Moms’ top 3 wish list for kids: A strong immune system, a healthy diet, quality sleep. That was the finding of the DSM Global Kids Usage and Attitude Study, which surveyed more than 7,400 mothers of children ages 4 to 12 to determine parents’ top health interests for their little ones (1). As the study revealed, many moms are dealing with picky eaters, and trying to complement their kids’ meals with fortified food and beverages or opting for supplements to boost nutrients missing from the diet. Globally, says John Quilter, VP/GM of ProActive Health—Kerry, 83% of consumers say their product choice is always influenced by how it will affect their child’s health (2).

Making the healthy choice isn’t always easy, though. “For a lot of parents,” says Ari Raz, co-founder and president of Once Upon a Farm, “understanding which natural food products actually provide good nutrition to their kids can be a daunting task...I’m sure a lot of parents prioritize giving their kids food they will actually eat over anything else.”

No doubt about it: “Parents are under ever–mounting pressure, trying to juggle work and family life, and this can understandably sometimes lead to opting for convenience over nutrition when it comes to meals,” acknowledges Hannah Braye, Registered Nutritionist (DipCNM, BANT, CNHC) and senior technical advisor at ADM Protexin. As she points out, though, diet plays a crucial role in ensuring well-being, growth and development during childhood—as well as in determining health outcomes later in life. “If a child’s health is not supported through a healthy diet, it could potentially have detrimental effects lasting into their adulthood and even their health in old age.”

A diverse and nourishing diet, says Hartje Andresen, nutritional advisor for White Leaf Provisions, “will set the foundation for strong bones, robust immune system, healthy teeth and positive eating habits, all of which the children will benefit from well into their adult years.” A more short-term factor, adds Braye, is that diet can have a profound impact on behavior and mood, “so ensuring your child is eating a balanced wholefoods diet is likely to be of benefit for all the family!”

Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, sr. director of research & development/national educator, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, brings up another nationwide concern: childhood obesity. Approximately 18.4% of kids ages 6 to 11 and 20.6% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 were classified as overweight in 2015 to 2016, according to a NCHS Data Brief by Hales, et al. Given that, Sugarek MacDonald says, “parents need to take a more active role in teaching their children the benefits of eating well-planned, nutritious meals that will support not only healthy growth and development, but will also support an ideal weight status.”

Anthony Thomas, Ph.D., director, scientific affairs at Jarrow Formulas, also emphasizes the role of the parents. “Eating behaviors are established early in life and children’s dietary choices are usually dictated by what foods are consumed and made available by their parents. ‘Do what I say and not what I do’ is not an effective strategy. Parents need to model positive eating behaviors and dietary choices for their children.”

As those in the natural products industry know, parents face concerns that go well beyond picky eaters. Dr. Murray C. Clarke, D.Hom., M.Hom., L.Ac., ChildLife Essentials founder, outlines a few key problems: “Based on my experience in my clinic and then over the years spent researching studies for my book, I began to realize that the prevalence and increase in the number of children suffering from health challenges these days was not just happening in America, but also throughout Europe and Asia as well. Understanding this then led me to the following three underlying reasons of why children from all around the world are being affected in the same way and to the same degree.” Those reasons:
  • As more food is grown on less land to feed an ever-increasing population, the soil and those foods grown on it may not always contain the same amount of essential nutrients that they used to.
  • Children today may be eating more processed foods and fast foods that also may have less nutrients and at the same time contain artificial chemical additives such as flavorings, colorings and sweeteners that their body and brain do not need.
  • The vast increase in environmental toxins and pollutants that children are now exposed to, as evidenced by the Environmental Working Groups study in 2005, shows how much children’s ‘body burden’ is these days, and how it may affect growth and health.
"When we understand and realize the challenges that children are facing these days,” Dr.Clarke says, “we can then give them the extra support and protection that their developing bodies, minds and immune systems need in today’s world.”

Nourishing kids—the delicious way

A healthy diet is key to a healthy child, but of course, when it comes to what they want in their food, drinks and supplements, kids have a wish list of their own, and odds are it is wildly different than that of their parents. Where mom and dad want nutritious, kids want delicious. Thankfully, suppliers and manufacturers are up to the challenge.

