They emerge red-eyed and twitching in unchanged clothes, frantically searching the aisles for something to put an end to their misery. Yes, your customer is a new parent and, despite initial appearances, they're a captive audience.

Why? Because they need you. Take the scenario of a new mum who has run out of formula and meal time is approaching. There are two options. Either they can bundle the baby into the car and head to the superstore (that's if they have a car, let's not even think about the horror that is a pram on a bus), get stuck in midday traffic with rising screams coming from the back seat, park, decamp the baby, run around the aisles with car seat teetering on top of the trolley, queue, pay, reload baby, who is by now apoplectic with rage and has filled its nappy, take the baby out again, run back into the store, find the changing rooms, clean up the baby, run back to the car, load the baby once more and drive home, where they'll spend the next half-hour calming the child down to the point where they will actually feed.

Or they can nip down the road with the pushchair to their friendly c-store and be back before baby has even noticed he's hungry. Which would you choose?

Sarah Currier, mum to 19-month-old Elara and six-week-old Summer, says she knows where she'd rather shop. "To get to a supermarket is a trek and a half. Trying to get two babies in a car is a nightmare it's so much easier to throw them in a buggy and go round the corner. Being a parent is unpredictable and it's that unpredictability that you need your local shop to be there for," she asserts.

Jason Belmont, Danone category marketing controller, adds: "Being located within the community means that smaller retailers are well placed to respond to mums' needs for top-up and distress purchasing.

"Retailers who are known to stock a good range of milks and foods are likely to attract baby shoppers, who typically spend 29% more than the average shopper."

Baby is critical in convenience, agrees SMA product manager John Artley. "It's a key category and is increasing year on year. In terms of birthrate it's up 4% that's an extra 33,0000 babies."

In fact, the UK is in the middle of its greatest population increase in almost 50 years, which has seen fertility rates reach their highest level for 15 years with 790,000 babies born in the UK in 2009.

Heinz marketing manager Helen Tarragano says that this all points to potential sales. "What the main baby feeding market trends show clearly is that there is an evident opportunity for independents. It's about making mums' lives as easy as possible".

top tips
Stock the big sellers in each stage and for each occasion in milk, jars and finger food. Mums are on a steep learning curve and tend to go with what they know, making them brand loyal 

Don't forget to flag up any deals or offers maternity pay makes money tight 

Make sure the fixture can be reached with a pushchair in tow Watch what you put around the baby fixture the mum will probably be distracted making her choice, so keep hazardous or breakable goods out of the reach of small children 

If you don't have much room consider putting the fixture next to slower moving items where a pushchair won't upset other customers 

Keep the fixture clean and tidy. New mums often won't buy anything that doesn't look pristine
Belmont agrees: "Baby feeding in convenience is in double-digit year-on-year growth. Milks, in particular, are doing well as independents are coming to realise how important they are to mums who shop."

But he says mums are loyal so retailers need to be brand aware. "Mums rarely swap brands and only then if their baby is unhappy on their milk. So it's important to stock the milk that they need."

He says that Danone is looking to improve distribution of its Aptamil brand in independents: "Aptamil milk is now the number one brand in grocery multiples, but Aptamil still has low distribution in convenience and independents."

SMA has recently revamped its range and changed the formulation of its First Instant Milk. Artley says that while powder is important, ready made is a key convenience buy. "The key difference between convenience and the mults is liquids," says Artley. "Powder represents 75% of the market and is absolutely critical for First or Follow up Milk because you don't switch. But when it comes to toddlers, they can have cows milk as an alternative, so a liquid offering often makes sense for on the go and impulse. "

SMA has recently launched the first liquid offering in its No 3 toddler milk a 200ml serving complete with straw for ultimate on-the-go convenience. Now in supermarkets, it will be rolled out to c-stores later this year.

And, says Artley, it's the toddler market c-stores need to be looking to for potential sales: "Toddler is really not represented in convenience, but it's what is growing the market and is expected to account for 22% of the market by 2012. It keeps mum in the brand for longer and represents an added £2m opportunity for the convenience channel."

The toddler market also holds an advantage in that the restrictions on advertising are looser than for younger milks. SMA backed its 900g Toddler Milk with £2m support in May and June this year.

Artley says that with health visitors now advising mums not to use extra hungry milks unless specifically advised to, c-stores should guard against overtrading in this area. "It's declining at about 2-3% year on year," he points out.

Belmont believes that a good milk range has a knock-on effect to baby food. "Better milks ranging and availability has had a halo effect on foods. In particular, savoury jars are doing well. Across all markets cans are in decline as mums are looking to jars and new formats such as pouches and pots."

Puree and simple

Rachel's Organic marketing director Steve Clarke says that the baby food market still has much potential for growth: "The kids yogurt dessert market is huge. Mums are always looking for a sweet sign-off to a meal, but want desserts that are healthy."

Rachel's has two yogurt products within chilled baby: My First Yoghurt and Taste Explorers. Clarke says that the company is also looking at other options including smaller fills from its current 90g to 70g, as well as the possibility of branching into fromage frais, jellies and mousse.

