I first found the mold in our own stash in the garage when my volleyball crew gave me a wince-worthy ‘eww’ but I couldn’t find any damage to the packaging and it seemed random, since I tried one myself, so I hadn’t tossed the rest of the case until I saw this. Oops. My bad.
Sidenote, interesting that in just a few years this type of packaging went from ‘odd’ to ubiquitous with multiple brands…Fascinating flashback lens. Happy squeezing…don’t forget the TerraCycle recycle program.
June 25, 2012 Update: Looks like NYTimesAtHome ran a “food pouches” piece that will resurrect this convo. Hope they find Karen’s detailed assessment and our ‘deep dive’ on the topic here from last summer:
June 30,2011 Original Article: Summer fun and the livin’ is easy? In some harried homes with wee ones, not so much. Maybe that’s why everywhere I turn, from parks to organic food fests, kids are happily suckin’ on pouches with big button tops and names like ‘Mishmash, Mashups, Squish-Ems & GoGo Squeeze’ as the latest marketing blitz hits the kids’ category.
Squeezable food has come a loooooong way from day-glo neon yogurt and sugary empty calorie crud, with many organic fruit, all-natural purees and high-end offerings exploding in growth and getting big buzz in baby marketing at Fancy Food Shows.
My own bias of ‘pouch food as junk food’ had to be put under the marketing microscope for re-processing, since I’ve always ascribed to easy nutrition nuggets like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, “It’s not food if it arrives through the window of your car” —AND “you can eat all the junk food you want if you make it yourself.” So I bit the bullet and even tried one myself at the DOOF (food backwards) event in Oakland where Revolution Foods was giving a demo and immediately thought, “Hmn, wow, so it’s NOT all baby food–guess it’s story time on the blog”…(btw, funky caps=safety/food choking hazards)
Imagine my surprise when my own teenager squinched up her face in a judgmental grimace, as we passed by the demo booths. “Ewww…that’s just all wrong.” What is? “All these pouches and squeezy things, sit down and feed the kid already.”
“She’s right, what’s easier than handing over a banana?”
…tempered by, “wow, spoken like a typical know-it-all NON-parent”…
…Especially since she used to BE the kid in the stroller whining for GoGurt which I likened to “tube feeding” cheeping baby birds.
Figured it was time to find some younger parents, eco-moms with preschoolers, dad bloggers and neighbors to weigh in, and use critical thinking skills to straddle the line between slow food fans who blend their own baby food with farmer’s market freshness and the “my kids won’t eat anything that hasn’t danced on TV” convenience-food-by-the-case crowd.
In short…let’s see what this ‘squeezables’ trend is all about.
I’m not objective enough as I use Michael Pollan’s fun little ‘food rules’ as data nuggets that kids can easily digest, and am a ‘real deal’ kind of gal far past the demographic (though as a cook, I could see the purees used in shortcuts for sauces and a secondary market for tooth- troubled eldercare-senior scenarios with nutrition—(ahem, mom, looking at you!)
So instead, please welcome a new writer interested in our mission here at Shaping Youth, Karen Dahl, who hails from Harvard edu environs (Masters degree in education) with tons of ECE and media experience from JumpStart, now blogging at Fruit In My Dessert. (see bio at end)
Karen not only helps to get us all up to speed with more than you ever care to know about the topic (I think I’ve found a research wonk that’s as tenacious and thorough as I am, woohoo!) she tackles squeezables from a ‘would you, could you’ perspective as well as ‘why to buy’ mythbusting view polling about eco, health, developmental motor skills, and ‘what’s in it’ (varies by brand) nutritionally.
Get out there and enjoy the outdoors and the summer fun…
Here’s wishing all the stroller sherpas and baby gear laden families any conveniences and simplification they can muster on the road, in the plane, at the campground or exploring in Trekaroo style (great online kids travel/trip tips community by the way, for parents of young kids, full story to come) Enjoy! –Amy
By Karen Dahl
It continues to amaze me how many products exist in the baby market now that didn’t just a couple of years ago.
Individuals and companies always seem to be coming up with new ideas to help make everything about dealing with babies easier, more convenient, less messy, and less chaotic. One of the new products that has taken the baby and toddler market by storm in the last year or so are squeezable fruit and vegetable pouches.