“It’s important to focus on what children actually want, as well as the concerns of their parents,” says Quilter. “Nearly half—45%—of parents say they give their kids more of a say in family decisions than their own parents gave them, suggesting a generational shift (3). And globally 41% of consumers agree that their children decide what products to buy for them, demonstrating the importance of ‘pester power’” (4).

At Once Upon a Farm, says Raz, “We narrow the gap between nutritious and delicious to give all parents a convenient path to purchase products that their kids will not only love, but are made with nutrient dense ingredients that will set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. By being very honest with all parents about the challenges that we face during mealtime, we can hopefully ease the pressure on parents who are simply trying to find food their kids will eat.” She notes that the company’s organic, cold-pressed, refrigerated baby food, apple sauce and smoothies are made with the magic of cold-pressure, so unlike shelf-stable brands, they maintain the nutrients, taste and texture of each ingredient with no added preservatives, concentrates or pre-processed purees.

Consumers are ready for fresh baby food offerings, Raz adds, noting that 70% of parents make their own baby food at some point but 90% of them stop because they either got back to work, it’s too time consuming or for other reasons. “We’re filling a need for these parents who want to provide as close to homemade as possible with broad assortment and shopping convenience.”

Also speaking to the convenience factor, Julie Ruelle, RD, nutrition programs manager at Happy Family Organics, says, “We know families today are busier than ever, so our goal is to make it easy for parents to serve nutritious, organic foods to their children. It’s important to set up healthy eating habits early in life—to cultivate healthy taste development and ultimately raise a healthy eater. That’s why we provide an assortment of organic foods to help support a lifetime of wellness.” That includes Happy Tot Love My Veggies line with a full serving of veggies in pouches and bowls, and Happy Kid fruit and oat bars, made with organic fruits and whole grain oats for “kiddos on-the-go.”

Ruelle adds that Happy Family has options for kids of all ages. “Our ‘Enlightened Nutrition’ approach goes beyond organic and promotes age and stage appropriate nutrition. We work closely with a team of children’s health experts, including pediatricians and dietitians, to ensure we use ingredients with nutritional value that if consumed regularly, can support and promote healthy development through their different stages. From snacks that encourage self-feeding, to meals that encourage tots to try new veggies, our products make it easy for busy parents to feel confident nourishing their child—whether on the go or at home.”

White Leaf’s Andresen notes that children’s nutritional needs from when they are born until after they reach puberty differ from those of grown-ups—and so do their taste preferences. “Specifically, for the youngest of the little eaters, we want to ensure everything that goes into their tiny stomachs will be beneficial for them and build the foundations for a healthy approach to food and eating. White Leaf Provisions uses only the highest quality, biodynamic produce. The gentle processing methods preserve the nutrients of the ingredients better than otherwise preserved or processed foods. From our regeneratively farmed organic ingredients, convenient packaging, easy online ordering and store locators, to nutritional blogs and recipe suggestions, White Leaf Provisions aims to make wholesome nutrition easy and accessible for parents and caregivers.”

In every healthy diet, there’s also room for a treat—and many companies are offering up scrumptious options made with better-for-you ingredients. Some of the goodness we sampled at events like the Summer Fancy Food Show: Hopapops superfood snacks, which are plant-based and deliver vitamins, minerals and antioxidants; Peekaboo Ice Cream, which sneaks the vitamins and minerals from veggies (like carrots, cauliflower and beets) into an organic dessert to please even the pickiest of palates; SunButter SunSnacker cups, which pair bagel chips with sunflower butter for an on-the-go, protein-packed snack; Organic Smart Kids organic fruit-flavored sips with 100% vitamin C and no added sugars; and Abe’s Muffins, which are vegan, allergen-free and yummy. Another delicious favorite: Creamy-good spreads like those from Once Again Nut Butter to give classic faves a good-for-you upgrade. Amorè Organic Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa & Milk? Yes please!

