged the processed, modified ingredients for USDA-certified organic and GMO-free vanilla wheat sticks and fruit-flavored organic dips. Named Slam Dunx, the trays are available in individually wrapped four-packs in three dip options: Vanilla Coconut, Strawberry Peanut Butter and Very Berry Carrot. They have a suggested retail price of $3.99.

Different packaging options are another method baby food manufacturers are using to help get young kids eating. While not unique to just healthy food manufacturers, many are now using baby food pouches. “Over the past three months, we’ve seen 75% growth in pouches,” says Maureen Putnam, marketing officer of grocery and snacks for Earth’s Best, a division of the Hain Celestial Group, based in Melville, N.Y. “As a child becomes more independent and wants to self-feed, the pouches are the answer. They definitely give the child a little bit of control and confidence.” Earth’s Best provides a full organic line of both pouch—and jar—offerings to support different eating occasions through each stage of a child’s growth.

Plum Organics has capitalized on pouch packaging  as well. Plum’s Morning Mashups, a line of ready-to-eat, no-spoon required pouches, capitalizes blends various fruits and vegetables, whole grain oats, quinoa and Greek yogurt.

Greek yogurt maker Chobani joined the portability craze in January, when its Champions Tubes hit shelves nationwide in four kid-friendly flavors: Slammin’ Strawberry, Rockin’ Blueberry, Swirlin’ Strawberry Banana and Chillin’ Cherry. The 2.25-ounce tubes were created as a portable alternative to the 3.5-ounce Champions cups and are available in packs of eight, the tubes retail for $2.79.

“More often than not, parents can only get their children to eat yogurt from a tube,” says Nicki Briggs, marketing and communications officer for Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani. “Finally parents won’t have to sacrifice nutrition for taste, as each tube is made with real fruit and only natural ingredients.”

In addition to the Champions Tubes, Chobani has introduced other kid-friendly product innovations. The Flip yogurt cups pair Chobani’s authentic strained Greek yogurt with crunchy mix-ins, allowing kids to create their own personal blend. Available in 5.3-ounce cups and six flavor pairings, Chobani Flip cups retail for $1.39, and are currently being distributed throughout the Northeast U.S. Briggs adds that after receiving countless requests from fans, pear and banana yogurts are now available in the original 6-ounce cups.

Via its strong social media presence, Chobani also showcases the versatility of its high-protein, low-fat plain yogurt as a healthy substitute in cooking and baking. A conversion chart is available online to show parents how they can utilize Chobani to cut fat and boost protein in their family’s meals throughout the day.

Parental guidance
Sometimes the roles of parent and manufacturer are interchangeable. For example, Tyler Florence, Food Network celebrity chef and father, is a co-founder of Sprout Baby Food. Sprout’s mission is to partner with parents to help them create healthy food habits for their children, says Geoff Stella, vice president of marketing for Sprout, based in Duluth, Ga.

“This generation of moms is a lot more interested in healthy, organic and natural foods for their children than parents have been in the past,” he says.

Florence created the Spout brand by cooking for his own children and encourages other parents to do so with his cookbook Fresh Start: Your Child’s Jump Start to Lifelong Healthy Eating, which includes the recipes Sprout was built on. Of course, for many parents that is not always a viable option.

“Many consumers prefer to purchase our products in stores, for the portability and convenience—but also for the taste,” says Stella. Sprout offers variety to parents and children by creating products that incorporate key grains such as barley, quinoa and amaranth; with a wide variety of legumes, protein, fruits and vegetables. Stella says Sprout prides itself on its ability to offer a wide-range of vegetable exclusive products for several stages of eating, by using two separate manufacturing systems, hot-fill and retort.

Food-making parents do not have to be celebrities either. Mom Made Foods is exactly that—mom-made. Founded in 2006, officials at Mom Made Foods believe that children deserve to eat the foods they love, but are also good for them. Using USDA-certified organic and antibiotic-free ingredients, the brand provides families with healthy versions of macaroni and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs and other kid-friendly food staples. Mom Made meals also contain an added punch of nutrition with vitamin-rich vegetables such as cauliflower, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Officials for the Alexandria, Va.-based company say one of their most popular product offerings is their Mom Made Munchies. Available in Cheese Pizza, Bean Burrito, Baked Apple Pie, Chicken and Turkey Sausage, the munchies are available in two 2.5-ounce servings per box, and have a suggested retail price of $4.65.

“Mom Made Munchies are a kid-favorite because the kids can pick them up to eat without any help,” says mom and founder Heather Stouffer. “They work well in a lunchbox, as an after-school snack or as a light meal on the go, such as on the way to ballet or soccer practice.”

Family-owned and operated, Better 4U Foods recognizes that pizza is universally likeable. The Delray Beach, Fla.-based company aims to provide families with pizza that can be enjoyed by the whole family, regardless of dietary restrictions. Officials for Better 4U Foods say they are best known for their all-natural, gluten-free frozen pizzas. The traditional gluten-free crust, made with brown rice, buckwheat and olive oil, is now available by itself in the freezer aisle, and will be available as a shelf-stable product in the late spring.

Amy Lotker, executive vice president of marketing and sales for Better 4U Foods, hopes that parents will use the gluten-free crust as a way to involve children in the meal-making process. “We go shopping as a family and everyone can pick out their own healthy, fresh toppings,” says Lotker. “The kids really enjoy getting to make and enjoy their own creations.”

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