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It was the puree that did it.
New mother Alexandra Wardle, was trying to feed her son, Tyler. In pureeing food and introducing him to solids, she went through container after container.
“I was preparing a lot of food and I was putting it into an ice cube tray and I just couldn’t get it out of the ice cube tray,” she says. “Once you’ve pureed baby food, it becomes very dense. I ended up breaking the ice cube tray – with potato cubes it was – flying all over the room.”
Watching TV later, she caught a program about mums who had successful businesses. “I thought, why don’t I make my own ice cube tray? Without really giving it a lot of thought, the idea kind of sprung from there and then it was a matter of, well, how do you make an ice cube tray exactly?”
Previously a specialist sales representative for pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, Wardle didn’t have any background in manufacturing or product development, or ice cube trays for that matter. But she did have the drive to have a go.
She contacted one of the mothers who had appeared on the show, who gave her a rough idea of what she needed to do. “From that point I started ringing factories in Perth and taking Tyler in the pram to factories and a lot of them had a good old giggle and pretty much told me to stop wasting their time.”
A year later Wardle had the design and factory sorted and went out to baby stores in Perth and Melbourne with samples of her product, Qubies.
Produced by her company, Miinki Moop, Qubies are containers with soft silicon lids, that have dividers moulded into the lid. That means when the contents of the trays are frozen, they freeze in separate sections, which can then easily be popped out.
“The original pilot run was only supposed to be 800 units and I sold 2000 units in the first two weeks,” she says.
“Within a month I’d already placed my second order with the factory and I was up and running.”
Wardle now distributes to hundreds of stores across Australia and beyond.
“We’ve gone literally from, ‘it was just a little idea,’ to, ‘it’s now a business,’” she says.
Wardle’s entrepreneurial success demonstrates the demand for products that cater to new parents’ needs. Tap that market right and there’s money to be made.
Babies are big business. Market research analyst IBISWorld estimated in November last year that revenue from baby products would reach $4.38 billion in 2011-12. It predicts average growth of 3.1 per cent a year for the next five years, with revenue reaching nearly $5.1 billion in 2016-17.
A new sector is growing in the industry, which is high-end baby goods. Underpinning that part of the market are social trends – a lower overall birth rate, which means that mothers are having fewer children and tend to have more to spend on each child, more women in work with therefore greater spending power and rising birth rates among older parents who tend to be more financially secure.
“Cashed-up parents have been buying up big for their newborns, with only the best in mind,” IBISWorld reports. When it comes to spending on their child, there are those for whom cost is not the first consideration and companies are targeting this sentiment.
Baby food company Rafferty’s Garden came to market with an expensive brand and the cost didn’t dissuade its customers.
“They realised that this product was almost twice the price of the conventional baby food, but saw that the nutritional benefit and quality of this food was just second to none … they clearly wanted the best for their baby,” Rafferty’s Garden founder Adrian Pike says.
Since starting in 2008, Rafferty’s Garden has grown fast. The company made fourth place in the most recent BRW Fast Starters list released in April, with 2010-11 turnover of $33.4 million.
“I remember when I was doing the budgets for the following year, my accountants would look at me and say, ‘You’re mad, it’s never going to happen’ and I remember the year would close and … we’d overachieve them,” Pike says.
From a marketing perspective, new parenthood and pregnancy offer a set of conditions ripe with opportunity. Even those who know the most about marketing are . Take Melbourne Business School associate professor of marketing Jody Evans.
“I don’t think I had ever been as easily influenced by marketing as when I was pregnant, because you’re terrified,” Evans says.
“You’re terrified of doing something wrong. There’s this overwhelming sense of responsibility for a new life and so you feel this personal pressure, or at least I did, to make the right decisions.”
“That fear is incredibly motivating from a consumer aspect, around your willingness to research product choices and so if you’re in that really active, information-seeking role then you are naturally going to be much more receptive to any marketing messages.”