For customers who come in with seriously fussy eaters, share this news from Happy Family Organics: “We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our brand new Picky Eating Portal, a dedicated resource on the Happy Family website filled with advice, tips, recipes and a downloadable guide to help parents through this completely normal, but often challenging, stage in their children’s lives.” Your customers might appreciate knowing that the company also offers additional support. “Parents can access our live, free chat function with our team of experts—the Happy Mama Mentors—seven days a week on our Happy Family website.” The experts are registered dietitians, certified lactation specialists, certified in maternal and infant nutrition from Cornell—and all are moms, too.

Nourished from Day 1

Even before they’re born, nutrition is key. There are many nutrients that are critical to early child development, and most are well known. One that may be overlooked: Choline. It is found in foods like eggs, liver and meat—though pregnant woman can also talk to their doctors about supplementing with a product containing choline, like Balchem VitaCholine, which is also an ingredient in infant formula and foods and beverages for kids. According to information on, it’s been studied for its role in improving cognition in infants and better pregnancy outcomes.

Also working to help pregnant women and nursing moms, Fairhaven Health offers a range of products designed to make things a little more comfortable or just a little easier. “In addition to fairly typical prenatal vitamin/mineral/omega–3 offerings, we offer a product called PregEase, which address the two most common digestive discomforts associated with pregnancy: morning sickness and heartburn,” say Suzanne Munson, MS, VP of product development and compliance, and Sarah Cocke, VP of operations and Social Media. Fairhaven, they add, supports breastfeeding as the optimal feeding option for babies, but recognizes that many women experience significant difficulty establishing and maintaining a breastfeeding routine. “As a result, we have built a line of breastfeeding support products that help to make breastfeeding and breast milk storage just a little easier.”

The company’s Milkies line includes Nipple Nurture Balm (a lanolin-free, organic nipple balm), the Milk Saver (a breast milk collection device) and Milk Trays (a breast milk storage device). “We also offer Nursing Blend, a dietary supplement that addresses one of the most frequent concerns that breastfeeding women have: breast milk supply. Nursing Blend provides a full multivitamin with targeted support for breastfeeding moms (extra B vitamins and 700% Daily Value of Vitamin D), as well as a blend of herbal galactagogues, including fenugreek and fennel, that help ensure a plentiful breast milk supply.”

Offering a helping hand with supplements

“It’s not always easy to eat the wide range of healthy foods we strive to eat every day,” acknowledges Chris Oswald DC, LN, CNS, manager, education content, Nature’s Way Brands. “Even when eating a well-balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables, it may still be difficult to get all of the vitamins and nutrients we need from food alone. A multivitamin, especially our Alive! Premium Gummies for Children and Children’s Chewables, are great options to help and fill potential nutrient gaps to provide nutrients your children need.”

Jarrow’s Thomas also points to subpar diets: “General adherence to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines is low and the majority of Americans, including children, do not follow a healthy eating pattern. Overconsumption of calories, yet inadequate intake of fiber and various micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients—combined with low levels of physical activity, can predispose children for chronic diseases later in life such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoporosis.” Jarrow Formulas, he says, offers a number of dietary supplements to support the nutritional status of infants, children, and adolescents, including multi-vitamins/-minerals, probiotic and prebiotic sugar-free chewables, micronutrients (like vitamins D and K2 as MK-7), and phosphatidylserine gummies, lutein drops, probiotic and prebiotic powders.

Especially in our toxic world, as Dr. Clarke notes, supplements play an important role. “By understanding the nutrients that the body requires and utilizes to help neutralize, detoxify and eliminate toxins, we can then start giving our children the supplements that give them the protection they need. ChildLife Essentials offers all of the important vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin D3, vitamin A and vitamin E. And the omega–3 fatty acids like DHA and all of the B vitamins, which are so important to support healthy brain growth and function.”

