It was a birth that was long overdue.
"We'd go to the nutrition bar aisle and find bars for just about every lifestyle possible—there's even a bar for golfers, if you can believe it—and it seemed so absurd that there wasn't something for pregnant women," says Scott Vincent, who with his wife, Beth, created the Oh Mama! bar for new moms and moms-to-be.
The Vincents aren't the only ones who noticed a fertile opportunity in the nutrition bar market. The same month Oh Mama! launched—April 2005—Eating for Two's Mommy Munchies and Ensure's Healthy Mom Snack Bars were born. Six months after that, NutraBella's Belly Bar became part of the family. They join the grandmamma of the natural pregnancy foods category—Three Lollies' mint, lavender and ginger-infused Preggie Pops, which have been relieving morning sickness naturally since 2002.
So why the sudden growth in such a specific food category?
"I think pregnancy is hot right now, with celebrities showing it can be beautiful and glamorous," says Leslie Sagalowicz, co-founder of NutraBella, based in Palo Alto, Calif. Sagalowicz theorizes that pregnancy was once viewed as if it were a disease that had to be hidden and overcome, but now it's celebrated as a state of health and wellness. Women want not only to nurture their fetuses, but ensure their own nutrition as well.
"It's a time when women are really thinking about their future food and body care choices," she says. Natural and organic foods geared to pregnant women are a "great way to bring women into a natural foods store."
Preggie Pops and Mommy Munchies are sold mainly in maternity and baby stores, and Healthy Mom Snack Bars' ingredients—which include high-fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated shortening, and artificial flavors and colors—ensure they won't be hitting natural foods stores anytime soon. That leaves Belly Bar and Oh Mama!, both of which contain only natural and organic ingredients and are selling well in the naturals channel, according to company executives.
Belly Bars are designed to supplement a pregnant or nursing woman's diet with nutrients she might not get in a prenatal vitamin, or even to replace the vitamin entirely. "Consumption of a Belly Bar daily before and during pregnancy, along with nutrients provided by the diet, would meet established nutrient needs of over 90 percent of healthy U.S. pregnant women," says Judith Brown, Ph.D., professor emerita of the Division of Epidemiology and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Minnesota. Brown adds that in some cases, "A snack bar may represent a more acceptable way to get added nutrients than a large [prenatal vitamin] pill."
Brown was hired by Nutra Bella to analyze the nutritional content of Belly Bar. She says the bar contains levels of vitamins and minerals—particularly folate—that are "primarily based on the difference between recommended and usual intake levels of U.S. women during pregnancy." One Belly Bar contains 10 vitamins and minerals and 60 grams of omega-3s.
Oh Mama! bars are "built to complement a prenatal vitamin rather than replace it—we still want women to have a doctor-patient relationship," says Vincent. Consequently, the bars don't contain any fat-soluble vitamins, selenium or zinc—all of which are part of prenatal vitamins. Vincent says Baltimore-based Oh Mama!'s secret weapon is the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which has been shown in studies to reduce the chances of pre-term labor and postpartum depression, as well as increase the IQs of children born to mothers who supplemented with DHA during pregnancy.
Vincent says a National Institutes of Health workshop recommended a daily intake of 300 mg. of DHA for pregnant or lactating women. One Oh Mama! bar has 150 mg. of DHA. It also contains folate and 13 other vitamins and minerals.
Gestation of a bar
Vincent and Sagalowicz both say their companies chose bars rather than another type of food because of the convenience. "We did market research with over 400 pregnant and nursing women, and they overwhelmingly said they wanted a bar," Sagalowicz says. Adds Vincent: "Women are so busy, they don't really have time to cook half a cup of broccoli and a fish filet for lunch. We find a lot of type A women are eating our bars, not only to save time, but because they're looking for every advantage during their pregnancy, and they know the benefits to DHA supplementation."
Sagalowicz and Vincent say most frequently their products are carried in natural foods stores' bar aisles. But ideally, they should be part of a prenatal or women's health section, Sagalowicz says. "When you're pregnant, the last thing you want to do is trudge around the store looking for all the things you need." She says a section or aisle that contains prenatal supplements, stretch mark creams, lotions, nursing kits, teas and even organic clothing could be a big draw for pregnant and nursing women, along with those considering getting pregnant in the future.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 9/p. 28, 31