Baby… and beyond

A diversified baby care aisle can win important and influential shoppers—moms.

There is an old saying among actors: “never work with babies or animals.” Avoiding the cute and cuddly may be solid advice in Hollywood, not so much for retailers.  BathfulBaby_St1_1500X1500

Since the recession began, one of the most reliable areas in the supermarket has been baby care. While the category may not enjoy significant sales spikes, it does not suffer sharp decreases either—and sales are significant.

According to IRI, the diapers category alone, far and away the largest segment in baby care, reached almost $5 billion in sales for the 52-week period ended April 20, nearly  $1 billion came from supermarkets. Both figures are relatively flat compared to last year. Baby wipes on the other hand, the second largest segment, were up 3.7% in all outlets for the tracked period, with $1.1 billion in sales.

Some industry observers say the declining U.S. birth rate, combined with the limited usage time—a child is only in diapers until about three years of age—has had an affect on diaper sales.
Savvy baby wipe marketers, on the other hand, have fought the potential decline by extending usage occasions for wipes. “While birth rates have declined over the past few years, the use of baby wipes for non-diapering households has continued to increase,” says Cathie Petak, senior product manager for Rockline

Industries. “Baby wipes are positioned for hands and face use in addition to being convenient for on-the-go families.”

Companies like the Sheboygan, Wis.-based Rockline have moved to packaging that is designed to not limit usage. “From the package itself, with its easy-to-use flip lids to the actual color patterns of the brand design, packaging has improved,” says Petak. “Many families start using baby wipes when children are in diapers and then continue with expanded use of them when the child is out of diapers.”

Experienced mothers have also learned that baby wipe usage often goes beyond being exclusive for children. Observers say consumers have identified many other ways to use baby wipes including for general purpose cleanups, in and on automobiles, to remove make-up and to remove stains from carpets.

“The use of baby wipes is learned by new mothers,” says Mike Fitzgerald, vice president of sales and marketing for Albaad USA, based in Reidsville, N.C. “New first time mothers use the majority of wipes on the baby during changing times. Experienced mothers, with two or more children use less than half of the baby wipes on the baby during changing times. The baby wipes are really the category that spawned the variety of wipe categories we enjoy today.”

The newest addition to the Albaad USA line is Baby Oil Wipes. The wipes are designed to be used in conjunction with traditional baby wipes, which initially clean the baby’s skin, then the baby oil wipes condition the skin.

Fitzgerald says the baby oil wipes provide a more even spreading of baby oil formula on the skin and easier transportation of the oil formulation. The wipe format versus a bottle also means there is a less chance of oil leakage. He adds that like baby oil and traditional baby wipes, baby oil wipes can be used in a number of different ways and by more than babies including as an after shower moisturizer for adults and as a make-up remover.

Even with the added usage occasions retailers are not likely to merchandise baby wipes anywhere but the baby aisle. With the limited space most grocers dedicate to the category as it is, finding the right assortment—for wipes as well as other baby care products—can be daunting.

Observers say trusted national brands will likely continue to occupy a good portion of shelf space. However, an opportunity exists for prestige, store brand wipes to lead to building shopper loyalty—and retailers do not need to be reminded how valuable a satisfied parent is.

“Even though shoppers are increasingly more willing to switch brands and try alternative products, core and vocal consumers can be the biggest brand advocates,” says Moto Okawa, marketing manager for Diamond Wipes International, based in Chino, Calif.

“It is important for store brands to build and maintain meaningful social interactions with their core shoppers. Supermarket brands are no longer these faceless generic alternatives.”

Especially in the baby care aisle, the shopper is obviously skewing much younger—think Millennials—and retailers must adapt to them. Okawa says beyond offering the essentials, “any product, new or old, that can be incorporated into an ever-increasing mobile lifestyle will win the hearts of Millennial, and younger, parents. Let the technology be part of their product experience.”

Along with technology come better-educated consumers. There is perhaps no better-educated shopper in the store than parents of young children. Observers say grocers need to listen to them when it comes time to stock their shelves.

“There are so many more people out there that are educated right now,” says Karina Medoni, executive vice president of sales and marketing for BabySpa, based in Coral Gables, Fla. “They are researching things online, they are looking for certain types of products.”

While diapers and wipes are core products in the baby care aisle, parents also looking for other items, such as skin care. BabySpa caters specifically to these needs. Not only does BabySpa cater to just skin, it does it differently from most of its competitors—in stages.

“Moms are already used to stages,” says Medoni. “Food is in stages, diapers are in stages, the thing that is not, and should be, is skin care. A newborn’s skin has very different needs from a toddler’s.”

BabySpa’s Stage One collection is formulated to naturally care for extra sensitive skin in newborns through crawlers. The Stage Two collection, for walkers through pre-schoolers, meets the needs of children that spend more time outdoors and provides nourishment as well as a protective element, says Medoni.

Products in the stages include: shampoo, 3-in-1 tearless shampoo, moisturizing body lotion, bubble bath milk, body wash, massage oil, soothing face cream, diaper cream, eczema cream and wipes.

Medoni says skin care is a segment of the baby care category that grocers can really capitalize on.

“Everybody knows diapers exist and are on shelf, so retailers don’t need to highlight them as much,” she says. “Ours is a category that can be highlighted and grown and retailers that do so are going to look unique because nobody else is highlighting it. It will give them an edge, and it is something that already exists, so it doesn’t take much effort.”

In June, BabySpa started a new initiative in which all of its products come with a sachet hangtag of a different item to help increase trial and purchase. Additionally, Medoni says BabySpa’s products have price points that offer high margin opportunities for grocers. She says this provides retailers the abililty to be flexible in their pricing, which can help contribute to increased sales and profitability.

“As a brand we understand that grocers, as well as consumers, are looking for added value,” Medoni adds. “We are very willing to work with grocers on things such as dollar-off temp pricing, promotions, reductions and in-store circulars. We are giving grocers the opportunity to make money, we just need them to pay more attention to skin care.”

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