In addition to daily multivitamins and minerals formulated for children to offset any low-intakes of essential vitamins or minerals that children might face, Sugarek MacDonald says supplements for active children can be beneficial, since the dietary needs of active children are higher than sedentary children. “Bluebonnet Nutrition is proud to introduce the Rainforest Animalz line of chewable supplements to its line of dietary supplements, which includes a multiple, as well as calcium magnesium plus vitamin D3, and standalone vitamin C products.” This line for preschoolers to teens, she says, “provides all of the necessary vitamins, minerals and whole food nutrients that are required for proper growth and development.”

Braye points out that while kids require a varied and balanced diet to provide all the macro and micro-nutrients nutrients they need to grow healthily, certain nutrients are more difficult to obtain from the diet and consequently many children are found to be lacking. “These include vitamin D and omega—3 fatty acids, which is why they have been included in our children’s product Bio-Kult Infantis.” She points to evidence suggesting that omega– 3s play an important role in early brain development and cognitive function (5), plus appear to have anti-inflammatory effects on the immature and developing infant immune system (6). And vitamin D, she says, contributes to the normal function of the immune system and a healthy inflammatory response, and is needed for the normal growth and development of bone in children—the company uses vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which she notes is the natural form made in the body and has been shown to be most efficient at increasing blood levels (7).

Also focusing on vitamins and minerals: “We have products that can help with iron deficiencies in kids without the well-known side effects that iron products can cause,” says James Flint, VP of A.C. Grace Company. “Also, we offer water soluble vitamin E that helps people that cannot metabolize fat.” The findings of what vitamin E can do, he adds, often seem endless. (For more on the perks of E, see this month’s Vitamin Connection.)

Beyond basic nutrition

Immunity may be among parents’ top health goals for kids, and natural products can help deliver on that wish—and many more:

Promoting immune health: At Kerry, Quilter says, “Our message would probably be for manufacturers rather than parents. And that would be to recognize that parents aren’t just influenced by one simple consideration like ‘nutrition’ but by a complex range of connected considerations that include factors such as naturality and great taste as well as multiple health considerations. It’s not just about being low in fat or low in sugar—many parents are also looking for products that offer functional health benefits, for example immunity.” Kerry’s Wellmune is a patented proprietary baker’s yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan that Quilter says is clinically proven to help strengthen the immune system and supported by more than a dozen studies, including some specific to children. “In one, children who took Wellmune reported two-thirds fewer upper respiratory tract infections (8).” He adds that Wellmune is suitable for use in a range of functional food, beverage and supplement applications that are popular with kids. By offering a highly sought-after functional benefit, Quilter says, “Wellmune can add to a product’s ‘health halo’ and help it stand out from the crowd.”

Fostering gut health (and beyond): As Anke Sentko, VP regulatory affairs and nutrition communication, BENEO, explains, “The intestine is the largest organ to aid the body’s own defense system. While it is virtually sterile at birth, bacterial species quickly colonize it to form so-called microbiota in the gut. This is a critical and essential process, as it may positively impact health in later life by potentially reducing the risk of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and allergies.” In addition to helping regulate the body’s inner defense system, the beneficial bacteria have a positive influence on intestinal health.

Functional dietary fibers, Sentko continues, help promote intestinal health and support inner defenses in kids throughout life. She explains that scientifically recognized prebiotic dietary fibers include natural chicory root fiber, inulin and oligofructose, and synthetically produced galactooligosaccharides. And the prebiotic effect does more than just improve digestive health. “Latest scientific findings prove, for example, that healthy intestinal flora can improve mental function, as well as assist with the absorption of vital nutrients.” Sentko points to scientific studies indicating that inulin and oligofructose can have positive effects beyond the intestine. “For example, a 2002 study showed that regular ingestion of oligofructose was associated with fewer fevers, fewer visits to the doctor due to symptoms associated with diarrhoea, fewer febrile colds and a reduced need for antibiotics in children aged 4-24 months (9). In a further publication and meta-analysis on studies conducted on children aged 0-24 months, the total number of illnesses requiring antibiotics was significantly lower when prebiotics were regularly administered (10).” These results are confirmed by a current intervention study, she says, which shows that 6g of prebiotic dietary fiber (Orafti Inulin, BENEO) from the chicory root promotes digestive health and strengthens the resistance of children ages 3 to 6, during the winter months (11). Prebiotic ingredients improve the health of children long-term, too, she points out, because they help with calcium absorption and thus bone density, and regulate satiety, aiding weight management.

