Innovating Products for a Vulnerable Population

According to the “United States Kids Food and Beverage Market by Category” report, the market of toddler & children’s nutrition is expected to be more than $58 billion by 2025. For brands wanting to get a piece of the pie, they will need to pay close attention to innovation and marketing to catch the attention of millennial parents, who make up the majority of parents today.

One major factor driving growth is the rising demand for healthy and natural food and drinks driven by the increasing health-consciousness among parents. As consumers around the world are putting more emphasis on what they are consuming, parents are looking to incorporate healthy habits in their children’s diets and lifestyles as well. Unlike the generations before them, millennial parents have nutritional facts and information in the palm of their hand, and many consider information on product labels.

Many parents are seeking out products that are “free from preservatives” and “natural” to feed their children. Many are aware of the health implications of sugar and are seeking products with “little to no added sugar.” As child obesity and sedentary lifestyles remain a concern for parents, brands that emphasize low sugar features along with the importance of living an active lifestyle will likely do well and resonate with health-conscious parents.

The World Health Organization states, “childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.” The cause of rising levels is due to a shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods packed with fat and sugars, but low in vitamins, minerals, and other healthy micronutrients and an alarming trend towards decreased levels of physical activity.

Immune Health

Immune health is a trending topic of 2020. Since the pandemic began, many parents are seeking out products to keep their family healthy. Nena Dockery, Science and Regulatory Manager at Stratum Nutrition expands on the benefits of BLIS K12, an oral cavity probiotic, which has been well-researched in children, “Since most of the pathogens that enter our bodies do so through the nose and mouth, this is where probiotics can have a significant impact. In the oral cavity, the body’s own beneficial bacteria act in several ways to inhibit entry of undesirable microbes. An oral cavity well-populated with beneficial species, such as Streptococcus salivarius, provide a physical barrier against invading pathogens, but they are also protective in other ways as well. Some strains also produce bacteriocin-like inhibitory substances (BLIS). These are proteins that actively inhibit specific strains of closely related bacteria.”(1)

Dockery continues, “BLIS-producing strains are an extremely beneficial part of the natural protective mechanisms in the oral cavity and upper respiratory tract; but unfortunately, the most beneficial strains are quite rare (present in 2% or less of the general population). The development of probiotics from these beneficial strains can provide an impressive level of support, especially in individuals who naturally have low levels of BLIS-producing bacteria in their mouths. One particularly beneficial strain, S. salivarius K12, has been studied for over 30 years for its benefits in supporting upper respiratory health in adults and in children. (2)(3)(4) It can also play an important role in managing chronic halitosis. (5) Other strains that have been studied in children include S. salivarius M18, which has been researched for its role in supporting dental and gum health. (6) Some of these BLIS-producing oral cavity bacterial strains also interact directly with immune system cells on oral surfaces and in saliva.”(7)(8)

A Vulnerable Population

Navigating the creation of food, beverage and dietary supplement products for children is tricky. The main challenge formulators bump up against is children are a vulnerable population and it is a challenge to conduct research with them as subjects. Finding well-researched ingredients tailored to the health benefits of children is not an easy task.

When manufacturers are developing new products, they must consider the needs of both the parents and the children. Kids navigate to what is familiar to them, especially when it comes to taste. One area to balance between the parents and children is balancing better-for-you offerings. Brands that have easy to understand and clear labeling around ingredients, nutritional information and traceability, are likely to be more successful in this market.

Rising in popularity is the interest in meal prepping for both school and work lunches. Parents are interested in finding ways to provide healthy meals to their children that are convenient and time-saving. Brands and formulators providing simple recipes with their products are likely to resonate with consumers.


Innovating in this highly regulated market is tough, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel when inspiration can be found in a neighboring category – adult trends. A few of the most notable trends in adult food are in the growth of adding superfoods, plant-based, and nondairy products to the home menu. Fruits and vegetables, such as pomegranate, goji berries, beetroot, etc. provide high levels of nutrition. Given the concerns parents have, brands including highly nutritious superfoods, plant-based and non-dairy products to their portfolio would seem to be great opportunities to attract parents and to fill an opportunity gap in this market.


(1) Walls, T., Power, D. & Tagg, J. (2003) Journal of Medical Microbiology, 52,829-833.

(2) Di Pierro, F., Adami, T., Rapacioli, G., Giardini, N. & Streitberger, C. (2013) Expert Opinion on Biological Therapy, 13(3),339-343.

(3) Marini, G., Sitzia, E., Panatta, M.L. & De Vincentiis, G.C. (2019) International Journal of General Medicine, 12,213-217.

(4) Di Pierro, F., Colombo, M., Giuliani, M.G., Danza, M.L., Basile, I., Bollani, T., Conti, A.M., Zanvit, A. & Rottoli, A.S. (2018) Minerva Pediatrica,70(3),240-245.

(5) Jamali, A., Aminabadi, N.A., Samiei, M., Deljavan, A.S., Shokravi, M. & Shirazi, S. (2016) Oral Health & Preventive Dentistry, 14(4),305-313.

(6) Di Pierro, F., Zanvit, A., Nobili, P., Risso, P. & Fornaini, C. (2015) Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dentistry, 7:107-113.

(7) Cosseau, C., Devine, D., Dullaghan, E., Gardy, J., Chikatamaria, A., Gellatly, S., Yu, L., Pistolic, J., Falsafi, R., Tagg, J. & Hancock, R. (2008) Infection and Immunity, 76(9),4163-4175.

(8) Chilcott, C., Crowley, L., Kulkarni, V., Jack, R., McLellan, A., & Tagg, J. (2005) Elevated levels of interferon gamma in human saliva following ingestion of Streptococcus salivarius K12. Joint Meeting of New Zealand Microbiological Society and New Zealand Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dunedin.