It seems that it wasn’t just Will and Kate who found a fun way to fill the long evenings in the recent recession. Official statistics reveal a modern baby boom, with 813,200 births registered in the UK between June 2011 and June 2012.

All this means we’re going to see a lot more tired parents pushing buggies around the streets in the next couple of years, which is good news for retailers, since babies, toddlers, and the parents who provide for them, have always been a key category for local stores.

Mother knows best

According to Gemma Pidgeley, trading manager for grocery at Spar UK, 77% of babycare shoppers in the convenience sector are female, and 51% are classified as at-home mums in terms of life stage.

As babycare products are expensive, mums are extremely savvy shoppers. They know their prices, making it essential to have a competitively priced offering including promotions and multibuys.

Pidgeley says that the biggest trends are guilt-free convenience such as organic pouches with no additives or nasties that mum can feed baby on the go and not feel bad about, as well as ready-to-use milks and small juices.

And remember that mums are loyal. If mum shops with your competitor she is likely not to return to you.

Pidgeley says: “In the future I think growth will come from having the right range at the right price, as well as multibuys, promotions, and gaining mum’s trust and loyalty so she knows there is no need to drive to an out-of-town supermarket to complete her shopper mission for the whole family.”

According to Gemma Pidgeley, trading manager for grocery at Spar UK, the baby boom is already worth billions.

“Babycare is a hugely important category in convenience, worth £1.54bn, and in 4% growth year on year,” she says. “Availability of a core range is essential. Mums can’t get by without nappies, baby milk and baby food. These are the key subcategories that should be stocked by independents even if there is limited space in the store.

“If mums are happy with the babycare range, they will continue their top-up shop in store.”

Spurred on by the market, Spar has invested heavily in the category with the rollout of a trial in which stores doubled the space they devoted to babycare products from one metre to two.

The results proved the potential of the category, with volume sales jumping more than a fifth (21%) and value up 8% for the stores involved.

As ever, the must-stocks differ from store to store depending on the local customers, but as Pidgeley suggests, there are some key elements across the category.

Over at Rav Garcha’s Nisa stores in the West Midlands, he stocks what he calls an “essential selection” with a “comprehensive range that has depth as well as width in the space that we’ve got in-store”.

“We have lots of families around the area so it’s worth stocking babycare,” he explains.

“For very young babies we have the baby milks, brands such as SMA and Cow & Gate, plus nappies. Then we include items such as bathing essentials, including baby oil and talcum powder.”

Customer’s view

“Our child is now three, so what we’re looking for in convenience stores is changing. When she was a baby I’d dash in for things like baby wipes and baby milk. Now that she’s older it’ll be treats such as a packet of crisps or a Fruit Shoot on the way home. Where we are there are lots of families, so the shops are set up for kids. Some even have budget dummies near the till! ”

Juliet Price, Brighton, East Sussex

Rav explains that customers in the baby and toddler category fall into two groups. The first is distress purchases - what parents need right now. The second is those customers who are in- between ‘big shops’, stocking up on the essentials.

He says that both groups are often in the market for baby milk, but it’s a category in which parents are incredibly loyal, often not wanting to upset their baby by switching brands.

To meet this need Rav stocks the high-value SMA tubs, even if they’re not necessarily the highest-margin products in the store.

“With the big tubs of SMA we only keep one or two in-store at a time,” he says. “They retail for £5-£7 a tub and the margin is pretty low - verging on 5%. We still stock them, though, because it’s something customers definitely come in and ask for.”

Nappies may be a must-have for both at home and when out and about, but their bulk and price can make them a pain in the bum for c-stores to stock. Still, retailers agree that they’re essential if you’re serious about attracting parents to your store.

“On nappies we just can’t compete on price with the superstores,” admits Calum Duncan from Kinraig Stores in the Scottish Highlands.

“But we do have a small selection, just for emergencies. We only stock the four-plus and five sizes. My dad is a pharmacist, so I was able to ask him what the essential sizes were that parents tend to come in for.


Baby food goes back to basics

Are customers losing faith in pre-packaged baby food? According to Alex Beckett, senior food analyst at Mintel, consumers are increasingly concerned about the ingredients big brands use.