Braye notes that having the optimum balance of microflora is important for everyone, but especially key from birth to give infants the best start in life. “Over 70% of immune cells are located within the gut (12) and their development in infants is profoundly influenced by the gut flora (13). Research indicates that there is a ‘critical window’ in the first 1,000 days of life, in which the microbiome can significantly affect the development of a child’s immune system, with potential knock on effects for their future health (14). Encouraging a healthy bacterial balance during this window—and throughout childhood—is therefore crucial.” The company’s Bio-Kult Infantis 7 strain formula includes Bifidobacterium breve and Bifidobacterium infantis, which have been shown to benefit childhood conditions including GI issues. The company also offers Preplex, a dual source prebiotic containing FOS and gum acacia to help promote good bacteria in the gut.

Oswald points to probiotics as an area of supplements that are popular, yet are very confusing. “Something we know and take pride in at Nature’s Way is our understanding that a probiotic’s benefits come from using the proper strains for a product. This led us to using a researched strain combination for our Fortify Kids Probiotics and having confidence in its benefit of promoting healthy immune function and reducing days absent from school (15).” The research, he adds, involved children ages 3 to 5.

Easing the toxic load for overall health: “In 2005, The Environmental Working Group, which is a non-profit research organization based in Washington, D.C., conducted the first study of its kind ever undertaken,” says Dr. Clarke. They tested the umbilical cord blood of 12 mothers from 12 different states in America who all gave birth around the same time. This umbilical cord blood which had been shared by the mother and baby for the previous 9 months of pregnancy, was then screened for over 5,000 different industrial toxins, including plastics, chemicals, pesticides, and metals.” The results, he says, are important for parents to understand: “An average number of 287 toxic pollutants were found in the umbilical cord blood of each newborn baby at the moment of their birth. Of the 287 chemicals we know that 180 may cause cancer in humans or animals, 208 may cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests and 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system.”

This, Dr. Clarke says, “is what has changed so dramatically in this day and age and why babies and children are facing so many more health challenges from the day they are born. By understanding the nutrients that the body requires and utilizes to help neutralize, detoxify and eliminate these toxins, we can then start giving our children the supplements that give them the protection they need. Just eating healthy and drinking lots of water is not enough anymore.” To that end, he says, ChildLife formulas provide important nutrients for “supporting healthy growth and development (Multi Vitamin + Mineral); immune support and environmental protection and detoxification (Liquid Vitamin C); lung health, immune support, mood and mind, the sunshine vitamin (Vitamin D3); supporting healthy brain growth, development and function (Pure DHA, Cod Liver Oil); supporting and maintaining a healthy digestive system,which also supports and maintains a strong immune system and healthy brain function (Probiotics with Colostrum).”

Building bone health: Thomas calls out the importance of MK-7 to help safeguard against inadequate vitamin K status: Jarrow offers MK-7 derived from a patented fermentation and purification process as a strawberry flavored gummy or easy to swallow mini softgels to support growing bones. “Bone mass and density accumulates from birth through young adulthood with acquisition of bone mass during that period likened to a bone bank account. Maximizing peak bone mass is important when we are young in order to protect against age-related bone loss. A 10% increase in peak bone mass is estimated to reduce the risk of osteoporotic fracture in adults by half!”

Safeguarding eye health: 24/7 exposure to high-tech devices like iPhones, video games or TV can cause long-term, negative consequences on the health of young eyes, cautions Sugarek MacDonald. Why? “These devices emit blue light. Since blue light has a very short wavelength, it produces a higher amount of energy. The constant bombardment of energy generated by blue light on the retina could cause serious long-term injury to the eyes since blue light penetrates all the way to the retina damaging light-sensitive cells.” Many researchers, she adds, believe the growth rate of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration will exponentially increase over the next few generations unless people—starting in adolescence—do more to protect their eyes, such as wearing sunglasses, turning on blue light filters on high-tech devices, getting regular eye exams, and taking eye care supplements.

