There's no doubt that many people are cutting back on their spending, but there's one area where brands and quality are always important - and that's baby care. Mums might cut back on indulgent lines for themselves, yet most are loath to downtrade when it comes to their babies. Brands are big in the baby market and it's one of the rare categories where own label has not made a big impact.

Sue Nash, trade sector manager for Cow & Gate at Danone Baby Nutrition, comments: "Research shows that mums are extremely brand loyal - 84% of mums wouldn't consider switching and those who do would prefer not to."

AC Nielsen figures reveal that Cow & Gate is the number one brand in baby milk, closely followed by SMA, then Aptamil.

Nash says: "Retailers should carry the three brands in the three main stages: from birth; from birth for hungrier babies; and six months-plus."

Regulatory restrictions in the UK prevent any advertising or promotion of the stage one and two milks, so mums won't be expecting promotions, but they will want their chosen brand and the right stage for their baby. Nash warns: "If they can't find what they need, mums will go elsewhere and take the rest of their shop with them."

Not surprisingly, Nash is enthusiastic about the baby food market and describes it as an "exciting opportunity for c-stores". She says: "To make the most of the opportunity retailers need to stock a good range of milk and jars and make themselves a destination shop for mums. Supermarkets are the main shops for mums, but research shows that c-stores are used for top-up and 'food for today' purchases."

Baby milk is delivering good growth for Nisa. Nisa-Today's trading controller Yvonne Reid explains: "Growth for us has come mainly from feeding (up 21% in retail value) with milks delivering the strongest growth.

"We have added new listings from Cow & Gate, Milupa, Aptamil and SMA, and these have added depth to the category. As a minimum, a store must stock both of the leading brands in powder format (Cow & Gate and SMA) in all three stages (from birth, for hungrier babies and follow-on). If space permits, and depending upon consumer demographic, the store should then consider premium brands (Milupa, Aptamil, Cow & Gate Comfort) and ready-to-drink formats of Cow & Gate and SMA."

Start right

Meanwhile, Nash recommends that c-store retailers register with the Department of Health's Healthy Start initiative. It's a scheme to help pregnant women and children under four in low-income families to eat more healthily.

Consumers on the Healthy Start scheme receive vouchers, which they can exchange at any registered outlet for liquid cow's milk, infant formula milk, fresh fruit and vegetables. Women who are eligible get £3.10 a week when they're pregnant; £6.20 a week for each baby aged under one year; and £3.10 a week for each child aged over one year and under four.

C-store retailers can apply to become a Healthy Start supplier and accept the vouchers. To register retailers need to call 0844 991 22 22 for an application form.

Nash says the baby food market is split 50:50 milk to jars, and space on shelf should reflect this. Jars tend to cover different feeding occasions: breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. These again come in stages, typically four to six months, nine months-plus and 12 months-plus.

"The old favourites are the popular ones," says Nash, "porridge, rice pudding and Sunday lunch."

Jars are not restricted by regulations so can be promoted. "We tend to do multibuys for independents - offering three or four jars for a price," says Nash. Nisa's latest promotion is 'three for £1.29' activity on Heinz.

As mums seek out healthy foods for their babies and toddlers so the organic baby food market has blossomed. According to Mintel, sales of organic baby foods accounted for a fifth of total market value in 2008, which equates to nearly £100m. And 73% of new baby food launches in 2008 were of organic products.

One company that is riding the crest of this wave is Plum Baby. Available from organic wholesalers Graig Farm, the products have seen a 50% leap in sales for the first half of this year.

The company's latest range is aimed at the 10-month-plus age group and features adult-style recipes such as root vegetable & beef ragout. The products include lumpier bits to encourage babies to chew. They come in 200g single-serve bowls, which are reusable.

Another company enjoying strong sales is Organix. Head of sales Martin Horner says: "Mums are looking for trust and reassurance when shopping for baby food. In particular, they look for foods that offer natural tastes, textures and flavours and which offer a baby variety and help to expand their palate."

The company's line-up includes: butternut squash & chicken; pasta stars with bolognese sauce; and apple & mango rice pudding.

