While price rises and interest in premium brands is driving value across baby care, many sub-sectors are losing volume

The UK birth rate was up for the seventh consecutive year in 2008, with an average of 1.95 children per woman, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Yet volume sales of babyfood are static and volumes of baby drinks and snacks have both fallen. The one exception is baby milk, where volumes are up 1.8% and value sales have risen 8.1%. This increase seems to have been driven by the success of products that extend the age range baby milk products are aimed at – sales of Cow & Gate Growing Up milk are up by 83.2%, for example.

Within the sub-category there is also a fair amount of jostling for position. Although SMA Gold is still the market leader, its 15.6% share is down from 18.9% in 2008, and the product’s sales value is down 10.6%. All three SMA products in our table lost value year-on-year, while sales of Cow & Gate and Aptamil baby milks were up across every product. Aptamil First sales have risen 31.5%, after an increase of 49.2% last year.

The other sub-sectors within baby care did not fare so well, with volume sales static or declining despite value sales of wet babyfood and snacks rising. However, price rises and shoppers opting for more premium products boosted value sales by 10.2%. While market-leading brand Hipp Organic was down 3% and Heinz jars fell 24.2%, but there was massive value growth from Cow & Gate Baby Balance, Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Baby.

While premium products might not have been expected to flourish during a recession, Alex Kwasny, feedtime buyer at Boots, believes they have benefited from the fact mothers always want the best for their babies. She argues this is shown in the type of launches in the sector.

“Organic ingredients and controlled sugar and salt levels feature heavily in new product launches – and it’s a trend we don’t see diminishing any time soon,” she says.

With health and convenience to the fore, the savoury meal sector accounted for 71% of the growth in wet foods. Ella’s Kitchen savoury pouches – stage 2 was launched late 2008 and stage 3 launched in June 2009 – were responsible for a proportion of the growth, and it is the fastest-growing brand in the wet food sector.

Kwasny is also encouraged by developments in the cook-at-home market. “The baby market has seen exciting new product developments over the past 12 months, particularly within the home cooking product ranges,” she adds.

Heinz was the first leading brand to launch into the babyfood ‘components’ sector when it unveiled Heinz Cook at Home in 2007, and the range has shown strong growth, with sales up 53.4% year-on-year.

“The components range has brought new mums into the category,” says Laura Groves, marketing manager, infant feeding, at Heinz. “Cooking meals from scratch and eating around the table as a family has become more important.”

Boots has also launched an own-label range to tap into the popularity of cook-at-home products.

Also seeing strong value growth is the nascent baby snacks market. Sales are up 12.9% – more than the wet food category  – but volume is down 0.5%. The sector is now dominated by organic products, including biscuits and dried fruits as well as rusks and rice cakes.

Organix, with the top two brands in the sector – Goodies and Finger Foods – is a clear category leader with 61.6% of the total snacks market. Organix Goodies, which includes more than 20 products, continues to be the bestselling range, with value up 23.3% over the past 12 months following similar growth the previous year. Heinz Biscotti continues to grow, up 18.1% after a 50% increase in 2008.

Juice is the only sector to drop in overall value year-on-year, down 2.5%, and volume has dropped 4.3%. Notably bucking the trend is Hipp Organic’s drinks, which rose 12.5% in value.

It would seem the whole category could do with taking a leaf out of the baby milk book and expand the appeal of baby juices  if they are to halt the volume decline.

Top launch: Organix Savoury Meals Organix Brands
With babyfoods increasingly moving away from nursery flavours, these savoury meals from trend. The range includes organic spinach & organic pasta with aubergine & red pepper.

They adventure to help expand a baby’s palate”, says Anna Rosier, who says the range can help to children to make the shift to adult foods.

Top Products Survey 2009