Bluebonnet’s Targeted Choice EyeCare formula, she says, meets parents’ needs to protect their kids’ eyes from photo stress, ideally around 13 years of age, because it was built on research from the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS). “These studies found that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by approximately 25%.” The formula contains vitamins C and E, zinc gluconate, copper gluconate, lutein, zeaxanthin and more. (Watch for more on eye health and supplements that can help in the September issue of WholeFoods.)

Making meds cleaner, too

Staying well is the goal, but sometimes medications are needed—and parents increasingly are looking for cleaner options. David Johnson, CEO and co-founder of Genexa, explains, “Consumer demand for organic and clean labels has driven industry changes. We saw it happen largely with food, followed by home and personal care, beauty and cosmetics and now with supplements and medicines.“ Genexa offers a line of medicines and wellness products for children and infants made with organic and non-GMO ingredients and free of allergens, artificial dyes, flavors and preservatives. New products include Vitamin D3 for children and infants. The company also carries a line of USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified homeopathic medicines for children that address a variety of symptoms including cold, cough, allergies and sleep.

ABCs and 123s of Success

Retailers can immediately generate interest across every demographic in the children’s category by providing endcaps and displays that focus on patented and branded materials in addition to clean label initiatives such as kosher, allergen-free, non-GMO, free of artificially-derived sweeteners, flavors or colors, suggests Sugarek MacDonald. “We all want safer products for our children, right?” she reasons. She also suggests making the children’s department attractive, interactive and informative for consumers, no matter their age. “Displaying children’s books that focus on healthy lifestyles or by providing fun signage that encourages kids to play would attract both the parents’ attention as well as the children’s,” she explains. “Another option for signage would be to display 3 quick facts about a new ingredient—for example, probiotics—and how they benefit children’s health.  Keeping it simple will help the parents retain the information.”

In addition to keeping the information simple, Sugarek MacDonald maintains that its best to keep the selection itself simple. Her advice: “Avoid too much product redundancy. Focus on 3 popular items for an overall foundational approach to healthy living and then rotate on a monthly basis. For example, provide an end cap with Bluebonnet’s Rainforest Animalz® Whole Food-Based Multi as well as our Rainforest Animalz® Probiotic for a winning combination, plus an array of colorful fruits and vegetables that appeal to both children and their parents.” And for an extra-appealing touch, she suggests, includ plush stuffed animals, toys and games in the display to help attract attention.

Andresen also sees a benefit in simplifying. “There will be an increasing amount of people re-evaluating the way they shop and the products they consume. With the internet offering a wealth of information and misinformation, many consumers find themselves overwhelmed with trying to make the right choices.”

For a business like White Leaf Provisions, Andresen says, purity and transparency is an integral part of the brand that customers can relate to their company’s story and philosophy. “By finding a brand they can identify with, they will be more likely to become loyal customers. This relationship is very important and fundamental to build a solid client base. Knowing that the people behind a business that they trust have already done the research and quality control of the products and ingredients for them, they are going to be open to the entire range of products and recommend them to their peers. We also see that offering the consumer complete transparency in every aspect of our products from seed to shelf has been a great way to build product awareness and assist parents in making the best choices for their kids.”

Braye offers up seven points that AMD Protexin can help with to make a difference in the bottom line for retailers:
  1. Product training, so retailers can confidently answer customer queries.
  2. Attractive marketing materials for use in stores and on websites.
  3. Strong social media content to raise customer awareness and provide information for retailers to share on their own social media platforms.
  4. In-store days, nutrition talks, sampling and demonstrations.
  5. Content for inclusion in retailer newsletters and blogs.
  6. A dedicated team of qualified doctors, nutritional therapists and regulatory experts to answer technical queries.
  7. Streamlined ordering and delivery systems.
Also offering assistance to retailers, Dr. Clarke says, “We assist retailers looking to increase sales and promote our products by offering marketing support through one page sell sheets, in-store demos, and promotional offers. We also suggest to merchandise on an endcap with other vitamins and supplements and do a line drive on all at the same time.”