I have two young children – Henry is three and a half and Lucy is just over one year old.
I had seen a few friends use pouches with young children on the go in the stroller and had passed by them in the grocery store, but never gave much thought to them.
At my daughter’s one-year-old appointment with the pediatrician, they took her blood to test iron levels as per protocol and she was just inside the normal range.
I mentioned to my pediatrician that my daughter had become adamant about feeding herself but at many meals was not actually getting much into her mouth, although she was having a blast trying.
My pediatrician, also a mother of young children, asked me if I had tried the squeeze pouches. I said I hadn’t and didn’t know much about them.
She said that I could literally take the top off and hand it to my daughter and she could feed herself iron-containing veggies basically through a straw. As an adult who has struggled with vegetable consumption her whole life, this sounded wonderful.
Since I am not much of a cook (I’m being generous), I had run out of a very short list of ideas in making sure she was getting 100% of the recommended nutrients 100% of the time. As a family, we’re fruit champions, but outside of the frozen veggies we can “steam” in the microwave, carrot sticks (I do buy the real carrots now and peel and cut them myself), tomato sauce (yes I know ketchup doesn’t count), the only time we eat enough yummy vegetables is when we eat at a restaurant or someone else’s house, which is not enough (for several reasons).
So, I went to the store, bought a couple of fruit/veggie combos by HappyBaby, called HappyTot and it was love at first suck. Lucy chowed down the contents of that first packet in one sitting, and I thought, “problem solved.”
Squeezable Snacks: History and MarketingThe earliest mention I could find of “squeezable” fruit was in a 2005 paper out of The Strategic Marketing Institute at Michigan State, funded by the USDA, entitled, Rapid Opportunity Assessment: Fruit Sector.
After reading through a section about fruit spreads several times and the growth opportunities therein, I realized they weren’t talking about these pouches at all, but rather squeezable jellies, jams, and other similar spreads.
In fact, the only ‘almost mention’ of something like the pouch concept, was as potential competition for and alternative to the aforementioned spreads:
“One of the biggest challenges for fruit spreads in the coming years would, however, be competition from breakfast foods that are not eaten with sweet spreads. These are primarily breakfast snacks or foods that are ready-to-eat or ready-to-drinks breakfasts (e.g., breakfast juice or yogurt drinks), and their consumption is growing fast.”
It’s possible that someone put these two ideas together to come up with the pouches, but probably more likely that lots of people came up with similar ideas at the same or similar times, particularly given the number of brands of squeezable pouches in the market today.
Specialty Food Magazine, a publication of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, cited food pouches as a new food trend in its November/December 2006 issue. The mention had nothing to do with kids at all. Rather, they wrote up a brand of squeezable food introduced by E4B (Easy 4 Busy) as a “simple way to get the suggested five servings of fruit per day.”
With packaging designed by NASA, the fruit stayed fresher much longer (months instead of days) than fruit on the counter or in the fridge (and it did not need to be refrigerated). I was not able to find any press on the E4B pouches post-2007 and though their website still exists, the online store is out of stock, so I am not sure if this product is still in circulation, but they get conceptual credit…
The field of organic food pouches has become crowded in the US in the last two years, but Peter Rabbit Organics, founded in 2004, and Ella’s Kitchen (2006), both UK imports, were the first packaged organic fruit (and now vegetable) purees in pouches targeted to families with babies and young children.
My friend, who lived in London in 2006 when Ella’s came out, said that it “took the UK by storm.” She also told me a story about her friend who brought an entire suitcase full of Ella’s pouches for a two-week holiday in the US in 2008 because pouches weren’t available here yet.
Materne, the popular French apple sauce brand, that has been making pouches of apple sauce for several years, launched GoGoSqueez apple sauce pouches for the US market in 2008.
Another brand that claims French origins is Buddy Fruits, with the tagline, “Eating Fruits Made Easy.” Their one big miss seems to be that it’s not organic, though the smiling cartoon apples on the packaging are pretty difficult to resist.
