There will always be a need for baby food, but in recent years, the trend toward more nutritious plant-based options is on the rise. According to research firm Technavio, one of the major factors driving the growth of the infant nutrition market—which is expected to grow by $17.7 billion from 2021 to 2026—is the rising demand for vegan and organic baby food. 

Major brands and even celebrities are getting onboard. Actress Jennifer Garner co-founded Once Upon a Farm to bring fresh plant-based food to babies and toddlers. Her produce-in-a-pouch company condenses farm-raised fruits and veggies—some from Garner’s own family farm—into squeezable pouches designed for little ones. 

The eight-year-old brand sells cold-pressed, organic baby food in retail stores, online stores like Amazon, and direct-to-consumer, but Garner and co-founder and CEO John Foraker (formerly of Annie’s Homegrown fame) also have a social impact mission: making healthy baby food more affordable.

“We’ve gotta do a better job of feeding our kids,” Garner said at the 2018 Fast Company Innovation Festival. “It’s the most fundamental—you can’t ask kids to learn and be kindergarten ready and succeed and thrive if we’re not putting good, healthy nutritious food into their bellies.”

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The mission driving Garner and Foraker extends to a collaboration with the nonprofit Save the Children, a cause Garner has been dedicated to for over 15 years. Together, they introduced a product line designed to be affordable for families benefiting from the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). 

Their connection, rooted in disrupting for good and democratizing nutrition, emerged when Garner and Foraker first met. Their shared goal is to ensure universal access to nutrition for all children. 

“How you learn to eat is what you’re attracted to the rest of your life,” Garner said.

“We cannot expect little babies to grow up on fast food or whatever, and then to grow up and just be like, ‘Let me tuck into this kale salad.’ It’s just not fair,” Garner added.

Danone gets in on vegan baby food

French food giant Danone is set to enter the vegan infant formula sector, too. A new strategic partnership with Canadian brand Else Nutrition was formalized through a recent letter of intent, marking Danone’s expansion into the market of plant-based infant nutrition.

Danone, already a major player in the United Kingdom market with a 71 percent share through brands like Aptamil, Nutricia, and Cow & Gate, is capitalizing on the global infant formula sector.

In collaboration with Else Nutrition, Danone aims to diversify its plant-based offerings. The vast majority of infant formula on the market relies on cow’s milk as the primary ingredient, but Else Nutrition takes a unique approach, using almond butter, buckwheat flour, and tapioca maltodextrin as key components.

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Else Nutrition currently offers two products for toddlers: a complete nutrition powder and a variant containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for brain development. The collaboration involves Danone licensing Else Nutrition’s products under its own branding. The initial phase allows Danone to produce, market, and commercialize Else’s vegan infant formulas as part of its product portfolio. The two companies will subsequently explore additional opportunities beyond commercialization.

Else Nutrition emphasizes that its vegan instant formula is nutrient-dense, featuring easy-to-digest, gluten-free carbohydrates, along with a primary source of protein, fat, fiber, and vitamin E. The company’s commitment to innovation and quality has earned it accolades, including the Best Dairy Alternative at the 2021 World Plant-Based Awards and the Best Health and Diet Solutions award at Milan’s Global Food Innovation Summit in 2017.

Gerber ventures into plant-based protein

Last year, baby food giant Gerber ventured into the plant-based protein market for the first time with the launch of its innovative “Plant-tastic” line. The seven-item collection includes organic toddler snack pouches, crunchy snacks, and bowl meals, such as the enticing Vegan Mac, all crafted with plant-based proteins sourced from beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruits.

As the plant-based trend continues to gain momentum, Gerber aims to tap into this growing market and cater to the evolving preferences of health-conscious parents. A 2019 survey by Future Market Insights revealed that 81 percent of households with children incorporate plant-based protein into their meals, indicating a significant demand for plant-powered options for young consumers.

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The Plant-tastic line is strategically designed to align with changing consumer preferences, offering a variety of plant-based options suitable for different stages of childhood development. 

In addition to meeting nutritional needs, Gerber is addressing environmental concerns by ensuring the Plant-tastic line is certified carbon neutral by the Carbon Trust. This certification aligns with Gerber’s broader climate goals and underscores its dedication to sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

“We hear from parents [that] they want more plant-based protein options that align with their food and climate values,” Gerber President and CEO Tarun Malkani said in a statement.

“Gerber Plant-tastic offers stage-based nutrition across milestones starting with organic toddler pouches, snacks, and meals. We are proud the full range of Plant-tastic products is certified carbon neutral, furthering our commitment to climate-forward nutrition,” Malkani added.

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