Moms feeding babies more private labels

Articles
July 17, 2009

Moms feeding babies more private labels

Are moms unwittingly feeding their babies into a future of fat and sugar desires, by failing to read baby food labels carefully and buying brands with high levels of these ingredients? Even if they didn't set their babies on a path of sweet, plump adolescence, it's a safe bet that moms don't want them eating foods considered to be nutritionally worse than cheeseburgers and chocolate biscuits. Yet that's what is happening in the United Kingdom, according to a study undertaken by Sustain, a better food and farming alliance funded by the British Heart Foundation. Its examination of 107 different foods marketed for babies and toddlers in the UK this spring found they contained as much as 29% sugar by gram weight, and also had trans fats if they included partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Moreover, only half of the products surveyed were low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, as defined by the government's Food Standards Agency. Calling the survey results "staggering," Christine Haigh, joint coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign coordinated by Sustain, said, "many foods marketed for babies and young children are often advertised as 'healthy.' In terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food....Failing to correctly label products that contain dangerous trans fats is outrageous."

Are moms unwittingly feeding their babies into a future of fat and sugar desires, by failing to read baby food labels carefully and buying brands with high levels of these ingredients? Even if they didn't set their babies on a path of sweet, plump adolescence, it's a safe bet that moms don't want them eating foods considered to be nutritionally worse than cheeseburgers and chocolate biscuits.

Yet that's what is happening in the United Kingdom, according to a study undertaken by Sustain, a better food and farming alliance funded by the British Heart Foundation. Its examination of 107 different foods marketed for babies and toddlers in the UK this spring found they contained as much as 29% sugar by gram weight, and also had trans fats if they included partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Moreover, only half of the products surveyed were low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, as defined by the government's Food Standards Agency.

Calling the survey results "staggering," Christine Haigh, joint coordinator of the Children's Food Campaign coordinated by Sustain, said, "many foods marketed for babies and young children are often advertised as 'healthy.' In terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food....Failing to correctly label products that contain dangerous trans fats is outrageous."

Given our pronounced battles with obesity and diabetes in the United States, were similar occurrences to arise here, the category that supermarkets consider a gateway to winning over young families could possibly come under tighter regulatory controls and consumer scrutiny. Chains that vet their assortments for nutrition and make that known could conceivably differentiate themselves and sign up more Baby Club members.

Even before this research came out, the baby food category was waddling ahead slowly, showed Nielsen data for the U.S. food, drug and mass merchandiser stores (including Walmart) in the 52 weeks ended April 18, 2009. Modest results posted, despite the record 4.3 million births in the U.S. in 2007. Why? Perhaps moms are cranking up their food processors to nourish their babies with foods they know the ingredients of, while saving money.

Another possible reason is the stumble of name-brand sales, while private label baby foods soared. Total baby food dollar sales in these channels were up 1.1% to $4.86 billion, following a 1.2% decline in the previous 12 months. Branded products accounted for 96.2% of the sales, down from a 97.1% share the year before, the data showed.

PL's share jump came from a 31.9% leap in dollar sales to $183.8 million, a high rebound off of its 12.5% decline in the prior year, according to Nielsen.

The story is the same in every segment: cereal & biscuits, junior, strained, juice, milk and milk flavoring all showed far higher percentage gains for PL (albeit on a far smaller base). In cereal & biscuits, dollar sales of brands grew by 18.2% vs. 59.2% for PL; in junior, a 0.6% decline by brands was countered by a 22.8% rise in PL; in strained, a 2.3% slip by brands compared with a 124.4% gain in PL; in juice, brands slid by 4.9% while PL grew by 3.0%; in milk and milk flavorings, a 0.8% dip by brands compared with a 26.0% rise in PL.

On an equivalized unit volume basis (16 oz.), brand volumes were all negative for the year, while PL volumes were all positive, the data showed.