20 MINUTES WITH – CLIVE SHER, LITTLE BELLIES

Recent studies have shown just how much the baby food category has experienced rapid growth in the last five years, particularly for the 0-36-month age range. As women are heading back into the workforce earlier, the need for convenient, better-for-baby-and-child snacks have increased. 

Walking down the baby aisle in the supermarket, Clive Sher, was surprised to see it lined with baby food options that were practically pseudo-confectionery filled with highly refined sugars, fruit juice, concentrates and added sugars, making it difficult for parents to navigate the often-overwhelming category. It sparked a business idea, particularly after seeing his nephew struggle with severe food allergies from a young age and healthy, ‘better-for-you’ foods quickly became a major part of their lifestyle. Nine years later, Little Bellies is not only the fastest growing snacking brand but also the category leader. 

“In Australia, there was a lack of organic, ‘better-for-you’ products in the baby aisle,” said Sher. “Little Bellies is built on the foundation of ‘best-for-baby’. It’s not until you have children that you find yourself in the baby aisle of a supermarket, and every parent wants to make the best choice they can for their little one. However, just because it is organic or stocked on shelf, doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthy or right for baby.” 

Sher believes that the category is often filled with products that are not nutritious options for baby. “A good example of this is custard, firstly why is a sugary dessert in the baby aisle, let alone 20. There is an expectation with parents that if it is on shelf then it must be good. When really, the retailer and the brand should work together to put forward products that parents can purchase confidently.” 

Snacking is an integral part in a child’s development, and Sher believes that giving kids foods they can easily pick up enhances their motor skills, and allows for shapes and sizes of snacks to be explored without making too much of a mess. 

“Research has shown that snacking helps development, especially those who like to play with their food. It is the only form of food that children can self-feed and physically get involved. Playing with food can help children develop a more relaxed and positive association with food. Play is one thing that children all do naturally, and we have started to evolve our brand beyond great products to reflect our position on parents and kids doing what’s natural. A healthy attitude to play through movement can assist in developing healthy habits later in life.” It’s not just the hand to mouth coordination and experimentation. Palatability plays a big part in the Little Bellies range. Babies at seven months old are often familiar with purees and baby rice and the taste of breastmilk or formula. While the Little Bellies range, to an adult with a well-developed palate, may taste like there is no flavour in there, there is more than enough for a baby to taste and explore flavour variants. “The mild flavours are to ensure that taste buds can evolve naturally. Our brand aims to provide little, independent individuals with development opportunities with a range of age-appropriate, organic snacks.”

Shapes, textures and flavours become more complex through the brand’s stages, from Baby Bellies’ Tasty Textures (7+ months) and More to Explore (10+ months) to Little Bellies’ Toddlers in Training (12+ months). The range caters to development milestones by nurturing a child’s palate and pincer grasp, as well as other basic motor skills. “One of the key snacking considerations for parents is self-feeding, and the importance of safety around ingestion and nurturing the palate. Pick foods that are shaped and sized for tiny fingers, soft to ingest, dissolve easily and are mild in flavour so taste buds can evolve naturally.” Sher believes strongly in educating the young palate, and in doing this, can set the child up for life. If palates are saturated with high sugar level snacks, then that is what is expected down the track, with foods tasting overly sweet and sometimes a far cry from the original taste. The brand has recently rolled out a brand-new look across New Zealand retailers. Containing the same snacks that kids know and love, the new packaging, by London’s leading FMCG design agency, B&B Studio, features three distinct characters across the range of Little Bellies, Mighty Bellies, and newly branded Baby Bellies products, designed to help parents navigate across different developmental stages. The new packaging will make it easier for parents to make informed decisions that meet their child’s developmental needs: from Baby Bellies’ organic foods with no added sugar and salt (0-1 years), through to Little Bellies’ organic foods (1-3 years), up to Mighty Bellies’ better-for-you foods (aged 3+). 

The easily identifiable brand architecture appeals to kids with its new fun, playful look which reflects the underlying brand ethos that recognises play as a vital component to child development. 

“I am extremely proud of our brand and the benchmark we have set for the category, where parents rely on us for a better-for-baby product. The challenge now is to make the concept more widely understood within the category and set as an industry standard, helping parents to make natural, informed choices guaranteed to cater to a child’s age and needs.”

www.bellies.com.au