Stateside, Plum Organics gives itself credit for being the first “US company” to launch the pouch fruit for babies in 2009. They even recently partnered with Boon to make a version of its Squirt feeding spoon to fit right on the pouch (though rumor has it that it works with other brands as well). Several others entered the market around the same time, including:
HAPPYBABY, another mom-founded company, who first came to the market with frozen baby food in packaging similar to ice cube trays several years ago, and uses the tagline “Think Outside the Jar” on many of its “premium organic” products, now makes pouches of food for babies and tots.
The reason I chose them, aside from brand familiarity (a neighbor friend gave us some leftover HAPPYBABY infant cereal and my younger child loved it so much, I switched to buying that instead of the brand we had used with my older child), was the fact that they were the only ones on the shelf in my grocery store that had vegetables as well as fruit. I was most concerned about her getting vegetables as she ate fruit on her own pretty well.
Revolution Foods has also entered the market with Mashups.
Founded in part to help revolutionize school lunches, they donate 3% of their net profits to their School Lunch Program to provide healthy food and services to schools and communities that do not have access to them. Revolution added the Mashups fruit pouches to its line up in 2008.
And, of course, where first the “mom and pop” brands have success, food giants are not far behind.
PepsiCo, through its Tropicana brand, is attempting to enter this market with a product called Tropolis. While it claims, “no added sugar, or artificial ingredients, colors or preservatives,” in a post on The Daily Green, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University, explains in detail what the product does and doesn’t contain…needless to say, it certainly makes it seem far less nutritious than its organic counterparts. A Wall Street Journal article explains that this is in PepsiCo’s “better for you” category, not “good for you” category, which gives a huge clue right there.
The TropicanaTropolis web site is also markedly different than the others in this category. It is a game site for kids and has very little to do with food. Why do the food giants, even the ones with CEOs who are praised for being forward looking, still have to act like the food giants we expect them to be?
(Note from Amy: I’ll take Marion Nestle’s deconstruction and dietary heads up in a red hot heartbeat, and you’re right, when there’s advergaming and big bucks profiteering through engaging kids directly it’s more than ‘a bit’ suspect pertaining to ‘pester power’ prowess…See links to multiple articles I’ve written about online advergaming at the end, and more ubiquitous is the use of advergaming for junk food—which is just…sad. NEW article in today’s UK’s Daily Mail about some of the latest players in the game embedding junk food into kids’ entertainment in hook and reel mode—back to you, Karen…)
The squeezable pouches have hit a few road bumps along the way, including two recalls, one in 2009 by Plum Organics, and one in 2010 by HappyBaby, both for food safety issues due to potential contamination with bacteria. They were limited recalls with no reported illnesses.
All reviews I read were mostly positive, including one that mentioned the pouches as a healthier solution than a lollipop to prevent children’s ears from popping when traveling on airplanes.
Pouch packaging ranges from sophisticated while still child-targeted with licensed characters (Peter Rabbit Organics), to primary colorful, with smiling faces (Buddy Fruits), while other brands keep it simple and “organic” looking with pictures of actual fruit (Plum Organics).
HAPPYBABY actually has different packaging for its BABY line (pictures of actual fruit) and its TOT line (cartoon drawings of fruit with smiling faces), suggesting it is trying to market the TOT line directly to children instead of the children’s parents.
Appx 20 Parents Polled For Feedback: East Coast (appx 20/NY & Boston area–Subheads inserted by Shaping Youth for ‘at a glance’ reading)
Dine-n-Drive Convenience in Car:
Most of the moms I spoke to about the pouches, love them for their babies, and a few used them with their toddlers, but not as many. I assume this is because they didn’t exist when our toddlers were babies so they just never got into it, versus an active choice to avoid them. One mom mentioned giving them to her toddler on car trips instead of juice, not only because she assumed they were a healthier option but because it meant fewer bathroom stops not being liquid. I’m not sure if this can be scientifically proven, but very interesting to note.
Self-Feeding Alternatives/Rejecting Help:
The ones who do give the squeeze pouches to their babies all said that they wished the pouches existed when their older child or children were babies. Like me, a few of the moms I reached out to mentioned that their babies would not allow their caregivers to feed them anymore, making the squeezable pouches a better option than a jarred or homemade puree, particularly if there was concern about baby getting enough food and enough fruits and vegetables period and their manual dexterity and hand/eye coordination wasn’t up to snuff yet.
