Banding together under the PHA 'Veggies Early and Often' campaign with the ambitious goal of changing the landscape of early childhood feeding habits, is a group of emerging brands (Fresh Bellies, lil'gourmets, Nurture Life, Square Baby, and Sprout Foods) as well as The National WIC Association and other stakeholders in early childhood development including KinderCare Education and Learning Care Group.
Backed by research published in the campaign's supporting white paper, PHA and its partners are calling on industry leaders, health professionals, and early education partners to "raise a generation of veggie lovers" by prioritizing innovative approaches to introduce and sustain the consumption of a variety of vegetables in children's diets starting very early.
“There is room for improvement in the retail baby and toddler food marketplace to include affordable products that promote children’s increased acceptance of veggies," said Nancy E. Roman, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America.
"Our hope is that this campaign will increase transparency in the baby and toddler food marketplace and accelerate consumer demand for veggie-forward options.”
As part of the campaign, PHA along with member input created a certifying veggie-forward icon to depict on products to serve as a reliable indicator to parents and caregivers that products marketed as having vegetables actually have vegetables in significant amounts (at least 40% of the product must be made up of vegetables).
Veggies early and often
While many parents are aware of the importance of a focus on vegetable intake in their child's diet at an early age, the data shows that most children aren't consuming nearly enough vegetables (as recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines).
Approximately 10% of children meet the daily recommended amounts of vegetables set by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines (.66-1 cup of vegetable intake recommender for toddlers, 12-23 months - see chart below), according to the white paper released by PHA earlier this week.
The research also shows that the window of opportunity to shape a child's palate to like and eat vegetables may be breath-takingly brief (4-7 months of age) making the need for consumer education even more pressing, say partner members of PHA.
When children are introduced and repeatedly given vegetables during this time frame of 4- to 7-months-old, the results are positive, says PHA.
According to its white paper, an examination of the association between vegetable intake at 10.5 months of age and intake at age 6 found that children who ate vegetables less than once daily during late infancy had 2.4 times higher odds of eating vegetables less than once daily at age 6, compared with children who ate vegetables more frequently (2+ times per day) during late infancy.
Industry action points
Partner companies such as lil'gourmets and Square Baby say they look forward to having the endorsement of PHA and other industry stakeholders to spread a message they founded their brands upon.
"For us, it’s a validation and this recognition of what we’ve been trying to scream, but we’re a small little brand," Shibani Baluja, founder and CEO of lil'gourmets, which makes a line of fresh, organic veggie-forward baby food featuring globally inspired flavors such as pumpkin navy bean shwarma and Moroccan butternut squash.
"We’re already featuring it [Veggies Early & Often messaging and icon] on the footer of our website, and our hope is this could be the next certifying icon (similar to consumers' recognition of the Certified Organic logo)," said Becky Graham, chief marketing officer at lil'gourmets.
Katie Thomson, MS, RDN, co-founder and CEO of Square Baby -- a DTC company making and shipping 'complete nutrition' baby food meals -- said the campaign and the efforts made by its member companies have the potential to transform the nutritional direction of children's diets in the US.
"To know about only 10% of our kiddos are meeting their vegetable intake is so unacceptable," Thomson told FoodNavigator-USA. "This is not a marketing ploy or a ‘feel good’ moment, this is recognition that there is a real problem, and there’s substance to this and research to back it up."
While the initial group doesn't include any big food names that could help spread the campaign's veggie forward messaging on a larger scale, the hope is that major players in the industry will eventually join the cause.
"If you look at the partner companies on the list it is the trailblazers of the group, it is those that are going out trying to create a new standard... and together as a group we do add up to quite a bit," noted Thomson, who is revving up expansion plans at Square Baby in 2021.
"I think there is a huge educational moment here. I think that many consumers have started to realize the amount of sugar in baby food, and any true stakeholder has the opportunity to make a big difference," added Thomson.
Square Baby is in the midst scaling up from a commercial kitchen facility to a co-manufacturer to begin shipping nationwide to meet the organic demand it has accumulated since the company was founded in 2018.