Speaking to Once Upon a Farm’s food offerings, Raz says, “Since our products are found in the refrigerator not on the shelf, earlier this year, we’ve rolled out in-aisle coolers in the baby aisle because we know that’s where parents are shopping. We’ve had a lot of success placing our products in the dairy aisle, next to kid yogurt because we know there is high crossover shopping between baby food and yogurt, but we think there is huge opportunity with coolers in the baby aisle.”

Happy Family Organics’ Ruelle adds, “As consumers become more interested in transparent labeling and continue to look to organic products to feed their families, retailers should make organic offerings easy to spot on shelf—not just in the produce aisle but in the baby and kids’ food aisle as well. Parents also want to feel confident that they are giving their baby nutrients and foods that are age and stage appropriate, at times not always knowing what that may be. Creating a section in store that clearly defines the appropriate needs of a growing infant or toddler, and merchandising products accordingly—for example by snacking occasion, or from purees to finger foods—will allow parents to quickly find what they need while also offering an opportunity for them to discover new products.”

Additionally, Ruelle maintains that as parents rely more heavily on digital resources for support and helpful advice, it benefits retailers to think and act digital-first. “Retailers should communicate their baby and children’s food offerings in a positive and educational way to help parents navigate the space and make informed choices on the food they feed their children. Providing helpful touchpoints on all parts of the parents’ journey—from pre-shop online research to in-store signage and post-shop loyalty driving offers—will encourage consumers to feel empowered in their purchasing decisions, and confident in where they’re purchasing from.”

Merchandising the Kids Health Category

By Daniel Lohman, CPSA
Our kids are our future and they are the future of the natural product’s industry. We need to ensure that we don’t overlook them in our merchandising and marketing.

This country has a serious epidemic. Childhood obesity and related problems plague our youth. Strategies that teach kids about the importance of healthy food, healthy supplements, and healthy living will pay huge dividends for retailers well beyond tomorrow. That begins with consistently demonstrating to them that natural retailers can meet and exceed their needs. In other words, not give them a reason to shop your mainstream competitors.

Like it or not, one of the greatest successes of mainstream brands is their ability to market to kids—for example, kid’s cereals. Some large brands spend outrageous amounts marketing to kids, focusing primarily on their bottom line. They trade profits over a long term relationship with their shoppers. There is a lesson to be learned here. Knowing this can help you differentiate yourself and level the playing field. One of the greatest advantages natural retailers have is that they build long term relationships with their shoppers. This is what makes natural natural.

Natural brands and retailers who focus on teaching kids about nutrition and healthy options can convert occasional customers into loyal evangelists. This all begins with a robust merchandising strategy focused on educating kids and empowering them to take control of their health. The best part is that their enthusiasm can be contagious. I keep hearing stories about how these children then encourage their parents to also adopt healthy eating habits.

The following tips will help you maximize this strategy.

Consider the shopper journey. In this case, focus on making it easy for kids to play a bigger role in shopping. Kids love to help, they need to feel important, and they want to be included in family meal prep. More importantly, they are more likely to eat the foods they choose themselves. Make it easy for them to learn about nutrition. For example, merchandise products around meal solutions so that they can easily choose the right ingredients to help with meal prep.

Help guide young shoppers to make healthy choices by merchandising kid- friendly products together, for example snacks to include in their school lunches.

A big part of building trust and gaining loyal shoppers includes exceptional customer service. It’s never too early to begin cultivating new shoppers.

What’s on the horizon for kids health?

“Education, marketing and awareness has made huge inroads into everyone’s understanding of the importance that vitamins and supplements play in maintaining, supporting and protecting our overall health,” says Dr. Clarke. “Whether this awareness is purely due to the wealth of research coming out or because more and more people are suffering from health issues and are seeking out these products to help improve their digestion and overall health is debatable.” But, it seems, the consumer shift toward healthier living will continue.

