By Carol Radice
An infusion of products—beyond diapers—is helping to keep the baby care category young. The declining birth rate has put a damper on diaper sales. However innovation in other areas by baby care manufacturers keep sales in the category strong. While consumers are expected to continue buying a range of baby care items, industry observers say the bulk of interest in 2014 will flow from the infusion of natural and organic options available, as well as from private label. Many suppliers say plans to introduce new items throughout the first and second quarters should also go a long way in keeping momentum strong for the $5.75 billion category. From diapers and wipes to pain relief, easing cold symptoms and skin care, natural and organic options abound for today’s parents. To fully capture the opportunity suppliers say grocers will need to step up their efforts. That means dedicating the space and assortment required to be thought of as a true destination for baby care. Most agree that baby care remains a significantly under developed channel in grocery. Les Hamilton, executive vice president for Hyland’s, based in Los Angeles, says grocers have a fantastic opportunity to provide a broader range of over-the-counter health solutions for their shoppers, including more natural baby care choices. Hyland’s offers a number of homeopathic options aimed at babies to address symptoms associated with teething, cold/cough, colic, earaches and diaper rash. BabySpa is best known for its stages approach in addressing specific skin care needs of babies as they grow. Karina Medoni, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the Coral Gables, Fla.-based company, says the stages approach in other baby segments such as diapers and baby food was effective so it only made sense to offer the same strategy with bath and body care for growing babies. “Moms are used to the stages approach because they have been buying baby products that way for years. It is a seamless transition and an engaging concept for them to grasp,” says Medoni. She adds that depending on the age of the child, skin needs change in terms of the level of nourishment, protection and hydration they need. To create its product line, company officials met with botanical experts to seek out natural, organic and effective ingredients that are Ecocert—an organic inspection and certification body—certified. “We partnered with the highest quality Swiss labs and cosmetic manufacturers to help us develop our smooth and silky textures, signature fresh scents and eco-friendly products with therapeutic ethnobotanicals that promote healthy skin,” says Medoni. To keep babies’ skin healthy, most parents are diligent as to what touches it—and nothing touches it more than wipes. Observers say a third of all households use wipes with the primary users being expectant moms and households with children under the age of five years old. One of the leading companies in this segment, Nice-Pak, produces wet wipes under its own brands as well as retailer brands in multiple categories including baby/toddler. Officials for the Orangeburg, N.Y.-based company say their passion for building categories and helping to improve people’s health and wellness are the keys to their success and industry leadership. The fact that mom wants the best quality baby wipe every time she shops at her favorite store has also played a key role in the company’s longevity in the wipes category. Thomas Hernquist, president of Nice-Pak Products, says the company’s primary role as a supplier partner is to provide the latest technologies, formulas, fibers and packaging that meet the growing demand for wipes unique to each retailer’s demographic. “At Nice-Pak, rather than just following the national brands, as some private label companies do, our objective is to revolutionize the category and offer retailers a comprehensive product portfolio, what we call a ‘total wipe solution,’” says Hernquist. He says Nice-Pak’s “total wipe solution” provides fact-based solutions, customized customer marketing plans, world-class R&D and manufacturing excellence. “Our baby wipes are soft, strong, hypo-allergenic, feature aloe and vitamin E, come in scented, unscented or sensitive skin and are alcohol free,” says Hernquist, adding that the baby wipes come in a number of convenient packaging choices. “Where ever mom goes, we have a product that will fit her needs.” Alcohol-free is not only important in baby wipes, but in cough/cold relief as well. Similasan Kids Cough & Fever Relief natural cough syrup was introduced as a dye-free, alcohol-free alternative for kids. Officials for the Highland’s Ranch, Colo.-based company say it gently relieves a range of symptoms including dry hacking cough, hoarse throat, fever, nasal congestion and minor throat irritation. The company also offers a number of other children-specific products including Kids Irritated Eye Relief natural eye drops, Kids Ear Relief natural eardrops and Kids Allergy Eye Relief natural eye drops. Similasan also offers Kids Cold & Mucus Relief and Kids Cough & Fever Relief. Both products are made with 100% natural active ingredients to temporarily relieve symptoms, instead of masking them. Officials say that each syrup helps support the body’s own natural defenses by targeting the root cause of each symptom and that the products were specifically designed for children who are too young for traditional over-the-counter medications. “The demand for natural options across a range of categories has been trending for some time now,” says Haley Ball, product manager for Similasan. “Consumers are hearing about the recalls surrounding the ingredients typically found in traditional products and are asking for more natural product choices. This is especially true in the cough/cold category.” With so many products designed to treat a myriad of ailments, getting baby care products to standout on shelf can be difficult. To promote its stage philosophy, BabySpa created clearly marked packaging that calls out the stage rather than age. “In grocery, the typical mom looks in the baby care section first to see what’s new. POP and shelf-talkers are effective ways to highlight natural products as an integrated set within the aisle,” says Medoni. “As a supplier partner we are always available to help retailers with this and support them in any way we can. We understand the need to support the product and will work with retailers to create an intro promotion, offer demos and to customize a value-ad program.” The company is also active in promoting its products via consumer channels such as blogging and magazines geared toward moms. In addition, Medoni says they are driving product demand around specific retail locations through geo-targeted manufacturer couponing, which has proven effective in attracting new customers. BabySpa has introduced several new products in recent months including biodegradable wipes in which both the wipe and the packaging are compostable. The wipes are infused with organic calendula, chamomile and aloe. The suggested price on the 72-pack is $4.99. The company also came out with a Calming Eczema Relief Cream. The product features colloidal oatmeal, oils of jojoba and calendula, shea butter, aloe and chamomile. The mild and fragrance-free formula also contains exclusive botanical extracts, to nourish and heal eczema-prone skin. “It goes beyond relieving the itching and helps repair skin,” says Medoni. In early 2014, the company will be introducing several products including an alcohol-free cologne, a natural sunscreen and a DEET-free herbal insect repellent in two different forms, a spray and a roll-on version for controlled coverage. “Our focus is not only on generating excitement in the category, it is coming up with products that meet consumer need and demand,” says Medoni. The question for retailers is where to best merchandise these products. For Hyland’s, Hamilton says its naturally-oriented baby care products sell best when placed in the traditional baby care aisle versus the natural section. He says the sales history backs this up as company officials have tested their products in multiple locations and have found when homeopathic medicines are placed in natural or organic sections they are often overlooked. He adds that shoppers first go to the section of the store where they expect to find all their options for baby care. Once in that section, parents want to see all their options whether it is traditional, natural or homeopathic products and after considering the needs of the family make a choice. As awareness surrounding homeopathic products continues to grow homeopathic suppliers find merchandising natural and homeopathic products adjacent to similar allopathic products is often a good solution. This approach, says Similasan’s Ball, allows consumers to view all their choices in one place and decide which type of product best fits their needs. Considering the learning curve sometimes needed to understand homeopathy, Similasan focuses its efforts on educating both the retailer and consumer on the role homeopathic products can play in boosting the immune system while offering temporary symptomatic relief rather than masking symptoms. The company has designed www.SimilasanNaturalRemedies.com to be a portal of information about homeopathy and the types of products they offer. “We created this website to show consumers that by engaging the body’s natural defenses they can target the root cause instead of masking symptoms,” says Ball. Additionally, the website includes a list of widely used ingredients and a glossary of popular homeopathic terms so consumers can educate and familiarize himself or herself with the nuances of the category.