How has Covid-19 Affected Sales in Babycare?

July 2021
Holly Whitefoord

As a mum of a feisty 28 month-old little girl, I felt compelled to write P&W’s July blog on how the baby care category is evolving due to Covid-19 after reading The Grocer’s ‘Rise of the Supermum’ report.


The article references Sophie Power, who, three months after the birth of her son, took on the 2018 Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc alpine footrace. She ran a staggering 106 miles and climbed 31,000ft, all while breastfeeding (at aid stations along route); a truly incredible feat. Power told Runner’s World“The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in OECD countries, I wanted to show you can keep doing what you want and carry on breastfeeding.”

 In fact, in Western Europe, breastfeeding rates have surged from 29.5% of six-month-olds being breastfed in 2000 to, in 2019, that number reaching 44.5%. Unlike formula, breastmilk contains hormones, enzymes, antibodies, stem cells, probiotics (and much more) which formula currently does not, and awareness of how incredible breastmilk is, has successfully spread via education and support. Also, with more mums working from home, it’s also enabled them the time to get to grips with breastfeeding, and with a recent study showing that breast-fed infants of vaccinated mothers will receive a degree of protection at a time when no Covid-19 vaccine is available for this age group, mothers have felt empowered to help protect their children.


So what impact has increased breastfeeding rates had on infant milk formula sales? Unsurprisingly, formula sales have crashed by £50.2m (-14.9%), making baby milk the biggest contributor to infant care’s -7.5% value decline in the past year [Kantar 52 w/e 18 April 2021].

In fact, the whole baby care category has dipped 7.4% (£111m),with 43.7 million fewer packs sold, with key players such as Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Kimberly-Clark all affected. This is despite babies in 2021 still costing parents an average of £6,000 in the first 12 months (£500 per month), according to research by insurer LV.


It’s believed that part of the downward turn is due to the fact that fewer children are being born. Even before the pandemic, levels of child-bearing in the UK were declining, but a new study suggests COVID-19 has impacted this further, with fertility rates at historically low levels (possible reasons including lack of socialising and economic uncertainties).

So what other Covid-19 related factors are impacting the baby care market? And which categories are struggling the most?


Kantar reports that nappies are down £47.2m (12.7%). Kantar analyst Callum Dempsey comments: “As we all spent more time in the home, parents had more opportunity to take their children to the toilet rather than rely on nappies. At the same time, the sector has seen a shift towards larger packs, something which had been occurring prior to the pandemic.” A pre-existing increase in parents opting for larger pack formats was exacerbated by the pandemic, and with parents at home more, potty training is happening earlier, thus fewer nappies are required.

Baby wipes, reported by Fortune Business Insights to be worth $5.54bn globally in 2019 have witnessed a downturn in sales too. Kantar reports that in the UK, baby wipes are down a massive £10.5m (-7%). It is believed that, at least in part, the decline is attributed to the fact that parents are looking for more bio-degradable options like Cheeky Wipes’ reusable cloth baby wipes to “reduce the environmental burden”.


As such, product innovation is one of the major trends in the baby wipes market. The big players are reportedly “conducting life cycle assessments on their products to explore areas of potential innovation to meet the demands of parents”. The result? Environment-friendly and sustainable products have become a major expected innovation.

Own brands like Aldi’s Mamia and Lidl’s Lupilu now offer biodegradable wipes at just 89p and 65p for 60, alongside challenger brands like the Cheeky Panda (£2.99 for 60) and My Happy Planet (£25.45 for 720 wipes). Also, with many more people working from home, parents and caregivers are resorting to washing mucky hands and faces instead of wiping. 


Alongside nappies and baby wipes and baby milk are baby healthcare (down £16.2m, or -15%) and baby accessories (down £6.4m or -7.8%). 


But which baby care categories are bucking the trend?


Baby toiletries have experienced a £9.9m increase (+8.7%), baby oral care is up £1.6m (+12.6%) and baby food has increased £7.9m (+2.8%),reportedly all buoyed by inflation and the fact that parents are spending more time with their children at bath-time and bedtime and are willing to spend more on these products. Childs Farm Baby Bedtime Bubbles Organic Tangerine recently won gold at the Mother & Baby Awards (RRP £4) and many premium brands have recently launched, including Honest Baby Gently Nourishing Bubble Bath at £7.99 and Dr Barbara’s Sturm Baby & Kids Bathing Milk at a whopping £25 per bottle. This is versus branded Matey Molly Bubble Bath costing consumers £2 and Tesco’s own-label Fred & Flo Bubble Bath retailing at just £1.

The Grocer also reports that own-label has made significant gains in infant care, with value share rising from 24.7% to 25.6%, with Lidl being the main contributor. Its +1.5% gain is entirely attributed to its award-winning baby range, Lupilu, which includes food, toiletries, nappies, and the aforementioned biodegradable wipes. Sainsbury’s (up 3%) and Waitrose (up1.7%) were the only other major retailers to achieve growth.


M&S has recently launched its new range ‘Little Smiles’ which includes nappies, baby wipes, bubble bath, cotton wool balls, and body lotion, with purse-friendly prices between £1 and £3. The toiletry lines are all cruelty-free, vegan, and dermatologically tested and are also available on Ocado.


Interestingly, the pre-mentioned growth in breastfeeding rates across the UK mirrors a general trend towards more ‘natural’ baby food and drink products that are perceived as less processed, therefore healthier and better for growing children. In turn, this reflects the huge grow thin the organic food and drink market generally which is now worth £2.79b, increasing an incredible +12.6% since last year. It also has provided a boost in global baby food maker sales, with the market predicted to reach $1256m by 2026, from $752.6m in 2020, at a CAGR of 8.9%.

