Skip navigation


Supermarkets used to be the primary shopping outlet for young moms. In the past 10 years, though, they've been reduced to a convenience stop as shoppers have discovered they can score lower prices on diapers, wipes, baby food, and the like at discount and specialty stores.Thus, baby food category sales in all channels rose 1.1% for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, but declined 0.8% in supermarkets, according

Supermarkets used to be the primary shopping outlet for young moms. In the past 10 years, though, they've been reduced to a convenience stop as shoppers have discovered they can score lower prices on diapers, wipes, baby food, and the like at discount and specialty stores.

Thus, baby food category sales in all channels rose 1.1% for the 52 weeks ending Feb. 20, but declined 0.8% in supermarkets, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago. For the same time period, sales of baby accessories were up 6.7% in all channels, but down 5% in supermarkets. The trend was similar for ointments, shampoos, powders and pull-ups.

Many supermarkets rely on baby clubs and aggressive sales on diapers and formula to nurture shopper loyalty and regain share from other channels.

At such a crucial time for retailers, are their own organizations holding them back from trying a key strategy: consolidating baby products in one place?

For decades, most supermarkets have relied on health and beauty aid buyers to manage nonfood merchandise, said Bill Bishop, president of Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. Putting all baby care and food items near each other requires chains to implement a completely different category management strategy, a task few care to take on.

"This is what is putting a brake on progress in many companies," Bishop said. "But each retailer has to decide whether combining all baby products into one department is right for their shoppers. And if it is, how to do it."

Because HBA baby items and food products typically are distributed through different warehouse systems, it's a challenge to consolidate and manage the category, said Glenn Hausfater, managing partner, Partners In Loyalty Marketing, Chicago. The category should have its own manager, he said.

"Something retailers might try is to have a consolidated baby category governed by different category managers, which is always a recipe for disaster," Hausfater said. "If the sole responsibility is given to the HBA manager, he or she will likely pay more attention to the HBA aisle."

Lack of physical capacity may explain why retailers haven't moved faster to consolidate the aisle. The two new "lifestyle" formats from Food Lion and Marsh have embraced this approach, Bishop said. As newly built stores, these two didn't have the space problems faced by retailers wanting to consolidate baby departments in existing stores.

"Baby products tend to take up a lot of space. So the challenge comes in ensuring we have the shelf space to keep the products in a central location," said Tim Seidel, spokesman for Syracuse, N.Y.-based Penn Traffic.

Nevertheless, Penn Traffic has always sought to keep general baby merchandise and food items in one location, Seidel said. "Parents of young children have a lot going on, and creating a one-stop shop for all baby-related products eases the shopping experience for them."

For some retailers, security concerns prevent them from bringing all baby products to the same aisle.

"We've always had all of our baby products together in one aisle: food, formulas and diapers," said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn. "Now, even though we're in an affluent area, we have to keep formula locked up at our courtesy booth because there's so much theft. We have a note near the other baby items telling shoppers where to go to get the formula."

Despite the challenges, Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., decided consolidation was what its shoppers needed.

"Having baby food and cereal, diapers and wipes in one area close enough together is what our customers want," said Mona Golub, spokeswoman for the chain. "In terms of product placement, we focus not on what's more efficient for us, but on what our consumers want, which is to make choices and decisions regarding what baby products to buy all in the same location."

The 106-store chain has created a small store-within-a-store, housing everything from strained peas and infant formula to teething rings, thermometers and pull-ups in a single aisle.

Although only a handful of retailers have applied it to baby products, consolidation isn't a new concept for supermarkets. It's been applied to the pet and beverage categories, a fact that should make it easier to transform the baby category, said Rosemary Maxfield, vice president of the J. Brown Agency, a Stamford, Conn.-based marketing firm whose clients include manufacturers of baby products.

It's not enough to just throw everything in one aisle, though, Maxfield said.

"When moms, especially new moms, go down the aisles, they often have a hard time navigating. They tend to think in terms of stages of growth and development -- a concept many retailers haven't realized yet," she said. "If a retailer can figure out how to accommodate shoppers with babies by displaying products in an organized, logical way, they will be more likely to stay in the aisle longer as they look at all of the products that fit their baby's particular stage."

With more than 4 million babies born in the United States each year, and an average of two to three children per household, even a small slice of parental shoppers lost to mass retailers is bad news for a supermarket's bottom line. New parents are shopping much more than the baby aisle, so their loss means more than just foregone diaper sales.

Kids and babies eat up a hefty chunk of household spending. U.S. husband/wife families earning $68,400 before taxes spent more than a fifth of that on tots up to age 2, according to a 2003 U.S. Department of Agriculture study. About 10% of that was spent each on food and on miscellaneous items.

With a significant portion of parents' paychecks going toward child needs, low prices and clubs also can foster shopper loyalty.

Members of A&P's Baby Bonus Savings Club collect a $20 store coupon when they spend $200 on baby items within specified three-month cycles.

Penn Traffic's Wild Card Baby Club members receive a $10 gift certificate when their spending on baby products totals $150.

Clubs that combine price incentives with strategies aimed at making emotional connections with parents have a better shot at attracting shoppers, experts said.

Price Chopper direct-mails its baby club members coupons and promotions on popular items, along with information from child professionals about developmental stages in life, behavior, and health and nutrition. Between mailings, the retailer's baby club members receive postcards with additional offers. Club members receive a free cake for their baby's first birthday and are automatically entered into the chain's sweepstakes.

"It became clear to us that consumers with small children, particularly those between the ages of newborn and three, which our baby club caters to, are always seeking additional information, as well as some incentives to purchase the products they need the most," Golub said.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer, in addition to a club, has a baby gift registry and baby club section on its Web site, where new and expectant parents can read and get information about pregnancy, childhood health and nutrition, baby product recalls, and Upromise's college savings program.

Having an Internet-based baby club or marketing program that targets parents is vital for supermarkets, said Kevin Burke, president of Lucid Marketing, Allentown, N.J. "According to our own marketing study, 88% of moms make purchases based on e-mail messages. When deciding to make a purchase as a result of receiving an e-mail message, moms say that 54% of the time, they choose to buy off-line," he said.

Baby Basket

In the baby aisle, other channels are outpacing supermarkets:

Sales in millions,: 52 weeks ended Feb. 20

Supermarkets; YOY % Change; Food/Drug/Mass*; YOY % Change

Diapers: $1,300; -6.7; $2,338; -3.6

Formula/Electrolytes: $2,267; +3.0; $2,710; +4.4

Baby Food: $800; -0.8; $881; +1.1

Baby Accessories: $161; -5.0; $826; +6.7

Baby Wipes: $219; -3.4; $398; -0.1

*Excluding Wal-Mart Stores

Source: Information Resources Inc.