Are They Healthy or Just “Healthier Than…?”
The biggest concern that was mentioned was whether the squeezable pouches are actually healthy. I think there is a built-in assumption among many moms today that anything that comes in a package, particularly a colorful one with lots of cute pictures on it, a package that looks like it’s from the plastic family with an unmistakably big plastic top, just can’t be healthy.
Not one person mentioned the pouches being organic or healthy but rather healthier than an unhealthier alternative like juice or cookies. All of the brands I researched work very hard to state just how natural and healthy they are, but it’s not hitting home for my mom friends, or at least not making them run to the store for a squeeze pouch over an actual piece of fruit.
Many polled assumed that because it was packaged fruit that it must have sugar or other additives that make it less healthy than the real thing in its original form. One mom mentioned that when she is faced with the selection of snacks at Starbucks (where Peter Rabbit pouches are sold), it is easy to choose the fruit pouch over just about anything else save the actual fruit cup, which clearly isn’t as convenient or easy to eat on the go – for a child or an adult.
Is Pouch Packaging Planet-Friendly?
The second major concern for my friends is the environmental impact of the packaging, which I also share. Many of the brands address this concern right on their Web sites, explaining that while the pouches aren’t recyclable (most of the caps are), the pouch packaging is actually better for the environment than glass jars.
The claim is that if one takes the entire life cycle of the packaging into account, the pouches are much lighter, less time and energy is used to manufacture them, and less pollution is produced during the manufacturing process, making them superior to glass jars.
Peter Rabbit Organics’ site does admit, “our squeezy Puree pouches and mini Juice cartons are made from laminated films which use a lot of energy to produce,” but then goes on to say how they take up less space in a landfill and in Europe (UK-based), the energy from incinerators is re-used.
While I understand this rationale, most of us have been trained to think of something going in the recycling bin automatically superior to something going in the trash bin, it’s hard to swallow this at face value with no consumer guilt at all.
To help address the environmental concern even further, several brands, including GoGo Squeez, Homemade Harvey, Revolution Foods, and Sprout, partner directly with Terracyle, an innovative company whose mission is to “eliminate the idea of waste.”
Terracycle is getting lots of attention now – one article even referred to them as the “Google of garbage.” It definitely takes effort to recycle this way, and again, it’s currently only available for some of the brands, but it’s certainly a start.
BPA? Phthalate Free? Storage? For Adults Too?
Many brands also make sure the consumer knows that the packaging is BPA and phthalate free and explain that the packaging allows them to cook the food at lower temperatures than glass jarred food, making it more flavorful and full of nutrients. They also readily admit that healthy, flavorful food is the number one priority for them.
Another drawback that one of my friends mentioned was messy storage. Pouches don’t stand up too well, aren’t easy to stack, and take up a lot of room in the cabinet.
A few moms have tried the ones they were giving their children and all liked the taste, but none mentioned that they actively purchased them for themselves except in a real pinch and wanting a healthy option. Peter Rabbit seems to be the only one currently actively marketing their pouches to adults as well. A few friends did mention mixing the pouches with other foods such as marinara and other sauces to add some nutritional content a la Jessica Seinfeld.
(Amy’s note: See Shaping Youth coverage of ‘Deceptively Delicious’ Hiding Kids’ Veggies For Stealth Health-Good or Bad Idea?” an RD perspective)
Developmental Motor Skills, Pouch vs Hands-On Natural Whole Food/Product Pushback:
A couple of my friends with toddler aged children and/or young infants have never tried the pouches. And a small number of them have tried them with toddlers and they didn’t take to them. A few mentioned texture as the problem and a few were not sure why their toddler didn’t like them, but weren’t too concerned and didn’t think it necessary to try to “force” their children to have a pouch since they see it as an alternative rather than a staple (as they would see a fruit or vegetable in its original form).
Some mentioned a concern that to use these pouches exclusively or “too much” would be to deprive babies and young children from understanding where fruit comes from, the importance of introducing them to different textures, them learning how to chew, and the important part in digestion that chewing plays.
