Kroger and Once Upon a Farm partner to test coolers in baby aisle

Kroger is testing refrigerators in the baby food section of 10 stores around Dallas and Houston.

Retailer Kroger is testing coolers in the baby aisle in 10 stores around Dallas and Houston, responding to demand from Millennial parents for fresh baby food.

Once Upon a Farm products—pouches of organic baby food processed using high pressure processing—will hit 1,000 stores by the end of 2017, and since the start of this year, sales velocity has doubled in some key accounts, COO Casandra Curtis told FoodNavigator-USA.

The pouch category for baby food grew 7% from 2014 to 2015, while containers and jars declined by 2%, Curtis said, citing Nielsen data.

“Parents are looking for fresher options; that definitely contributes to our success,” Curtis said. “And women in the workforce, that number continues to grow, and more Millennials are wanting fresher options…we’re bridging that gap, bringing healthy options with convenience.”

Learning from a trial with Target

Because Once Upon a Farm uses fresh ingredients and HPP to kill pathogens without heat, refrigeration is necessary for the product to keep—a relatively new demand coming from the baby aisle to retailers, where jars of shelf-stable puree have long been the norm.

This partnership with Kroger isn’t the first time the San Diego-based company collaborated with a large conventional grocer in merchandising chilled, HPP baby food in coolers in the baby aisle. The company tested it out with Target last year, and the trial ended in December 2016.

“We’ve had some great learnings that came out of that first program,” Curtis said about the Target partnership. So, what makes this Kroger partnership any different?

“Placement with Kroger is a lot different than how it was with Target,” she said.“The Kroger fridges were placed directly in the baby aisle, while the Target fridges were at the end-caps, so when parents were stopping over the baby aisle, it was very easy to overlook the fridge that was kind of hiding at the end.”

To their surprise—more popular in conventional than natural

Target and Kroger are just two big names that carry Once Upon a Farm products. Its distribution footprint includes several regions of Whole Foods, Wegman’s, HEB, and Hy Vee.

But these stores weren’t necessarily what co-founders Curtis and Ari Raz had in mind when they first launced. They initially focused on the specialty and natural channel. “Ironically, it’s been easier for us to get conventional accounts. We’ve actually had conventional supermarkets reaching out to us, wanting our product.”

It makes sense, Curtis said, as conventional stores are increasing their organic product offering count. “So, they’re really hungry for innovation,” she added.

Once Upon a Farm is a small brand with the ambitious plan of getting a refrigerator in every baby food section in the country in three or five years. It currently has company in Kroger’s baby-food fridge, PureSpoon and So Good Baby, which Curtis sees more as compatriots than competitors.

“I think it’s a good thing, it draws awareness to the category,” Curtis said. “We were the first ones on the market, very small in San Diego, but it’s great to see other brands in the space. It speaks to the paradigm shift happening on a national level of parents wanting fresher options.”

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