Salmon for the baby? Beech-Nut thinks so

Most parents might not immediately associate wild Alaskan salmon with mealtime for their infant chil

Most parents might not immediately associate wild Alaskan salmon with mealtime for their infant child, but Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. is hoping they soon will.

Beech-Nut, which is headquartered in Latham and has its manufacturing operation in Canajoharie, announced Wednesday a new line of baby food products that will include ingredients like wild Alaskan salmon as well as new juices, whole grain cereals and more foods fortified with DHA, an omega-3 essential fatty acid associated with helping children gain weight and learn faster.

The 17 product roll-out is an expansion of Beech-Nut’s “Good Morning & Good Evening” line of dry and jarred foods introduced in March 2007. The new line emphasizes different ingredients based on the time of day the meals are fed to children. Examples of new morning meals include: whole grain cereal with raspberries, creamy wheat with peaches and rolled oats with apples. Morning products in the line emphasize soluble fiber aimed at preventing sugar spikes that possibly result in cranky babies. Evening meals contain more protein and seem more like dinner plates, including sweet potato and turkey, country vegetables with beef and vegetable turkey dinner.

“One of the purchase drivers is the nutritional profile these products are based on. We also think variety plays a significant part,” Beech-Nut Vice President of Marketing Dennis Warner said.

Warner said Beech-Nut did market research with focus groups and a large sample of customers before the release of the new products. He would not reveal whether the company ever performed a taste test.

The new dry and jarred foods will be manufactured in Canajoharie but Beech-Nut’s new juices will be manufactured by an outside company, a departure from Beech-Nut’s usual methods. The new juices are made using aseptic processing, a method of rapidly heating and then cooling the juice to destroy undesired microbes and enzymes.

“That process is hugely capital-intensive so we were not able to do that in-house in the short term, we’re considering it in the long term,” Warner said.

Beech-Nut’s parent corporation, the Hero Group of Switzerland, announced in 2007 that it will be building a new $125 million production facility for Beech-Nut in the town of Florida. Warner said the new plant may enable Beech-Nut to do its own aseptic juice processing. The venture is expected to add 135 new jobs to Beech-Nut’s operation. Company officials have anticipated that baby food could be produced at the new facility in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Warner said Beech-Nut has baby food products on the shelves of grocery stores where approximately 66 percent of the U.S. market shops. He said some grocery chains may have had good reasons for not doing business with Beech-Nut in the past before the Hero Group purchased them in 2005, but it’s now the hope among company officials that the investment made in new product lines will help Beech-Nut expand to 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. market.

“Every retailer is always looking to grow their category. With the innovation that we’re bringing, which is based on [consumer preference marketing], they have every reason to believe we can help their category, so why not add Beech-Nut,” he said.

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