A Booming Business

November 11, 2005

Infant care is growing by leaps and bounds.

Little people have become a big industry. Where once a baby care routine involved a simple bath and powdering, parents and caretakers are now looking for products that soothe babies both mentally and physically.

And there are more babies than ever to pamper. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the U.S. birth rate is the highest it has been since 1971, at 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age (15-49).

The figure is an estimate based on tabulations of statistics from 2000 and assumes that the birth rate increase has remained constant between then and now. However, give or take a tenth of a percent, the implication is clear: one way or another, there are more babies being born in the U.S. now than in the last 30 years of NCHS calculations.

What does this mean to the baby care industry? It translates to more than just big numbers, marketers say. Today's parents, who want more for themselves in the wellness and personal care sectors, will do no less for their babies.

"The steady increase in the U.S. birth rate has contributed to the growth of the baby care market in recent years," said Andy Kantor, marketing director, Playtex Products Inc. "Since continued growth is projected, it is important for baby care manufacturers to continue to offer innovative new products to satisfy the needs of today's parents, while helping them provide the best possible care for their babies."

This means paying attention to the needs of both infant and adult. "Baby care manufacturers like Playtex recognize that moments spent bathing baby are important bonding opportunities for parent and baby," Mr. Kantor said.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, there was more of a focus on women entering the workforce and maintaining careers, because on a broad scale, that was a newer idea," said Jacqueline Singer, group marketing director, The Healing Garden (Coty), New York, NY. "In the 90s, the working-woman and 'mommy' ideal began to mesh. Today, parents want, and often achieve, both."

And it's both parents who are achieving it, according to Alison Orme, director of new product development, Crabtree & Evelyn. "In the past, ads with men in them usually featured an incredibly handsome man walking on the beach or attending a party," she said. "In many of today's ads, that man is much more natural-looking and is holding a baby."

With more babies, the involvement of both sexes and different caretaker situations, more products have cropped up as well. The baby soap category for supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart) rose 4.3% to $72.2 million for the year ended May 19, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago, and baby powders grew 2.9% to $61 million. Total sales of baby care products, including ointments, creams, soaps, petroleum jelly, baby oil and baby lotion, rose 1.7% to $336 million, according to IRI.

Happy and Healthy
The personal care industry has catered to a holistic-minded adult public for years. Marketers are bringing that extra-care mentality into the baby care segment.

For example, Gerber, a trusted name in babies' nutrition and health, has collected its baby washes, shampoos, powders and ointments on a "Wellness" page on the company's website. Products include Baby lotion, talc-free Baby powder, Vapor bath, Baby wash, Baby oil, Baby shampoo, Lavender wash and Diaper Rash ointment.

The company was among the top 10 baby soap vendors for the 52 weeks ended May 19, at $8.7 million, according to IRI. Though Gerber powder sales dropped 15.7% for the period, soaps rose a hefty 30%.

Crabtree & Evelyn reformulated its Tom Kitten line, which includes creams, washes, soaps, powders and auxiliary products.

Playtex is also taking an allover approach to baby care. Like other marketers, the company had competition from niche markets and extended product lines; Playtex baby soap sales were $12.3 million, a 12% decrease from the previous year, and baby powder sales fell 59.6% to $439,000, according to IRI statistics. But the company held its No. 2 spot for soaps and was in the Top 10 for powders. Playtex' major baby care brand continues to be the Baby Magic line, which contains Foaming and Creamy baths, shampoo, lotion and oil, as well as a travel pack. Playtex also recently shipped its Calming Milk product line, enriched with milk protein which is known for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, according to company executives. The products offer the aromatherapeutic benefits of lavender and chamomile to help calm and relax baby. The line includes Baby Magic Calming Milk bath, Calming Foaming Milk bath and Calming Massage Milk lotion.

Johnson & Johnson, No. 1 in the baby soaps category with $44.4 million and in baby powders with $40.3 million for the 52 weeks ended May 19, has been the baby care market leader for years. The company's Johnson's Baby line recently introduced Head-to-Toe Gentle Cleansing cloths and Moisturizing Gentle Cleansing cloths, the first disposable bathing cloths for babies, according to J&J executives.

