The largest hit in baby meals in decades is in trouble.
Pouches of puréed fruits and vegetables have dominated development in the baby-food aisle over the past decade due to their convenience. The growth has ended.
Sales of baby-food pouches have been flat last yr and dropped 0.8% in the year through Nov. 3, based on information from market-research firms Spins and IRI. Overall, baby-food sales in the U.S. rose 2.4% to $1.64 billion in that period.
Corporations that banked on pouches are under pressure to rethink the packaging in light of some doctors’ concerns, environmental impacts and the most recent trends in baby meals.
Natalie Pollard stated she and her husband relied on pouches with her first son. However they struggled to get him excited about solid foods later, so that they avoided pouches with their second baby.
“It made our first son much less open-minded to the textures and tastes of actual meals,” she stated. “Our second son is a better eater, and I wish I didn’t do pouches with my first one.”
Plum Organics, now owned by Campbell Soup Co. pioneered the pouches in 2008 as a much less messy approach for babies to feed themselves. Pouches helped increase sales when baby-food makers were struggling with lower birthrates and a trend towards making purées from scratch. They also gave manufacturers greater profit margins than traditional baby meals.
But over the past yr, anecdotal evidence and related research have led to a backlash from some pediatric feeding specialists and speech pathologists. They are saying that sucking meals from pouches can inhibit babies’ oral growth and result in poor eating habits.
“I’ve seen many babies who’ve trouble progressing to finger meals because the parents relied on pouches for too long,” stated Natalia Stasenko, a pediatric dietitian. “It’s most likely fine to use pouches from time to time. However we now see that their use is by far too excessive.”
Some parents also take concern with the fact that pouches aren’t easily recyclable, are typically twice as expensive as jars, and the first ingredient is usually fruit—which means extra sugar. Meanwhile, more individuals are jumping straight to whole meals for their babies, skipping purées altogether.
While the growth has stalled, baby-food pouches still make up about a quarter of infant and toddler-food sales, based on market-research company Nielsen.
Pediatric feeding specialists and companies say there’s insufficient research on the developmental risks of eating from pouches. There’s currently a study in New Zealand looking at the potential affect pouches have on children’s tooth and overeating. A research in Birmingham, U.K., that started in the 1990s discovered that kids who ate only purées till they were 9 months old had long-term feeding issues, such as eating fewer vegetables at seven years old.
Some makers of baby meals encourage parents on their websites or packaging not to let their babies suck on pouches. “Squeeze into a bowl or onto a spoon,” the packaging on Gerber’s infant pouches reads. Gerber is owned by Nestlé SA.
“We suggest children don’t suck on the pouch,” stated Meghan Rowe, who co-founded the White Leaf Provisions baby-food firm. “But it’s not that huge of a deal to suck on pouch as long as they aren’t exclusively doing that.”
Beech-Nut, owned by Hero Group, says it advises parents to start out with its glass jars rather than pouches. It is also considering putting instructions online to spoon-feed babies, however there isn’t room for that on the pouches themselves, stated Ximena Acosta-Molina, Beech-Nut’s director of brand management.
Responding to the developmental concerns associated with pouches, some companies are offering baby meals in cups and jars. Danone SA Happy Baby, one of the largest pouch brands, introduced jars last year.
“We can all say that the pouches can be spoon-fed to younger babies, however in reality, that’s not how they are getting used,” Happy Baby Chief Executive Anne Laraway stated in an interview.
Once Upon a Farm, a refrigerated baby meals that made its debut with pouches in 2015, added cups earlier this year, saying babies under 9 months old are too young to eat from pouches.
Lil’ Gourmets, a startup in Chicago, introduced its baby meals in cups rather than pouches last year because founder Shibani Baluja stated she noticed too many downsides to pouches.
“When kids are sucking it down, they aren’t really tasting the flavor,” she stated.
The German Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine advises that babies and young kids not eat directly from pouches, saying they may delay or hinder learning to eat from a spoon or learning to eat finger meals, amongst other issues.
In Europe, baby-food makers are selling disposable spoons with pouches to encourage parents to dish out their contents.
In the U.S., many corporations say they’ve been extra focused on a shift to organic ingredients and making pouches recyclable, rather than eliminating them. Nestlé stated preliminary findings from its 2016 research on feeding infants and toddlers indicate that only a “very small percentage” of children eat more than one pouch a day.
“We want babies to practice chewing and swallowing,” stated pediatric feeding specialist Melanie Potock. “But parents love the convenience of pouches.”
Kimberly De la Garza, a 30-year-old mom in Dallas, stated she likes that pouches make much less of a mess than scooping meals out of a jar and spooning it to her two kids. Her kids love them, too.
“My two year-old just says, ‘Pouch? Pouch?’ over and over again. She can’t get enough,” Ms. De la Garza stated.