See those hollow-eyed zombies who arrive at your store in the dead of night, wistfully eyeing up the alcohol aisle before settling on some baby milk?

By the fear and confusion in their eyes you will recognise your community’s new parents. Though the temptation may be to simply put them out of their misery and let them have a snooze by the frozen section, get your baby and toddler stock right and you could win a loyal customer for life.

New parents know that the term ‘distress’ purchase takes on a very literal meaning when you’ve run out of formula milk for the 11pm feed, or need some baby wipes to clean up a nappy Tsunami. For these parents, convenience is paramount and they don’t mind paying a premium to get it.


According to Mintel, that’s what the baby food and drink market is worth, an 112% increase from 2006

“After giving birth six months ago I use my local store much more,” says 30-year-old new mum Hannah Price. “Time is so precious these days, and when I need nappies, or baby food, I really do need it ‘now’!”

New parents like Hannah soon grasp that providing a constant stream of milk is the key to keeping a baby content. And with an annual value in excess of £21m in the convenience channel, and year-on-year growth of 38%, according to Symphony IRI, the baby milk category could keep retailers pretty happy, too.

“If mum has made the choice to use formula, then it becomes an essential part of her shopping list, and c-stores are realising the value of her being confident that they can help her when she is running short,” explains James Rhoderick-Jones, category manager for convenience at SMA.

Yet he sounds a warning note: “The channel undertrades in this category. A lot of stores in some stages as many as 40% are still not offering baby milk, or only a very limited range.”

One feature of the category that may be putting them off is all the talk of ages and stages. To combat this, SMA brings together its variants under a ‘Gold System’, which delivers tailored nutrition at each stage over three years.

“For the earlier stages we recommend that stores sell powder, as this will enable them to maximize revenue from space (and powder is by far the most dominant format in sales). In toddler we suggest using the small liquid formats, as this will encourage greater frequency of purchase and increased basket spend,” says Rhoderick-Jones.

At the other end of the milk spectrum, full-fat cows’ milk is a staple of most toddlers’ diets especially since the Dairy Council recommends that between the ages of one and two, a toddler should be served full-fat rather than semi-skimmed.

retailer’s view Guy Warner

“In baby food there’s been a massive change over the past five years from jars to pouches. For instance, Ella’s used to be a peripheral product for us, but now it’s so popular we stock it in our smallest petrol station store. 

“The nappy market is really driven by big brands and big pack sizes at competitive prices, which makes it a challenge for independents. Parents are looking for the biggest possible box at a really keen price and it’s hard for us to get big boxes at the right price in the convenience channel. 

“Like most categories, if you’re in it, you have to be serious about doing it. For baby this means getting the big brands like Pampers and Huggies. Parents are incredibly brand loyal if they can’t find it they won’t trade down in baby.” 
Guy Warner, Budgens, Gloucestershire

“Milk is a nutrient powerhouse,” says Robert Wiseman Dairies sales and marketing director Sandy Wilkie. “For mums with growing toddlers it’s a one-stop shop to help ensure they have all the goodness they need for healthy development.”

Wiseman, which provides the best-selling fresh milk brand in c-stores, offers two- and four-litre bottles to ensure lactose-loving families stay topped-up.

Food focus

If you thought that children were fussy about food then wait until you hear their parents. Mintel maintains that parents are incredibly demanding when it comes to sourcing healthy and nutricious food for their offspring and yet the hectic pace of modern life means that they just haven’t got the time to prepare it themselves from scratch.

This contradiction has created an infant feeding market worth £229m (excluding milk), according to AC Nielsen. That’s all the more impressive when you consider that currently there are only 518,000 mums in the UK with babies of weaning age.

Not surprisingly, the category reports strong growth driven by wet food (up 5% year on year, according to AC Nielsen), finger foods (up 8.1%) and dry foods (up 3.9%).

Brands hungry for a bite of this lucrative market are connecting with parents by promoting a comforting ‘home-cooked’ feel for their products.

“We know that there is truly nothing better than feeding little ones a delicious home-cooked meal, but we also know that busy mums can find it tricky to spare the time to cook from scratch,” says Jodi Reddell, senior brand manager at Heinz.

To meet this demand, Heinz (market leader in the wet category), brought Heinz Taste of Home to market. The range of savoury meals features comforting family favourites such as shepherds pie with peas, presented as an affordable alternative to ‘niche’ recipes.

Thanks to the growth of Mumsnet and other family-focused websites, new launches which don’t meet parents’ exacting expectations can quickly find their product condemned by word-of-mouth. To combat this Heinz invited online feedback from selected parents before the range was launched. “The pre-launch campaign gave us the opportunity to receive mums’ comments and feedback,” says Reddell. “This is particularly important, because these mums are experts in what babies love.”