Of course, the baby care market is not just about food, but about nappies and wipes, too. However Danone's Nash reckons the biggest problem independent retailers have to overcome is the misconception that the nappy market is bigger than the baby food one.

"They are each worth about the same amount (about £500m) and so are both important, but for some reason independents think the nappy market is bigger than baby feeding," she says.

When it comes to nappies, P&G's Pampers lead the way with a 57% market share, worth £273m a year according to IRI data for the 12 months ending May 2009.

The company's trade communications manager Paul Lettice says the key to the brand's success is that the products are inspired by both babies' and mums' needs. "We combine these needs with the best technology available and make sure these fulfil the requirements of retailers, as well as boosting incremental growth for the category."

Nisa's Reid confirms that Pampers Baby Dry is the leading brand for the wholesale group and she expects it to remain that way, but adds: "P&G is introducing the Pampers Simply Dry nappies range which will give independent retailers a product with a trusted name that will compete on price with multiple supermarket private labels."

Says Lettice: "Value for money is more important than ever in today's climate and, as market leaders, we are very pleased to be able to offer our superior product technology at a lower price point that every mum can afford with assurance that the quality of the nappy has not been compromised."
retailer view
"We get a lot of mums in the shop as we have schools nearby. We have four shelves of baby products with nappies, wipes and lotions. We sell each of the different sizes of nappies; they are a good seller but only if they are pricemarked. All my customers want pricemarked items, it seems. The Pampers pricemarked ones sell really well.

"We don't stock baby food at all because Booker doesn't have a good range. They keep delisting stuff. We stock something and then after a month I find it's been delisted. I think Bestway has a better range, but I don't have time to go there."

Pravin Patel, Premier/Manish News Food &

Wine, Northampton
top 10
1 Apple

2 Banana

3 Strawberry

4 Carrot

5 Sweet potato

6 Butternut squash

7 Spinach

8 Parsnip

9 Peach

10 Mango

Source: Organix
top tips
Retailers can make baby feeding a destination in-store by creating a one-bay baby care fixture in a location that mums can access with a pushchair

Go for a clear flow of product within food - wet, dry and finger food (snacks) - starting with milk, and all merchandised separately. This helps make it simple for mums to shop the fixture

If shelf space allows, block by 'stage' within each of the three main food areas or baby/toddler age: four months, seven months, 12 months and so on

Divide the available space into three, giving one-third to nappies, one-third to food and one-third to wipes and toiletries

Source: Cow & Gate/Organix
retailer view
"We have four shelves of baby products including jars of food and nappies. All the nappies are pricemarked, but that doe sn't seem to make much difference to sales.

"Londis has just started an offer of three jars of Heinz food for £1.50, but it's too early to say if that will do well. We do get the mums in the shop but they don't buy a lot of their baby stuff here - they must be getting it at the supermarkets."

Vicky Archer, Londis, Stourport on Severn,

ones to watch...

Sleep tight

P&G has launched a Golden Sleep initiative on its Pampers nappies to communicate to parents the 'complete dryness' that the brand offers. The promotional activity runs for 12 months and includes TV advertising.

tel: 0800 597 3388

Every day value

The Pampers brand has been extended to include nappies and wipes at a lower price. Pampers Simply Dry nappies come in midi, maxi and junior sizes; Simply Clean wipes are scented or unscented.

rrp: nappies from £3.99; wipes from £1.39

tel: 0800 597 3388

Plum lines

Organic baby food company Plum Baby has launched a 'tasty toddler' range for the 10-month-plus age group. There are three savoury recipes to choose from,

each packaged in 200g single-serve bowl.

rrp: £1.99

tel: 0845 389 0061

Finger foods

Plum Baby's organic snacks contains natural ingredients and 'supergrains'. The range includes spelt fingers with apple or pomegranate, minky moons with chamomile & vanilla, and oat rounds with orange oil and ginger.

tel: 0845 389 0061

Shooting stars

Sales of Müller's Little Stars have rocketed by 21.8% in the past 12 months (Nielsen figures), which is almost five times the 4.4% growth of the children's yogurt sector. A new on-pack promotion for the brand will be unveiled shortly.

tel: 01630 698600