Another thing experts expect to continue: “The ‘war on sugar’ will continue to dominate,” says Quilter. “National and local governments have introduced taxes on products such as high-sugar soft drinks and consumer attitudes have shifted hugely.” He points to research from Mintel showing that in the UK, 85% of parents are now trying to control the amount of sugar in their kids’ diets, and parents rank no-added-sugar as  the most important factor when choosing drinks for their kids.

“One effect of the global drive for sugar reduction has been a hit to the reputation of categories previously seen as healthy,” Quilter notes. “Juices, for example, were once seen as a healthy choice for children, but are now often demonized for their high sugar content. An increasingly effective strategy is to use functional ingredients to offset such concerns.” As noted above, immune health is a top area of concern, but Quilter shares that despite high levels of interest, Mintel reports that only 2% of children’s food and drink products launched globally between 2012 and 2017 carried an immune system claim. And that, he says, indicates a major opportunity for innovative manufacturers.

Also linked to the shift away from sugar, Sentko sees prebiotic ingredients, like those from BENEO, as a category on the rise. “With only half the calories of sucrose—2kcal/g vs 4kcal/g of sucrose—BENEO’s chicory root fibers are highly suitable to reduce sugar and calories in formulations while at the same time adding a source of prebiotic fiber, thus improving digestive health, while also offering solids replacement and texture benefits as well,” she notes. “Depending on the application, this means that ‘added sugars’ can also be reduced.” BENEO’s chicory root fibers, she says, “offer attractive solutions to turn baked goods such as muffins, cookies, bagels as well as cereal bars into healthier snacks. In foods and beverages, they help to mask the undesired aftertaste often associated with high intensity sweeteners, and since chicory fiber is soluble, it goes unnoticed in any application.”

In terms of probiotics, Braye says: “The next generation of probiotic strains will address the most critical of infant health issues: proper growth and development, reduction of allergies, optimum ratios of keystone strains in the microbiome at each stage of infant/toddler life, just to name a few examples. Further research into how early life microbial exposures and alterations affect health later in life is also likely to continue to be a hot topic. For example, recent longitudinal studies with large cohorts have shown the potential role of the early-life gut microbiome as a biomarker for identifying children at risk of developing obesity and type 1 diabetes (T1D) later in childhood (16, 17, 18) and it’s likely there is much more to learn in this area.”

In the category overall, says Ruelle, “Traceability and transparency are top consumer trends guiding innovation, and both are incredibly important to our innovation pipeline. The initial launch of our Happy Baby Clearly Crafted product line in 2016 was a response to parents’ interest in more openness and honesty from companies. The line was the first fully transparent pouch from a national brand, with recipes listed directly on the packaging. Along with the Clearly Crafted line, we also launched Happy Farms, a website where parents can learn more about the exact farms and partners from which ingredients are sourced.”

Sustainable agriculture and manufacturing practices is also a growing area of interest in this category, Ruelle continues. “As a B Corp Certified brand, we aim to be pioneers in this space, knowing that the health of our planet affects the long-term health of our children. This is why—among our other initiatives and partnerships that support sustainability efforts—we’ve made a commitment that 100% of our packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. We encourage other companies with a mission to serve children to join this global commitment to create a more sustainable future for our kids.

White Leaf is also focusing on farming. Andresen says, “There is a growing global awareness of the importance of nutrition and diet, the health effects of environmental factors, and the ecological impact of farming methods. It has been researched that over processed foods, pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s and other environmental factors may play a part in the increasing occurrence of food intolerances, allergies, auto-immune disorders and respiratory issues in our population.”

As Andresen points out, some studies suggest that besides the environmental benefits, eating regeneratively farmed and biodynamic foods can help to reduce allergic reactions and food intolerances as well as improve digestion, skin complexion and overall health. “More and more people are speaking out against genetically modified products and becoming more conscious of how their choices as a consumer matter to make a difference in their health and that of our planet. Parents are asking more questions regarding the farming practices behind their purchases and the effects that these farming practices are having on the planet that their kids will inherit.” Look for feature coverage of the regenerative agriculture movement in the September issue of WholeFoods. WF
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