US: Disruptive innovation in the baby food aisle


Millennial moms shopping the baby food aisle in America have recently been met with a new vision: Shelves stacked with premium, honeypot-shaped, clear glass jars displaying the vibrant, rich colours of 100% natural fruit and vegetable purees. Bright orange carrot, deep crimson pomegranate, luscious golden apple, and rich purple blackberry are just a few.

It is the vision that drove Beech-Nut Nutrition’s year-and-a-half-long journey to transform its products and packaging to better meet the needs of today’s moms and bring them back to a declining category.

According to Andy Dahlen, Beech-Nut’s Vice President of Marketing, in recent years, moms have been switching from commercially prepared baby foods to homemade in order to ensure the freshness and nutrition of their babies’ food. A drop in the birth rate has also affected the category.

“Over the last five to seven years, there has been a decline in the birth rate, so that is a factor facing the category,” Dahlen says. “But even if you account for the decline in birth rate, there are ounces leaving the category due to moms who are choosing to not enter the category or are getting the food and nutritional needs of their babies met elsewhere.

“If you look at the per-baby amount of ounces consumed from the aisle, in 2005, a baby would consume on average 1,700 ounces. In 2012, that number was just less than 1,200 ounces. So 500 ounces are gone. We know from the birth rate and the fact that there have been no changes in nutritional recommendations that babies are still getting those ounces; they are just not getting them from the category.”

Driven by the desire to make its brand relevant and compelling to modern moms, in late 2012 Beech-Nut — led by Dahlen, along with brand agency Bluedog Design — set out to reformulate its product line and disrupt the baby food category forever with “Real Food for Babies” in packaging as premium and “pure” as the product itself.

Gentle cooking yields natural product

Beech-Nut, a subsidiary of Hero of Lenzburg, Switzerland, was founded in 1890 and has been producing baby food since 1931. Located in Amsterdam, NY, the company is the number-two leading baby-food brand in the US, producing jarred fruit and vegetable purees, cereals, pouched purees and yogurts, and a limited line of toddler meals and snacks.

With a history is one of innovation in packaging and nutrition it was only natural in 2012 for Beech-Nut to embark upon a transformational change in its brand focused on product and packaging innovation.

Intensive quantitative and qualitative research through ethnographic studies, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups were conducted to ascertain how moms were feeling about feeding their babies, about the category, and about caring for their children, all going into a deeper emotional level to help guide the product development.

The answer was “simple” says Bluedog CEO Michelle Hayward,: “We found out when it comes to food for their babies, moms believe simple is best, and simple means real—that means more flavor, more healthful, and more enjoyable.”

To deliver simple, 100% natural products, Beech-Nut worked with a proprietary supplier to develop “gentle cooking” technology, a method that ensures the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, without the addition of excess water or preservatives. During cooking, Beech-Nut uses indirect heat similar to a double-boiler to preserve the colour, texture, and flavour of the products.

The chef-developed recipes of the new Beech-Nut brand include 40 products, some single-ingredient, such as Honeycrisp Apples, Sweet Potatoes, and Bartlett Pears, and others that use several ingredients, such as Apple & Blackberry and Sweet Corn & Green Beans. The products are divided into three stages, with Stage 3 (for babies approximately eight months and older) using grains and other ingredients not commonly found in traditional baby foods—among them, avocado, quinoa, amaranth, chia, and others.

“At every single home we were in [during ethnographic studies], the moms were making avocado,” says Dahlen. “It’s a healthy fat, and there are not a lot of avocado choices in the baby-food aisle. So we have avocados in several of our SKUs.”

Differentiating the products from organic baby-food offerings and others that claim to offer a more healthful option, Beech-Nut’s line “is just the fruit or vegetable and nothing else,” Dahlen says. “There is half a honeycrisp apple in the Honeycrisp Apple jar. That’s what’s in there, nothing else.” The product has an 18-month shelf life—six months less than competitive jarred baby-food products—due to the lack of preservatives.

BeechNut-Baby1Simplicity is key to design

To translate the simplicity, freshness, and quality of the new product through packaging, Dahlen gave Bluedog full rein over the design, without any constraints. “We could not incrementally change our design,” he says. “We needed something transformational.

“Bluedog is a very progressive agency that digs deep into the meaningful relationship a consumer has with a brand, especially our main consumer, young millennial moms. They also have intimate knowledge of simplicity and a strong design competency to deliver the forward-thinking solutions needed for Beech-Nut.”

After conducting research with millennial moms, Bluedog’s Hayward says the brand agency began to try to translate visually the idea of simplicity. “We found there were key themes of purity, connection, and singularity,” she says.

“If you think about what those words mean, you really start to think about the fact that mom has a job to protect her child’s innocence. That’s why she is in the kitchen making the food, that’s why she is deliberate when it comes to anything that goes on that child’s skin or in that child’s mouth. She wants as little as possible to get between the raw ingredients and the final pureed food.

“We took that quite literally. It’s one of the reasons that glass was an imperative for this project and why we developed the brand identity the way we did. What we wanted mom to see when she was turning her cart and going down the aisle were the vibrant colours and textures of the products.”

The 4.25-oz custom glass jar, supplied by Owens-Illinois, provides a clear view of the product and is designed with a honeypot shape that conveys a homemade, premium appearance. The design allows the jar to nestle in the hand and provides space for a spoon to wrap 360 deg around the inside, “to scrape out every last ounce of that goodness,” says Hayward. “When you think about canning glass, and when you think about premium, there are reasons that glass is used,” she adds. “It really does connote purity and freshness.”….. Read the full article