Baby food giant Gerber is getting into plant-based protein for the first time with the launch of Plant-tastic. The new seven-item line includes organic toddler snack pouches, crunchy snacks, and bowl meals (such as Vegan Mac) all formulated with plant-based proteins derived from beans, legumes, vegetables, and fruit.
The new line helps Gerber capitalize on the growing plant-based trend which market research shows is not just limited to adults. According to one survey conducted in 2019 by Future Market Insights, 81 percent of households with children include plant-based protein in meals and 40 percent of parents with children under 18 are incorporating more plant-based foods. The Plant-tastic line is a carbon neutral option certified by the Carbon Trust, which helps Gerber achieve its climate goals.
“We hear from parents [that] they want more plant-based protein options that align with their food and climate values,” said Gerber President and CEO Tarun Malkani. “Gerber Plant-tastic offers stage-based nutrition across milestones starting with organic toddler pouches, snacks and meals. We are proud the full range of Plant-tastic products is certified carbon neutral, furthering our commitment to climate forward nutrition.”
Plant-based diet is good for any age
Research has linked plant-based diets to many health benefits, including decreasing risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease—and eating plant-based is recommended for all stages of life. In 2016, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—a collection of 100,000 healthcare professionals, the largest in the United States—published its official position on plant-based diets in its medical journal.
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” the Academy stated. “These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.”
To help children thrive on a plant-based diet, Gerber formulated the Plant-tastic line—made with chickpeas, black beans, navy beans and lentils—with the new United States Dietary Guidelines in mind which recommend legumes as part of a healthy diet for children under two years of age.
“Many parents of my patients incorporate plant-based options in their own diet and are looking to feed their baby in line with their own food values. For parents looking to incorporate plant-based choices, I advise ‘feeding baby the rainbow’ from a variety of foods.” Gerber Pediatric Consultant Dr. Whitney Casares said in a statement. “Gerber Plant-tastic foods are made with beans, whole grains and veggies—which are packed with nutrients such as protein and fiber to support [a] baby’s healthy development.”
From a psychological standpoint, feeding children plant-based protein options instead of animal products is also a benefit for their mental health. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter found that toddlers and children under the age 11 are more likely to see animals of all species as companions when compared to adults who are socialized to believe certain animals are food while others are companions.
Nestlé gets into plant-based protein
Gerber was acquired by Swiss food giant Nestlé in 2007 and is the latest of its brands to expand into the plant-based protein space. At a press event in London last year, Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider explained that the company is actively looking to “replace every animal protein out there” with plant-based alternatives.
Thus far, Nestlé has inched toward that goal by acquiring Sweet Earth, a vegetarian brand known for its plant-based meat alternatives Benevolent Bacon, Awesome Burger, and Mindful Chik’n.; releasing plant-based proteins, including tuna, shrimp, and eggs, under its Garden Gourmet brand in Europe; and investing in startup Sundial Foods to bring skin-on vegan chicken to market. Nestlé is also interested in the emerging cellular agriculture industry and has invested in Israel’s Future Meat Technologies to bring its cultivated meat to market once regulatory approvals are in place.