Imaginative, entrepreneurial players such as Ella's Kitchen, Plum and Organix have hit the market with strong NPD chiming with modern-day parents.
The latest rankings suggest the reformulating and rebranding have worked. After recording sales up 34.6% last year, Cow & Gate Baby Balance consolidated its recovery with growth of 6.9% this year, aided by new Cow & Gate Steamers in July. This range for older babies is the latest attempt to convince mums to stay longer in babyfood and is already outselling the brand's previous effort by 100%. Cow & Gate now replaces Hipp at the top of our table. "Our success comes from a real understanding of what mums want for babies," says marketing controller Jeff Rothman.
Heinz Mum's Own range meanwhile is up 25.8% on the back of a 4.5% increase last year, due to a bigger marketing effort spearheaded by two new websites.
These strong performances are all the more impressive given that overall volumes in wet babyfoods have remained fairly static, with a small increase of 0.2% in 2010 following flat sales in 2009. By contrast, Hipp Organic's fall from grace (sales for the core range were down 18.9%, while sales of its Growing Up Meals fell 11.2%) looks at face value to be part of a wider industry trend away from organic. But closer examination of rival organic and premium players shows this market is a lot more resilient to a challenging economy than you might imagine: Ella's Kitchen continued its astonishing growth, with a flurry of pouch-based NPD, including a kids' snacks range, organic cooking sauces, pasta and rice, and extensions to its stage 1, 2 and 3 products, pushing sales up by 73.5% following last year's 174% rise.
It's not all about pouches, though. Organix went the other way, launching into jars in 2010, and saw sales of its wet baby food grow by a hearty 34.3%. This took the brand up two spots to seventh place. Plum sales are up 6.9%, aided by launches in savoury pouches, cook-in sauces and stage 4 wet pots.
Another sub-category in rude health is baby milk. Though behind last year's 8.1%, the 5.5% uptick across the largest babyfood sub-category was down to another strong performance from a number of Aptamil and Cow & Gate products. Both brands are enjoying faster growth in ready-to-use liquids than powder, boosting both value and volume sales.
Conversely, the three SMA brands all lost value and for the second consecutive year. While SMA First Infant Milk (formerly SMA Gold) remains market leader, Aptamil First with growth of 26.8% year-on-year has closed the gap to £3m compared with £16m last year.
The other trend of late has been to extend sales of formula milk through development of products for older and hungrier babies, and though follow-on milk continues to do well, 'hungrier' sales are falling for Cow & Gate and SMA.
Another sub-category that has seen big change in recent years is baby snacks. Where once it would have been dominated by staples such as 'rusks', today the market features a number of premium organic products, demonstrating the appeal of convenient, healthy and natural options. Indeed, only the organic products in the top five in this list achieved sales growth and, while overall volumes are down slightly at 0.7%, premium innovation is helping increase value sales, which are up 9% to £42.6m.
Despite strong launches in baby snacks by Ella and Plum, the market is still dominated by Organix. Its Goodies range accounts for almost half the value in the sub-category, though 9.6% growth, well below last year's 23.3%, is a shade better than the 9% growth across the category. The Heinz brands, meanwhile, disappointed.
Sales and volumes in juice are again down, falling 1.1% and 8.3% respectively year-on-year. There has been little innovation or activity in this sector, one exception being Heinz's June relaunch of Baby Dilute juices. Is the long-term decline the result of increased focus on milk, including breast milk? Perhaps.
But consumers are also switching to the new smoothie-related drinks from Innocent (with Fruit Tubes), Ella's Kitchen, Organix, Plum, Cow & Gate and Boots. It looks like the multinationals still have some work to do.
Launch of the Year: Plum Savoury Snacks (Plum)
Forget the outdated view of babyfood as liquidised gunk. As the trend for giving babies an early experience of adult flavours continues, Plum has produced a sophisticated range of organic, nutritious savoury snacks, using heritage grains.
The range includes Tomato & Herb and Mild Pecorino flavour Spelt Breadsticks, Parmesan and Carrot Savoury Bakes and Gouda & Cheddar and Tomato Multi-grain rings.
Intended to "relieve parents' guilt at giving their children snacks," says Plum chief executive Paul Kaye, the new products stay true to his mantra of "creating real food for babies".
Top Products Survey 2010