Wegmans is experiencing an increase in sales of the first line of baby food to secure space in its refrigerated dairy case, Heather Gilbert, category merchant for baking, spices and baby products at Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans, told SN.
“We continue to see categories that are traditionally shelf stable grow a little more quickly over in the perishables department just because they usually can have a cleaner ingredient deck and be a little bit less processed,” she said.
For the past six months, the retailer has carried Pure Spoon, a line of perishable baby food that is made with fresh, organic produce that is steamed and cool-temperature, high-pressure pasteurized. The pasteurization process, which is associated with higher nutritional value and more flavor than high-heat pasteurization, is what drew Gilbert, a mother of three, to the line.
“The fact that it was a product that was really minimally processed … so it doesn’t go through any extra cooking that you wouldn’t do outside of making homemade baby food. So really knowing that it was the freshest baby food that I could offer my customer, along with the fact that I could offer them flavor profiles that you can’t normally find in the shelf stable aisle,” she said.
Wegmans carries nine flavors of Pure Spoon, including Creamy Avocado & Pears, Butternut Squash, Apples & Oats, and Spinach, Pear & Banana. The product is currently available in 33 of Wegmans’ 87 stores.
Gilbert worked with Wegmans’ marketing and advertising groups to create signs to direct shoppers looking for baby products to the dairy case.
“The signs say that Pure Spoon baby food is available in the refrigerated section so that a mom who is shopping for jarred baby food can see that signage,” Gilbert said. “And I also put signs in our diaper area too, because perhaps there is a mom who is not shopping for shelf-stable baby food because she makes homemade, who would have that interest in refrigerated baby food as well.”
Gilbert noted that trial is key when debuting something new in a mature category such as baby food.
“Especially in this category, you have to really build up that trial first,” she said. “We’re about six months in in selling it right now and every week we see sales grow, but in comparison to a shelf-stable baby food it doesn’t move the same velocity, but that was to be expected.”
Gilbert views the perishable baby food category as one that shows particular promise.
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“Overall HPP baby food is something that is going to grow and I’m sure that we’re going to see a much larger presence in this area five years from now. I think it’s where Millennial moms are going to go,” Gilbert said.
Sourcing a perishable product has proven to be a learning experience for the buyer who was accustomed to center store products.
“I had to reach out to my counterparts over in dairy,” she said. “First of all, I had to understand from them the logistics of the warehouse flow-through. I’m usually shipping through the traditional dry channel and now I had to learn how to move products through a perishable network. I really had to work with them to find out how much linear shelf space they could dedicate to me and work with them on the right placement of that product."
While food retail buyers have been known to be territorial when it comes to highly coveted shelf space, Gilbert related that that wasn't an issue at Wegmans.
“At Wegmans we really do try to work together to give our customers the best solution possible. So for us we understand what our customers’ needs are and so I found it very easy to work with our counterparts [in dairy] to help secure the space that was needed,” Gilbert said.
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