Organic fans

While the organic category has fallen out of favour with many consumers, in the baby food market sales have risen by 10%, according to the Soil Association.

This success has been driven by home-grown brands such as Organix and Plum Baby, which have capitalised on the convenient pouch format that has proved so popular with parents. Both companies rode the initial popularity of organic and are now looking to expand their product ranges to boost market share.

Organix, which currently has a 44% share of the toddler snack market, according to IRI, is breaking into toddler meals with its new Mighty Meals range. Designed to be a ‘no-slop’ option, Mighty Meals offers organic recipes with grown-up chunks as a gateway to parents looking to wean their kids off the mushy stuff.

“It’s an excellent opportunity to expand the baby food category and keep mum in the baby aisle for longer,” says Organix marketing director Stephanie Hildon.

Start at the bottom

Although food is the cornerstone of the children’s market, non-food items can be just as central to the c-store offer.

Nappies might sound like the perfect boost to your bottom line, but in reality they can eat up valuable shelf space. Which is why, as Adam Solymos, brand manager at Huggies explains, it’s vital to get merchandising right.

“We spoke to a large number of mums about nappy merchandising through focus groups,” he says. “They said that they find shopping for nappies very stressful because of the way that the category is blocked by brand. They said they would instead prefer for it to be categorised by stage and need. For example, they’d like to see all the nappy products for one-year-olds put together.”

top tips Pots of potential

Are your customers controlling mums or permissive parents? Understanding what drives both types of consumer can be the key to unlocking extra value from the dairy category.      

“Controlling mums are intent on providing the right mix of nutritional requirements for very young children,” says Yoplait category manager Nicola Dean. “But as children grow older parents get more permissive and act more on their child’s desires.” 

Dean explains that stocking dairy can satisfy both sets of parents. Permissive parents choose dairy desserts as a sweet convenient treat, while controlling mums know that yogurts contain calcium, which helps young bones develop. “If you have two shelves in the chiller cabinet use the ‘saint and sinner’ layout covering both categories,” advises Dean. 

“The multiples often offer disposable spoons near the dairy display,” she adds. “If c-stores can absorb the cost this can be a real winner.”

If space is particularly tight, then it pays to stock the top-seller, which in the nappy sector means Pampers with a 57% share of the category.

Paul Lettice, head of trade communications at P&G, recommends offering a range of nappy price points, but focusing on sizes three, four and five with a new baby sku to placate new parents on a distress mission.

Between messy meals, milk stains and the odd bum-based accident, parents are likely to look for laundry products, too.

“Although very small, babies come with a whole heap of washing, and Unilever UK continues to develop new technologies that will offer outstanding cleaning and conditioning, while protecting the most sensitive of skins,” says Gemma Williams, brand manager at Unilever UK.

“Recently, Persil non-bio has benefitted from a new quick wash technology, allowing outstanding cleaning even in 30 minutes and at 30 degrees while maintaining its skin-caring promise.

“Comfort Pure is the UK’s leading fabric conditioner variant.It is hypoallergenic and dermatologically tested and leaves clothing fibres smooth meaning that they’re less likely to be itchy against delicate young skin.”

So you’ve ticked the boxes for nappies, baby food, milk and laundry. What else could new parents possibly want? Well, it might just be time to sort out your condom offer. 

Ones to watch… 
Plum profits
Plum Baby is counting on parents wanting a healthy start for their wee ones with its organic breakfast pouches. Alongside the banana & apricot oaty version is a prune, peach & cereal variant. 
rrp: 99p for 100g
tel: 01782 567100 

Full of beans
Yoplait reckons it can help keep little monkeys quiet with its new Jungle Beans yogurt treat, featuring peach and strawberry flavours plus kid-friendly chocolate confectionery to top it off. 
rrp: 65p
tel: 07834 254 757 

Bum deal
Babies aren’t wild about being wet which is why new Pampers Baby-Dry focuses on faster absorption to maintain a better mood (for parent and child) throughout the day. 
rrp: £ 3.99
tel: 0800 597 3388 

Small ‘n mighty
Organix is making a stand on behalf of parents and kids sick of mushy food with Mighty Meals. The new organic toddler meal range includes proper chunky ingredients to help weaning. 
rrp: £1.99
tel: 01202 409 500 

Top gear
Huggies is adding appeal to its potty training pant Pull-Ups with a variant designed to cash in on the upcoming Disney flick, Cars 2. Hopefully, it should put kids in the driving seat while avoiding any accidents.
rrp: £5.48
tel: 0800 5875264