He says health is a major cue for mums. "When a child arrives in the household mum and dad start looking to make really good, healthy choices and it's often the time when organic comes into the house for the first time."

Tarragano from Heinz says that mums now have more choice than ever in baby food, with fortification a key selling point. "I think fortification in certain categories becomes important for mums as it's an extra level of reassurance," she comments.

Non-food essentials
Obviously, there is more to the baby fixture than just food. Nappies, baby wipes and toiletries should take about 70% of the space to reflect market share. According to Kantar Worldpanel, the total baby non-food market has risen 3% year on year to £933,964m in 2010, making up 67% of the total baby market. According to P&G trade communications manager Paul Lettice, the next trend in nappies will be thickness, or rather the lack of it. Pampers has recently added New Baby and Active Fit ranges which feature Dry Max, cutting bulk by 20% (see Ones to Watch, p54) which, in turn, helps retailers to maximise shelf space: "They are easier to store in change bags and allow more freedom of movement for baby," says Lettice. Last year the brand launched a new value range in nappies and wipes, Pampers Simply Dry nappies and Simply Clean wipes. Mum Sarah Currier says that she finds that c-stores don't stock enough nappies for older toddlers. "You don't need toys or clothes, but you do want a full range of nappy ages." She says she's brand loyal when it comes to nappies, but has switched according to each stage. "I started with Pampers and now buy Huggies because the different brands seem to respond better to different ages."
Heinz says that its jars are growing at 20.4% value and 20.9% volume compared with last year. Says Tarragano: "Mums are looking for flavours to give to babies during weaning, and convenience with portable snacks which are resealable and multi-usage products."

She adds that it's a fast moving market, but the dry category is one to watch. Here, Heinz has recently added a Sunday Chicken Dinner variety to its range of savoury cereals for babies aged from four to six months.

Another key market, and one that keeps mums in the baby category for longer, is snacking. "As a general rule sectors such as finger foods and snacking products tend to be naturally predisposed to slightly older babies," says Tarragano. "Some mums are happy to give babies Digestives or Quavers, but some wait within the baby/toddler sector."

In February the company launched Heinz First Steps Toddler Cookies, specially formulated for young children and made so that children can hold them.

Plum Baby has also recently expanded its snack range with six products made with heritage grains such as spelt and teff and including authentic Italian hand-rolled breadsticks made with extra virgin olive oil.

So much to stock

retailer’s view
"Our baby section has been expanding in the past six months. There are lots of mums here and it's quite a nice area so we've put a lot of premium stuff out for a point of difference with the supermarkets in the neighbourhood. "Kids are the most precious things to parents and they want to know where their food comes from. They tend to go for organic so price isn't really an issue. We do stock all the brands but Ella's Choice outsells the more everyday ranges by three to one. We've had fantastic feedback and people seek us out because of the range. "We also sell a couple of organic nappies as well as the usual range, and babycare items from Johnson & Johnson through to some organic wash that sells really well." James Brundle, Spar Walthamstow
Of course, what all this innovation brings is an enormous amount of product which retailers have to fit on their shelves. Deciding what to stock can be a daunting task.

According to Belmont, milk should be the priority, followed by jars: "They represent 77% of sales in baby food. Stock varieties of recipes and represent all the meal occasions and each age stage."

Finally, he advises stocking a small range of finger food, drinks and dry meals finger foods are great for on-the-go occasions such as after a toddler group, and dry meals are a good cupboard standby.

Tarragano says that c-stores' role in the community can be a key factor in the success of the baby and toddler category. "The beauty of smaller traders is that they know their demographic. Retailers often get involved in their local community and can get involved in local nurseries to understand mums' needs."

Finally, remember that the baby section could be one of the most important for you in terms of retaining customers. Get it right and you'll have at least two loyal customers for life.
ones to watch...
Nice and fruity 
Heinz has added a new mixed berries & apples flavour to its range of Heinz Juices. The company has also added spring water to the range following research which showed that mums often water down juices for their children. rrp: £1.65 tel: 020 8573 7757 

Dry run 
Pampers is supporting its new Dry Max nappies with a marketing campaign throughout the summer. Dry Max is what P&G calls super absorbing technology which is incorporated into its New Baby and Active Fit nappies. The resulting nappy is 14% lighter. tel: 0800 597 3388 

Pots of potential 
Heinz has launched 100% fruit and vegetable pots for mums looking for first flavours for weaning babies. The pots can be combined with other foods or used alone for breakfast, snacks or dessert. Each contains one of a baby's five a day. rrp: £1.69 tel: 020 8573 7757 

Star turn 
Müller is running an on-pack promotion on Little Stars, teaming up with the Early Learning Centre (ELC) to offer consumers 20% off ELC goods. Activity runs until mid October. Müller is also running press ads in titles such as Mother & Baby until November. tel: 01630 692000 

New pouches 
Plum Baby has launched three new Stage 2 pouch recipes for babies from seven months. In the range are minted peas with lamb & redcurrant, lemon chicken & sweetcorn & tarragon and root vegetables with green lentils. rrp: £1.45 tel: 0845 3890061