Baby food used to have an image as stable — and bland — as a jar of strained peas. And its target market was limited to, well… babies.
Old-school glass jars of applesauce are still around, but these days they share shelf space in the baby food aisle with curious (and often organic) combinations like zucchini, banana and amaranth (it’s a grain) packed in brightly colored pouches intended to be squished and slurped by consumers with little — and not so little — hands.
“What we try to do is engage them, stimulate all of their senses,” says Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen baby food, a pioneer in the use of pouch-style packaging. “Not just their taste sense, not just putting a spoon in their mouth or a pouch into their mouth … but to try to stimulate all their other senses.”
Welcome to the world of premium baby foods, part of a $1.5 billion industry that’s no longer just about babies. Babies don’t generally care much about food packaging. But toddlers, older children and convenience-driven parents do.
Pouches have allowed baby food makers to broaden the appeal of their products beyond the traditional baby food years. Maureen Putman, chief marketing officer for the Hain Celestial Group, maker of organic brand Earth’s Best, says pouches have helped fuel 11 percent growth at Earth’s Best even as the U.S. birth rate declines.
“It’s allowing us to age up. Where moms may have stopped baby food at 9 to 12 months, the pouches have really helped extend the shelf life of baby food,” she says. “We see growth for a long time to come.”
Parents like Lindsey Carl, of Clarksville, Tenn., make the case, saying pouches are a less messy way to feed her 22-month-old daughter and 10-month-old son simultaneously. “They don’t require a spoon, which makes on-the-go easy,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about bringing a spoon: ‘Where do I wash the spoon? Where do I put the spoon?’”
And the premium baby food world is an increasingly crowded one, with other major players including Plum Organics, Sprout, the organic baby food company founded by Food Network star Tyler Florence, and even long established baby food maker Gerber.
“We’re excited about pouches and we’re the No. 1 in the segment and we want to continue to grow it,” said Aileen Stocks, Gerber’s head of integrated marketing.