Baby food, for the uninitiated, does not seem very exciting. Babies don’t have teeth, their digestive tracts are still works in progress and they aren’t known for their sophisticated palates. In most cases, baby food is mainly a lot of bland, pureed foods that provide sustenance until the time that chewing is added to a new human’s skill set.
But while the dishes themselves may lack a certain culinary flair, the market to feed the nation’s babies is becoming an incredibly exciting space. According to Zion Market Research, the global baby food market could reach as much as $76 billion by 2021.
The market is getting bigger and more competitive as an increasing number of players are rethinking what baby food can and should be. The standard for the last 91 years – ever since Gerber rolled out its first array of jarred baby food in 1928 – has been shelf-stable products, which don’t need refrigeration and are good for a long time (as long as they remain unopened). Glass jars and plastic tubs had also been standard until recently – but about 10 years ago, as the market began to attract startups and new players, the packaging was among the first things to change. Pouches that a baby or toddler can “sip” from started popping up, along with brighter colors, organic ingredients and full nutritional guides based on a baby’s dietary needs.
And then there is a wave of the newest entrants – like the two-year-old, L.A.-based startup Yumi – which aim to make even more fundamental changes to the industry, starting with the idea that baby food is best served from shelf-stable packaging. It was a great innovation in an early 20th– century world where refrigeration was rare, but is less useful in the digital 21st century, when fresh food can be easily found in stores.
And, in Yumi’s case, it can be delivered on-demand to a customer’s front door.
“Our goal is to change the standards for childhood nutrition, and completely upend what it means to be a food brand in America,” said Yumi Co-founder and CEO Angela Sutherland. “[These] visionary leaders have all redefined their categories, and now we have the opportunity to work together to reimagine early-age nutrition for the next generation.”
Yumi is a subscription program that allows parents to choose to receive one to three meals per day, shipped to their door once a week. Yumi’s “secret sauce,” so to speak, is the team of doctors, nutritionists and chefs they have assembled to develop specific meals and pairings for each child’s specific growth stage. At present, the company offers about 70 options for blended and solid foods for toddlers.
The service also uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to track what foods parents are ordering over time, allowing them to make recommendations for future meal orders and to send educational packets with nutrition tips to help parents maximize their children’s healthful food intake.
The service is not inexpensive: With the three-meal-per-day membership tier, the cost shakes out to about $5 per meal, a not terribly frightening number until one considers they can buy a jar of Gerber for less than $1.
But the offerings are quite different. As opposed to getting a packet of mushed green beans or sweet potatoes, Yumi offers more exciting options like mulligatawny soup or peaches and blackberry chia pudding. Whether those more exotic and palatable-sounding options actually matter to children under the age of one is hard to gauge – but parents seem to be responding to the service.
Yumi reports their sales have increased tenfold over the last year, and the brand has just scooped up $8 million in new funding from some very illustrious names in Silicon Valley, including Allbirds, Warby Parker, Harry’s, Sweetgreen, SoulCycle, Uber and Casper. All in, the firm has raised $12 million.
But it will take that money into an increasingly crowded market, as many are racing to capture the $76 billion bounty that baby food will represent two years from now. The players are myriad, among established food brands as well as a host of startups offering their unique twist on feeding small children.
Baby food in itself may not seem all that exciting – but it’s looking like the race control the market will soon become quite interesting.