Talking Shop with… Jeff Boutelle
By Grocery Headquarters Staff
Jeff Boutelle, president and CEO of Beech-Nut Nutrition, says moms are showing renewed interest in the baby food category. Tell us about Beech-Nut and the company’s status in the marketplace. Jeff Boutelle: Beech-Nut is a small company in upstate New York that is passionate about making great food for babies. Moms have trusted us since 1931, when we began our baby food production, and we are now the No. 2 leading baby food brand in the country. Our new line signals a shift in the category: it is closest to homemade—and we use only the highest quality of fruits and vegetables to make parents’ and babies’ lives healthier and easier. We are not only excited about our new line, we are excited about the new Beech-Nut. Talk about the baby food category. What is driving sales? Moms are leaving the baby food category because their needs are not being met. More moms have started making their own baby food at home and as a result, sales in this category have declined. In fact, there has been a 30% decline in the number of ounces of baby food per baby sold since 2005. We now know that this is mostly because moms were moving to homemade. Innovations, like pouches, which sell at a higher price point than the jarred baby foods, also masked the decline in ounces of baby food per baby sold. Beech-Nut is targeting consumers who are making homemade baby food. How are you bringing them back to your brand? We visited moms in their kitchens and learned about how they were feeding their babies and how we could help. Moms do not want to feed their children anything they would not eat themselves, and we do not blame them. We developed a new line of products unlike anything else on the market, using our unique Just Gentle cooking method. This technique ensures that we are producing the highest quality food for babies using the freshest ingredients that are closest to homemade. Traditional baby food is often overcooked and runny, because unnecessary water is added during conventional baby food processing. We use fresh and frozen vegetables, just like moms use at home. Our Just Gentle cooking method does not add any excess water or preservatives and will not cook the nutrients away. We created a wide variety of flavors and ingredients for moms to choose from, like pomegranate, avocado, quinoa, beets, aronia berry and more. We select only the highest quality varieties of fruits and vegetables, like Honeycrisp apples, Bartlett pears, Hass avocados, Kent mangos and Marion blackberries. With our clear jar design, what moms see is what they get: wholesome, delicious, homemade-inspired food. How have retailers responded to your initiatives? Retailers have responded positively to our initiative. In fact, several retailers have maximized the opportunity by offering all 40 of the new flavors—using unique flavor combinations and specialty varieties to attract shoppers. Many retailers are placing Beech-Nut at eye level and using its fresh and vibrant shelf presence to break through and attract shoppers. We recommend promoting availability early. Moms are incredibly active on social media, asking where they can find the new Beech-Nut. Some retailers have started to join the conversation by announcing that this new product line can be found in their stores. How does cross merchandising play a role? There are opportunities to cross merchandize the new Beech-Nut products to maximize sales with moms who are making their baby food at home. There is a significant population of these moms, too. We know that 70% of moms are making some of their baby food homemade. Retailers could maximize cross merchandising by displaying the product outside of the baby food aisle, like the produce section, as a creative way to attract the moms who are buying fruits and vegetables to make homemade purees. Talk about the future of the baby food category. We believe that this is just the beginning of bringing moms back to a declining category. Research tells us that the two most common reasons to make homemade baby food are that moms feel more confident that their child is getting fresh and more natural ingredients, and they know exactly what they are feeding their child. If we can show moms that Beech-Nut provides natural, simple foods for their babies, then we may have a new generation of moms heading back down that aisle again.