The cloths are disposable, for a fresh, clean cloth every time the baby is bathed. They are easy to use, lather quickly, are softer than most wash cloths and contain the No More Tears formula, which is hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested, company executives said. A package retails for approximately $3.79-$4.59 for 28 cloths.

Johnson's Baby also introduced Baby shampoo with Natural Lavender, a gentle hair cleanser that's specially formulated with lavender and chamomile for a soothing, aromatherapeutic effect. The shampoo also contains the company's No More Tears formula. It retails for $2.99 for 15-oz. or $3.79 for 20-oz.

Johnson's Bedtime bath and Bedtime lotion each contain lavender and chamomile. They are part of Johnson's Baby Bedtime Basics set and are said to help fussy, irritable children into a calmer bedtime routine. The Baby Bedtime Basics set also contains Baby shampoo, the "How to Bathe Your Baby" guide and "When I Get Bigger" book by Mercer Mayer. It retails for $9.99.

The company also offers Johnson's Soothing Bedtime gift set, with Bedtime bath, Bedtime lotion, the "Bedtime Guide for Parent and Baby Interaction," a Lullabies CD, a Brio cuddly bear and the "Goodnight, Bunny" story book. It is available for $29.99.

Formulating for Tender Skin
It's clear that in a harried and sometimes overstimulating world, soothing and therapeutic products are becoming the new shining star of the baby care industry.

Aromatherapy, popular for some time among the adult set, isn't just for grownups anymore, and the number of holistic baby products is growing. However, there are special considerations when formulating products for babies.

"Babies' skin is very tender, and even if you're using natural products, you need to be very careful about how much of these ingredients you're putting in," said Ms. Singer of The Healing Garden. "Babies can't take as much as adults can take. But you need to use enough that it has an effect."

The Healing Garden has added Zzztheraphy for baby to its Zzztheraphy brand. The line was launched in April with five SKUs: Calm & Cuddly Gentle Baby bath, Comfy Cozy Nourishing Baby lotion, Tender Touch Soothing Baby powder and two gift sets, Hugs and Kisses and Bedtime Story. The individual items retail for $6.95 each. Hugs and Kisses, which contains a trial-size lotion, wash and powder and a pale-yellow cuddly duck, retails for $14.95. Bedtime Story includes a full-size lotion and wash and a cuddly lamb and retails for $17.95.

Monkey Bars hang from the baby's tub for a safer, less slippery bathtime.

All of the products are dermatologist-tested and colorant free, Ms. Singer said. "Coty's R&D group has really taken care in developing these products," she said. "When developing baby powders, for example, tests showed an instance of a single baby who suffered irritation from a certain formula. We didn't use that formula, period. When it comes to infants, you really do have to take that kind of care."

It's not just the ingredients and formulas, but the technology, that sets Zzztheraphy apart from the pack, Ms. Singer insisted. "The delivery system for our topicals is very sophisticated," she said. "With new technology, we're able to make finer blends than in the past, and the entire manufacturing process is pretty advanced. It's not just the ingredients a company uses, but how they're put together, that makes for a great formula."

Taking Gentle Care
The word "natural" is a tricky area in personal care. Products can contain natural ingredients but not be all-natural, for example.

Some companies try harder than others to get as close as possible to an all-natural product. Such is the case with Upper Montclair, NJ-based Muti Oils.

Company founder Melina Macall said, "There's been a big change in personal care in general, and people are looking for ways to nurture both themselves and their infants. One of the great appeals of our baby products range is that the products are as pure and natural as possible."

Muti Baby products contain extracts and essential oils which have historically been reputed to have soothing, anti-irritation, calming, healing or relaxing properties. Ms. Macall makes no claims but commented that her experience and that of her customers has been very positive.

Two new Muti Baby products, launching at press time, are Lullaby and Breathe. The oils are placed in a diffuser in the baby's room and/or around the home.

Muti Baby Bath oil includes lavender, which is said to be relaxing, and can be used in the baby's bath water. Baby Massage oil, one of the line's most popular products, includes chamomile and lavender, reputed to help ease colic, encourage sleep and alleviate skin irritations.