One friend brought up the good point that the more we serve food to children in these and other “convenient” pouches, bars, sticks, and cups, the further away from real food we take them and the less connected they will be as citizens to food, the process of growing, cooking, eating, and enjoying food, and one might argue having a healthy relationship with food overall.
(Amy’s note: See DOOF, FOOD Backwards for excellent media reinforcing this concept of tracing food back to its origins, and also our School Gardens: Seeding Green For Healthier Habits posts, more links at end.)
I haven’t given a pouch to Henry and he hasn’t asked for one and doesn’t seem interested in them (I even offered him one when she had one the other day under the guise of research for this post, but he declined). I won’t say that I wouldn’t give him one or that I think it’s bad to give him one by any stretch, just no need or interest on anyone’s part at the moment.
Travel Convenience Item Vs. Food Waste/Leftovers
I have to say, while I haven’t completely bought in to the every day convenience selling point (what’s easier than grabbing an apple or banana and throwing it in a bag or stroller?) I admit that sometimes we don’t finish an apple or a banana and leftovers aren’t an option.
Several touted the travel ability, which I do think is a wonderful bonus. I’m sure Lucy got a few more fruits and veggies on our recent weekend trip than she would have if we didn’t bring the pouches with us. I’m pretty sure it would not have hurt her overall nutrition level if we didn’t have them with us.
When I’m just too exhausted to cut up a piece of fruit or cook, peel, or slice some veggies at the end of the day, it does feel good to be able to open a pouch and call it a day. For the most part – with my baby and toddler – the real thing wins in our daily life and outings.
Occasional Use, To Each Their Own
Lucy now has one pouch every day or two depending on what’s in the fridge, how tired I am, and what she’s eaten recently. I’ve occasionally used them on the go locally and we just brought a few with us on a weekend trip to have on hand. I think the pouch concept is primarily a great new thing to have, but as with most new things that make our lives easier, I plan to continue to use them in moderation. She still eats a lot of fruits and veggies in their original form and I’ll likely not use them after she has most of her teeth (she’s still on the first six up front).
The question of food pouches is a third order “issue.” Whenever time and money are part of the “Do I? Don’t I?” debate, we know that not everyone has the same choices, information, or access.
I don’t think giving these pouches to your babies and children to eat are going to make or break their overall nutrition. If you exclusively give your children food in packages – healthy, organic or not – that will likely skew their understanding of food and nutrition, but I do think American society has come to a general understanding in the last several years that convenience can come at a price.
The Real Deal: Label Literacy, Food Rules
So, if you’re looking for a way to get more fruit and vegetables into your kids’ lives (and stomachs), and the “real” thing isn’t cutting it, I say, happy squeezing!
If you are living life happily off the vine and the tree, don’t bother adding this to your repertoire unless you’re looking for something new and different in your food life. —Karen Dahl
She lives in New York City with her husband, Brian Reich, and their two children, Henry and Lucy. You can find Karen on Twitter @kdahlface and on her personal blog.
We’re privileged to have Karen come aboard to lend a hand with Shaping Youth’s preschool research roundups, as her background lends itself to many of our media and marketing areas of concern. More?
From 2003-2010, Karen held a variety of leadership positions at Jumpstart, a national early education nonprofit. Prior to her work with Jumpstart, Karen was deputy to the communications director in President Clinton’s post-presidential office. She was also an associate producer and assistant to the president at MSNBC, and assistant to the communications director for Vice President Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000. She started her full-time career as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
Research on Pouch Packaging from Karen:
More on pouch packaging
More on Terracyle (CNN Article)
Cool fruit nutrition chart: (Using this in my label literacy/gaming apps research, thanks, Karen)
Trendcetera and Supermarket News both wrote up the pouches as a new trend in 2010.
p.s. From Karen: I also learned about the Boston-based Smashies brand, but upon publication their web site is down, so I’m not sure of their status. I’ll also quickly mention Sprout. Co-founded by celebrity chef/father Tyler Florence, Sprout has not entered the squeezable category (yet?) but all of their baby food comes in pouches. You can read about the stories behind Peter Rabbit Organics here, and Ella’s Kitchen here.
Related Reading on Kids’ Nutrition By Amy Jussel
On Shaping Youth