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March 19, 2013

Organic baby food more costly, not necessarily more nutritious

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Parents opting for organics pay a premium. At a Wegmans grocery in Virginia recently, for example, a four-ounce jar of Gerber non-organic sweet potatoes cost 65 cents while the organic version, made by Earth's Best, was 85 cents. A 4.2-ounce pouch of Earth's Best sweet potato and apple puree cost $1.49. Yet Mintel reports that four in 10 mothers are willing to pay the premium for organics.

Jarred baby food is typically considered the domain of infants, but it's common to see toddlers eating from pouches, and some companies have introduced squeeze pouches for adults.

Most babies need to eat super-smooth baby food for the first few weeks after introducing solids, Hays says. After that, she says, their oral motor skills advance quickly and parents should watch to see when their kids are ready to move from simple purees to more complex mixtures and eventually finger foods and table foods.

"Having a positive eating experience with a variety of foods, testing for allergic reactions and advancing textures are the most important parts of early feeding, not whether they're getting organic or not," Hays says.

How popular are the organic pouches? Visram started the company in 2006 with $115,000 in sales; by 2011, she said, she was up to $35 million. ("I pinch myself a lot," she says.) The company's top pouch is the spinach, mango and pear flavor. At 3.5 ounces and 60 calories, parents are smitten with the idea of getting their kids to eat spinach, "one of the holy-grail, top-10 foods you want your baby to develop a taste for," Visram says. While spinach is listed first on the front of the pouch, it's actually the third ingredient listed in the official "Nutrition Facts" label on the back, behind pear and mango.

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