Also included in the line are Lavender and Chamomile Baby soap, Every Day Diaper gel and Intensive Care Diaper lotion. Auxiliary products are also available, including toys, baby slippers, a memory book and a wash glove.

Products are available via the company's website, www.mutioils.com, but are also distributed in select stores. "We're interested in distributing all around the country in the future," Ms. Macall said. Muti Baby products cater to the all-over experience of wellbeing: "People are looking for nurturing," Ms. Macall added. "Products like ours do that. They're the physical equivalent to emotional nurturing."

Known Products, New Angles
Crabtree & Evelyn, whose U.S. offices are in Woodstock, CT, is a global company: it currently distributes products to 350 stores in more than 40 countries.

When Crabtree & Evelyn executives decided to restage the Tom Kitten baby care line, the focus was on retaining consumers' trust in a well-known name, while delivering an upgraded product. "Because our customers trust the Crabtree & Evelyn name, we reformulated the Tom Kitten products to make them as safe and efficacious as possible," said Ms. Orme of the company.

With that in mind, Tom Kitten products include gentle formulas and fragrances that have been classified within the industry as generally less irritating or sensitizing.

"Parents need to have confidence and trust in the brands they use for their children," Ms. Orme said. "We make our products beneficial, and they're simple to use as well." This ease of use includes easy-open flip-top caps, tubes and easy dispensing systems, she said.

Items in the Tom Kitten line include Baby powder, which is talc-free and includes natural rice bran; Baby lotion; Baby cream; Baby wash and shampoo, a 2-in-1 formula and an eau de cologne, which is alcohol-free and contains notes of baby geranium and rosebuds. Price points range from $12-20.

Muti Baby includes products that are used topically and oils that are placed in diffusers around the house for soothing effects.
There is also a Tom Kitten Hat Box gift set which includes Baby wash and shampoo, Baby powder, Baby cream and a water-proof Tom Kitten bath book. The set retails for $42.

The company will continue to innovate in the baby care area, according to Ms. Orme. But any new introductions will focus on gentleness: "What we're looking toward for the future are gentleness, safety and efficacy," she said, "the same ideals we've always held. Our products are dermatologist-tested, and the Baby wash and shampoo is opthalmolic-tested. We want to make the caretaking experience as positive as possible."

Balancing Act
As any parent or caretaker knows, handling a soapy baby in a tub full of water or on a changing table can be a tricky proposition. With that in mind, infant care marketers are releasing products that are easier to handle.

Baby Bubbles soap, like other items in the Monkey Bars soap collection, uses a patented velcro-hang strip that leaves grown-ups' hands free during wash-up, according to executives at Kangaroo Corp., St. Petersburg, FL.

Baby Bubbles soap has a light, appealing scent and is gentle on skin, according to company executives. The 4-oz. bar contains a natural glycerin base and natural ingredients, with no lye or detergents. It contains aloe and olive oil.

Parents can hang the soap from the side of the baby's tub and pull it off when needed. Between washings, the soap hangs and air-dries, reducing the possibility of bacteria build-up and sludge that can occur when a bar is left in the soap dish.

Monkey Bars aren't just for babies-Baby Bubbles is only one of a line of 12 Monkey Bar SKUs currently available as a family-oriented range. "Each member of the family can have his or her own soap," said Thomas De Wan, president, Kangaroo Corp. "It's much more sanitary, and each family member can use the soap that appeals to him or her most."

There are some very practical advantages to Baby Bubbles in addition to its gentleness and tear free formula, according to Mr. De Wan. "You can hold the baby in one hand and wash with the other," he said. "It's an alternative for parents that can be much safer than traditional cleansing methods."

A Whole New World
Is all this attention on specific baby care too much? Not at all, according to industry experts. And their customers seem to agree.

"With people focusing on different priorities in the past, there's more of a bonding effort now than ever," Ms. Singer of The Healing Garden said.

"We're seeing a going-back-to-the-home movement now," agreed Ms. Orme of Crabtree & Evelyn. "Consumers are looking for what works for them, while at the same time creating a general good feeling within the home."

With more babies than ever to nurture, this is good news for children, parents and marketers alike.

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