Clearly, more vendors think that “better for the consumer” is better for their products. Yet, understanding just what consumers mean by better is important.
In baby food, organic is critical. According to the Nielsen Co., baby food dollar sales increased by 4.4 percent in the 52 weeks ended Dec. 29, 2007, at food, drug and mass merchants in the United States, excluding Wal-Mart, while organic baby food sales gained 38 percent. Organics may only represent around 4 percent of total category sales, but that’s up from 2 percent in 2004.
TRIMMING THE FAT … AND THEN SOME
Organics are the hot topic, but, truth be told, products proclaiming that they provide less fat have a greater appreciation among consumers.
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Some segments are enjoying torrid growth. Organic baby cereal and biscuits were up 117 percent in the year ended Dec. 29, 2007, while sales of organic junior baby food were up 124 percent and organic strained baby foods were up a more reasonable, but still impressive, 14 percent after four previous years of double-digit growth. In contrast, sales of baby foods that are characterized as natural actually slipped.
Wellness trends in snacks involve a different set of factors. According to Nielsen Label Trends, only 1.7 percent of snack items made an organic claim in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, 2007, but 34.9 percent made a fat claim. And not just any old claim; rather, 26.3 percent of snacks made a claim about a specific fat at a time when trans fats were under assault. In contrast, only 3.4 percent of snacks simply claimed to be lowfat in the general sense.
How products making specific claims fared in the marketplace is a way of gauging consumer reaction. Probiotic products enjoyed a 141 percent sales gain for the 52 weeks ended July 14, 2007. Still, total sales were only $282 million. It turns out that the category enjoying the second-highest one-year gain was “absence of a specific fat,” up 38 percent, to total sales of $7.9 billion.
Yet, the proportion of products making organic claims last year gained faster than any other category designated by Nielsen. Organic claims went up 26 percent with hormone/antibiotic-free claims growing almost as fast at 25 percent, with a big drop-off to the next quickest, whole grain, advancing 9 percent.
Only caffeine-free declined as a claim, down 3 percent last year, although, given recent publicity about studies showing negative health effects, that might change. The categories with the smallest positive growth were the preservative-free or salt/sodium claims, both up 2 percent.
So, wellness is a tricky issue. That which grows fastest doesn’t necessarily grow the most in dollar terms. Still, in some product categories, not staying in touch with trends could drive away many, and perhaps most, customers.
Certainly, vendors are reacting. Adam & Eve, for instance, recently announced that it has expanded its popular Sesame Street juice box line by adding 100 percent organic produce in three varieties. The organic baby juice segment increased by 112.3 percent last year, a nice pace even if a bit slow compared with the 378 percent pace set by the organic baby milk and milk-flavoring segment. Organic baby juice is only a $2.6 million segment at Nielsen stores and organic baby milk and milk flavoring just $17.4 million, but look for new products in those areas, and a passel of receptive consumers.