“The UK birth rate is recording an upswing, which would ordinarily be good news for demand of baby food and drink,” he says. “However, parental concerns about the quality of baby food and the country’s wider enthusiasm for scratch cooking are hampering growth.”

He adds: “Two-thirds of parents trust homemade baby/toddler food more than manufactured variants, reflecting concerns over the amount of sugar and salt in prepared foods and the quality of meat.”

On the shop floor this means that it’s those brands with the biggest healthy and natural credentials that consumers are reaching for when they can’t be bothered to whizz up another batch of baby food.

“A supplier sent us a sample pack of the Ella’s Kitchen range, so we put it out and it did really well,” says Rav Garcha, who owns three stores in the West Midlands.

“Now we have it in all the stores. I think it does well because the flavours are really impactful and there’s a lot of health benefits with it - I think it gets talked about on the Mumsnet site, too.”

“Baby wipes are always an impulse purchase. Customers come in to buy some fruit and vegetables and then stock up on baby wipes because they remember they’ve run out.”

There’s an expectation among consumers that, when it comes to nappies, all the trust lies with the well-advertised, well-known brands. But that hasn’t stopped Bestway getting in on the bottom line with its recently launched Super Dry budget range.

It’s an example of how manufacturers are seeing recession-hit customers balancing quality with price. Rav points out that the bigger the family becomes, the less likely parents are to take the well-known baby and toddler brands at face value.

“I’ve been talking about this with both customers and friends and what they’ve told me is that for your first-born it’s ‘no expense spared’, so everything’s Pampers and Johnson & Johnson. It’s all about the brands,” he says. “Then, when the second child arrives, parents start to get shrewder and start looking for where the multi-buys and the deals are.”

Promotions work

It’s an idea echoed by Pidgeley over at Spar. “As babycare products are expensive, mums are extremely savvy shoppers - they know their prices, making it essential to have a competitively priced offering including promotions and multibuys,” she says.

Though your store may have the correct baby and toddler stock, the right attitude towards families is also an essential part of making them regular customers, asserts retail expert Clare Rayner.

“I think many shops aren’t great at engaging families,” she says. “Shopping online is now really attractive for parents. C-stores have to up their game or there’s a danger that families will just lose the habit of getting out to the shops.”

She recommends offering a space where parents can safely leave buggies, and making sure high-value items are out of the reach of curious toddlers. “Be mindful of the fact that kids are going to fiddle with the merchandise,” she says. “This can be really stressful for parents, so move anything breakable away from the bottom shelf.”

She adds: “Many retailers are parents themselves who once had young children. So put yourself in these new parents’ shoes. What did you find frustrating about shopping?”

Catering for babies and toddlers can open up your store to a whole new market, particularly if you cater for the parents’ needs as well. The canny retailer can boost impulse purchases for parents simply too frazzled to go anyway else.

“Often parents of younger children have disposable income but aren’t out socialising much,” says Rayner. “So they’re a great market for a bottle of wine, pizza or a ready meal for two. Copy what M&S does and offer a deal.”

In Brief

New ways with an old brand

Last month Milton announced a design rethink to highlight its 65-year-old heritage while aiming for a contemporary look based around a central image of mothers and babies. The revamp includes a refreshed logo, packaging, website and new product range.

Pampers six-pack is the perfect fit

Six is most definitely the magic number for Pampers - it’s now introduced a new size six-pack across its range specifically for independents. The pack is designed to be compact enough not to shove other stock off the shelf, while offering convenience for parents, too.

Bestway nappies at the right price

Bestway is aiming to bring low price points to the nappy category with its Super Dry range. Available in five sizes as three-packs for the wholesale price of £7.99, it aims to deliver a healthy 33% POR when sold at pricemarked £3.99. Plus, there’s a picture of a growing baby on-pack so tired parents can get the size right first try.

Tilda opens rice range to kids

Tilda’s Kids range is busy re-positioning rice as the go-to toddler food with its range of ‘rice & veggies’ meal accompaniments. The dishes come in four flavours and contain one of kids’ five a day.