Also, since Covid-19, The Soil Association’s report showed that since the outbreak, “The pandemic has led to a greater appreciation of food, which has helped increase sales of organic”, with consumer confidence in organic produce increasing alongside the almost 50% of consumers (1,002consumers polled) feeling worried that US-style industrial farming was on the increase in the UK. In the near future, British consumers, stripped of protections afforded by EU regulations, “could be exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals used in US agriculture”, according to an article on Greenpeace’s UnEarthed last year.


See our blog last month regarding regenerative farming to find out about soil health and what brands are doing to help avoid disaster for our planet.


This being the case, more baby food brands like Piccolo and Little Freddie are entering the market, offering products aimed at the increasing number of parents looking for high-quality organic products for their children. This includes Aldi’s Mamia’s own-label products offering almost identical products for less than half the price. In fact, own-label innovations are currently successfully squeezing brands that lack a clear point of difference.


One key area of growth in the baby food category is products aimed at the higher number of parents cooking for their children since the pandemic began last year. It is true that due to lockdowns and the shift towards working from home, 56% of parents are now cooking from scratch for their babies, according to Piccolo. The brand has recently launched a range of organic risotto meal kits.

As a mum to a toddler, I can speak from experience. My own shopping habits have changed since my Ella’s Kitchen pouch-buying-and-occasional-ready-meal-buying days. Working from home has enabled me the time to make all of my daughter’s meals from scratch. She almost exclusively now eats what we eat (on the rare occasion I will purchase a Kiddylicious snack pack of cheesy straws). However, I am acutely aware of avoiding too much salt and sugar in her diet, which is where evolved ‘shortcut’ baby food options can define a niche for themselves. 

Alice Baker, Senior Research Analyst at Mintel comments “The COVID-19 outbreak hit sales of baby food and drink products by boosting scratch cooking. Shortcut cooking products such as parent/child meal kits and cooking sauces specially formulated for babies/toddlers would help companies to capitalise on this trend, which Mintel expects to continue due to permanent shifts in work patterns.” It is expected that ’shortcut’ meal products in baby food will become the ‘next normal’, enabling parents to feel part of the cooking process whilst still offering sought-after convenience.


It also appears that environmentally-conscious challenger brands across baby care are successfully taking their piece of the pie. This is in part due to more parents than ever being aware of the environmental impact of bringing a child into the world and wanting to do their utmost to ensure their children's health and future are protected.


For example, challenger premium nappy brand Rascal & Friends has racked up £1.4m in sales in the past year, with parents buying into its vegan, ‘no nasties’ angle. Other premium baby care brands like wooden toy and accessories company Lexy Pexy, eco-friendly skincare brand Nom Nom, eco-friendly plant-based cleaning brand Nimble as well as the award-winning Kit & Kin, which sells natural and sustainable skincare products and eco nappies. All of these brands have experienced increased sales over recent months.


Also, parents are increasingly looking to purchase economic, sustainable options whilst supporting other parents. As our society becomes more savvy with its money and more eco-conscious, the idea of our baby products piling up in landfill sites is unacceptable. To help combat this, parents are purchasing second-hand clothing, accessories, and toys (via the likes of Babybundle and Facebook Marketplace). Samantha Valentine, Co-Founder of online second-hand children’s clothes site wearedotte comments: “The pandemic has forced people to take a look at their day-to-day: what’s important, what isn’t, what’s just fluff.” Parents are wising up, spending their money on new purchases that are essential, and opting for circular-economy options wherever possible.


With a greater focus on the environment than ever before, it’s expected that this sustainability trend will continue, also further reflecting in packaging options.


So what is happening with baby care packaging? Has that been impacted by Covid-19 and is it becoming more eco-friendly too?


Well yes, baby care packaging IS evolving, slowly but surely. 


Within the baby food market, the packaging is highly competitive, owing to the presence of many domestic and international players. Eco-conscious innovations for baby food manufacturers include creating biodegradable and/or recyclable packaging that replaces standard pouch formats (made from both plastic and aluminium) that have increasingly become the norm in the sector. Evolving from the standard pouch format to similar, familiar, recyclable options will likely be the first step for many brands. Piccolo is leading the sector, having recently launched a 100% recyclable baby food pouch with is suitable for kerbside recycling (Ella’s Kitchen has also partnered with TerraCycle to offer ‘EllaCycle’ where customers can send their packaging directly to them for processing instead!).


The focus on eco-conscious choices is a great step forward for the industry and I definitely believe that the ultimate aim within the entire baby care sector should eventually be to adopt not just recyclable packaging options, but biodegradable ones wherever possible. In fact, with Two Farmers compostable crisp packets already on the market, there’s no reason baby food brands could not adopt the same, or similar, technologies for their snack packs. And with huge innovations in pouch technologies, biodegradable pouches are on the horizon too.

It's going to be up to brands to listen to what their evolved consumers’ demands are. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s clear that a focus on eco-consciousness is going to be paramount, with both packaging and product formulas effected. Increased naturalness, health-benefits and hygiene are also all key areas of focus.


It’s interesting to understand how much Covid-19 has shaped the baby care category in 2021 in ways we could never have predicted a couple of years ago.


To learn more about the 5 Surprising Way Covid-19 has Impacted Retail Shopping and what ‘The New Normal’ is for Packaging Design Strategies, click on these links to read our blogs.


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