A few weeks ago I went to visit two of my friends from college who are now married with a young daughter. I’ve known them both for many years and one of our shared passions has always been food and cooking. Obviously since having a kid, many things in their life have changed and their apartment has been taken over by baby-phanalia. But, looking around their living room with its mini chrome “play kitchen” (including play fruit and vegetables and pots/pans) and an entire bookshelf dedicated to baby food cookbooks, I could see that their love of food has stayed the same.
The baby food industry has been steadily profitable because, well, people will always have babies. But it’s an industry that’s seen tremendous innovation and growth because of parents’ demands for increased convenience and desire for healthy ingredients. Several years ago Beech-Nut Nutrition, producer of packaged baby food, led a market research study that found that homemade purees (baby food made in people’s own kitchens) accounted for one third of total baby food consumed. Their explanation, according to this NYTimes article, was that baby food available for purchase in grocery stores wasn’t fulfilling parents’ needs so they were taking to making their own. And a recent market analyst by Technavio found that “...there is growing anxiety about the safety of the products consumers use, more so the food they consume. A preference for organic baby products stems from a concern for health and general well-being.” In response to these findings, Beech-Nut revamped their entire line of products to include organic purees and exotic ingredients such as pomegranate and quinoa. As a result of the shift towards organic, wholesome baby products, several new organic-based baby food lines also popped up in the market including Sprout, Ella’s Kitchen, and Plum Organics.
Packaging has also been a huge innovation in the baby food market. Pouches were introduced in the 2000s and have been the biggest driver in increased sales. Quality-wise, the food isn't really that different from the traditional jars but parents love them for the convenience factor. Think about how much easier it is to throw a little plastic pouch in your bag versus a glass jar. And no spoon is needed!
But updated packaging plus organic ingredients equals more expensive so some parents still prefer to create their own at home. And as more and more parents are making their own baby food, several companies have capitalized on this trend by inventing all-in-one baby food machines. Machines like Baby Bullet and Baby Brezza are marketed specifically to new parents and promise to steam/cook and puree ingredients in a minimal amount of time.
I’ve also noticed a really strong preference among my friends who are parents to raise “adventurous eaters.” As a result, parents are trying to introduce exotic flavors to their children when they’re very young. If you look the hundreds of baby food cookbooks, many try to go beyond the standard carrot and apple purees by incorporating unusual fruits or vegetables and several spices. My personal favorite I’ve seen is Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste, which includes recipes for items such as pumpkin and thyme puree and apple, mint, and ricotta puree.
With increasing concerns about farming and produce and our general obsession with food, it’s no surprise that the global baby food market is forecasted to surpass $82 billion by 2022 and see tremendous growth in new products and packaging. I’m constantly shocked by the amount of stuff marketed to new parents and babies but with this predicted revenue growth, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see companies come up with new ways to appeal to new parents’ tastes. Perhaps soon you’ll visit your local grocery store and see an entire line of celebrity-chef inspired purees? Or maybe even a Blue Apron delivery service dedicated to cooking your own baby food?