When consumers don’t know enough, marketers can easily step in, Evans says. This doesn’t have to be in a manipulative way. Providing information can be helpful for consumers who are looking to make purchasing decisions they haven’t encountered before.
“As a pregnant woman, I don’t think there’s any other market where so much material is delivered to you. Brochures and brochures and brochures ... At any baby club you join, at the doctor’s surgery, on the hospital visits, at the prenatal classes, they all give you brochures.”
Either faced with, or groping through, parenthood, people are often terrified simply of screwing up their kids, she says. Not knowing what do to, they often reach for a brand they recognise.
“You look for products that are going to make you feel better and you look for trusted brands that will make you feel secure.
“We remember the brands our mums used and so our future children will also remember the brands that we had in our home and that we used and that we talked about.”
But it’s not just converting the consumers of tomorrow to a brand that makes new parenthood and pregnancy such a powerful time for marketers.
This is also a time at which adults change their consumption habits. Chances are that a couple having a child for the first time haven’t ever really considered the relative merits of different brands of breast pumps, prams or silicone nipple protectors.
“Marketers love this segment because it is one of the very few times you get an adult coming into a brand new category,” University of NSW Australian School of Business lecturer Dean Wilkie says.
“This is almost like a totally new situation and so as marketers you go, ‘Well this is an opportunity to get our brand and our product in front of this totally new audience’.”
That means brands have a “first user” type benefit, Wilkie says.
Take for instance a type of nappy. If that is the first nappy a consumer has put on their baby and it works satisfactorily, then they can associate its attributes with those of the ideal product, or think the brand works and that they don’t want to switch for another.
“If you’re the first product they try, most of those consumers will then stick with you, if you deliver the product that they expect,” he says.
That’s why companies often target mothers to be and new mothers with product samples. “Essentially it is that if I get this product in their hands, they try it, it works, they will buy it,” Wilkie says.
“If I include a pamphlet about my product, that talks about its benefits, why to use it and so on, they are more likely to read it because they are engaged in the category.”
Beyond that, there’s the opportunity for brands to make an emotional connection with a consumer, Wilkie says.
Positive association may come from the product’s use at a joyous time in the consumer’s life, or simply being there when it is needed.
For instance, companies might hand out samples of a heartburn relief product, nappies or baby wipes.
“Often a pregnant mother experiences heartburn, it’s sort of that emotional, ‘OK, they understand me’. It’s not a great emotional connection like, ‘I love this brand’ but just that connection like ‘they understand me’, or ‘they seem like experts’,” Wilkie says.
The other big advantage of targeting new mothers is that as they set up the family household they are often the primary decision-maker on which brands come into the house, which creates a big business opportunity: To remain in a consumer’s life once a product is no longer needed for the baby or pregnant woman.
At The Woolmark Company, which owns the Woolmark brand and markets wool, turning new parents into buyers is part of a larger strategy. “We know that the majority of purchasing strengths of a family unit lies with the mother,” The Woolmark Company chief executive Stuart McCullough says.
“We believe that if new mothers understand the benefits of wool at an early stage of their pregnancy [and] birth of their child, they will become a lifelong advocate and user of wool.”
Wardle says Qubies was designed originally just for baby puree but once she started selling it, customers began to use it for freezing things such as leftover sauces, ice cubes and espresso coffee.
“A cot can only be used up until two years old for example … Qubies can go literally from day one, from breast milk, to introducing purees, to making little desserts, to then adult uses … so it’s a product that they’re going to have forever.”
For Rafferty’s Garden, the aim is to move into the market for feeding adults, too.
“The whole vision for Rafferty’s is to grow it out of baby,” Pike says. “Absolutely, if you trust the brand to feed it to your children, you are going to eat it yourself.”
If Rafferty’s Garden manages to execute that move, the company will have successfully parlayed a well-liked baby brand into products that should cater to a family’s needs over lifetimes.
This has the potential to take Rafferty’s to a new level of financial success and shows that while babies are big business, they are no means where the business ends.