Baby food sector is neglecting infants’ nutritional needs, says start-up

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The company claims that well-known brands are exploiting babies’ preference for sweetness by loading products with fruit rather than vegetables, and that most commercially made brands are relying on unnecessary amounts of sugar to appeal to babies’ innate preference for sweet flavours.

“One of the category leaders sells a ‘Broccoli, Peas and Pears’ pouch leading parents to make the assumption that this is a vegetable pouch mixed with some fruit,”​ it said. “In fact, this particular meal option contains a mere 7% broccoli but 79% pears. Not quite what the product name suggests!”

Dr Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani, Paediatrician and Co-Founder said: “We have an innate preference for sweet tastes, as these are associated with calorie-dense and ripe foods, whereas bitter tastes are associated with potentially poisonous foods. During the weaning process, babies will develop a habit to choose the foods they were exposed to frequently. Studies have shown that frequent and early exposure to bitter tasting vegetables increased the likelihood of toddlers choosing these foods later on.”

She claimed baby foods use ‘unnecessary amounts of sugar’ “because babies will very quickly develop a taste for the products, leading to repeat purchase. But this is actually doing a disservice to parents who believe they are making healthy choices for their children.”

Little Tummy claims to remove the hassle of making homemade baby food by offering fresh, paediatrician-developed meals, created using High Pressure Pasteurisation (HPP). The meals are available by subscription service.

Niedermaier-Patramani told FoodNavigator that using HPP allows the company to preserve ‘vital’ nutrients, textures and flavours.

Blueberry, Quinoa & Yogurt (1)

‘All of the ingredients used in our meals are of the highest quality to ensure that parents can trust the food they are giving their infants:’ Little Tummy

“HPP uses high hydrostatic pressure to inactivate bacteria and viruses and thus increase shelf-life of fresh foods​,” she said.

“Whilst heat-sterilisation leads to a loss of vitamins and other micronutrients as these are not heat-stable, HPP preserves the goodness of the ingredients. Another reason why we use HPP at Little Tummy is that it helps us to maintain the authentic texture and flavour of our ingredients. This is important especially in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, when taste preferences are set for a lifetime.”

Niedermaier-Patramani said there is demand among parents for healthy and convenient baby food options.“Getting babies used to bitter flavours is not easy, as it can take up to 10 trials for a baby to accept a new flavour, especially if it is particularly bitter. We have an innate preference for sweet tastes, as we associate them with ripeness and calorie-density. On the other hand, bitter vegetables are abundant in a variety of vitamins and minerals and are a healthy and essential part of our diet.

“This is why parents need more support as well as convenient solutions. Preparing meals rich in flavour, that are also healthy, can be very time consuming. This is all at a time when parents are multi-tasting, perhaps returning to work, and maybe still contending with sleep deprivation.”

When asked how her startup is distinguishing itself from the competition already in this space, she claimed parents have been longing for a healthier alternative and up to now had little option outside of time-consuming home-cooking.

“Not only do our meals have an authentic flavour but they are also complete meals rather than fruity snacks, as we use plant-based sources of protein. Most importantly, HPP allows us to keep the sugar content of our meals low and keep the fibre of our ingredients intact. Little Tummy meals contain half the amount of sugar compared to many of the existing brands on the market. This can help to set up a healthy gut flora.”

At around £2.44 per meal, however, parents can expect to pay a premium for the focus on nutrition and convenience.

Niedermaier-Patramani said: “We have worked really hard to price Little Tummy meals as fairly as possible. All of the ingredients used in our meals are of the highest quality, and the methods employed to make them (specifically HPP) ensure that parents can trust the food they are giving their infants. The meals are delivered direct to parents’ doorsteps, so it really is the most convenient and nutritious option.”   

She added that ‘honest’ labelling is an important part of the company’s strategy. All its meals are labelled as suitable from 6 months onward and the first listed ingredient is the dominant ingredient.

“Most baby food companies disregard the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to start solids at 6 months of age and label their meals from 4 months onwards,” ​she claimed.  

“In addition, you can find plenty of ready-made baby meals which use a healthy vegetable as the first ingredient (e.g. zucchini) but are made up of almost 80% apple sauce for example. This is misleading for parents who are made to believe they are making healthy choices for their little ones.”

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