The parent and baby market is forever growing and evolving. Looking forward to the next 12 months, brands need to prepare for wider cultural shifts to impact the parenting sphere. Gendering, environmental responsibility and eating habits all look set to hold top spots on the agenda.

Gender Neutrality

With many influencers indicating their preferred pronouns in their social media bios, Superdrug’s recent launch of a range of gender-neutral sanitary products (for ‘people who menstruate’), and the Canadian Navy’s decision to switch the gendered term ‘seaman’ to ‘sailor’ in its official rankings, it comes as no surprise that gender and gendering is still high on the list of trending topics for this year.

Within the sector, things are moving in the right direction. Last year, Mattel launched their Creatable World™️ line of dolls, “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in”. There has also been an influx of unisex clothing brands in recent years. Labels like Baby Mori, Turtledove, Anyware and Tootsa are sported by the hippest kids on Instagram.

Yet, there is a more insidious kind of gendering that still plagues the parenting world, and that is the bias towards mothers in baby advertising. Dads just don’t get a look in. Aptamil are leading the charge with their recent ad, which actually depicts a father feeding his child but, other than that, representation is pretty scant. Even down to the language used – advertising often talks to and about mums, rather than parents.

Brands in the space need to sit up and take notice. It’s a small change but, if we can manage gender neutral clothing and toys for our children, you’d think we can make room for all parents too.

Eco materials

If you have a small child, you’ll be well acquainted with the vast quantities of brightly coloured plastic that spills from each and every one of their toy baskets. Well, perhaps not for much longer.

There has been a shift in the market towards more sustainable manufacture – wood, cotton and recycled materials are in, plastic is (on its way) out. Just take a look at Kidly – the under 5’s answer to ASOS – who now have a beautifully curated ‘Eco shop’ on their site, brimming with eco-friendly toys, clothes and accessories for the chicest little ones. They offer lots of simple swaps, making it easy and pretty cost effective to move away from plastic, whether it’s in your changing bag, your lunchbox, or your toy basket.

What we’re not after is the kind of virtue signaling exhibited by trendy eco toy brand Cuddle + Kind, whose 100% cotton dolls are handmade in Peru. For each doll bought, 10 meals are donated to children who need them most, which is truly an excellent cause. However, prices start at £52 for a 13” inch doll and surely the sustainable manufacture is largely offset, if not outweighed, by the environmental cost of shipping the toys around the world. If you’ve got £52 spare, cut out the middleman and send your money directly to charity – you could help Action Against Hunger feed 50 children for a day.

Exit the mamashpere

There are certainly huge positives to the ‘mamasphere’ – having an online community of other parents going through the same milestones, struggles and worries as you can be a godsend. But sometimes that endless scroll is just too much to handle.

Mental health awareness and the perils of comparison culture are trends we are seeing across the board but can be particularly acute in the sensitive early days of parenthood. In an act of self-preservation, many parents are deciding to switch off (or at least take a break) from social media.

So, where does this leave brands? How do we navigate the potential gulf in communication left by the insta-boycott? As parents move away from direct engagement with social platforms like Instagram and Facebook, we have to be savvier with how and where we talk to them. Hardworking digital strategy is key – think display, search and addressable TV.

Food for thought

In a world where KFC have a chicken-less chicken sandwich on the menu, can we really expect our under-ones to make do with something as boring as plain old carrot purée?

Now more than ever, parents are on the hunt for more adventurous flavours, ones that match their own weeknight dinners. No longer do we get home, tired and weary, to stick a jacket potato in the microwave. Staple classics like spag-bol, shepherd’s pie and beans on toast are banished to the past, with your average weekly meal plan looking more like a menu at Ottolenghi. And this can certainly be seen echoed in the baby-sphere, with plant-based offerings in particular touted as the mush-du-jour.

As conversations around responsible sourcing erupt in the ‘grown-up’ food market, so they trickle down to the land of pouches and jars. And with Gen Z bringing up the rear and beginning to enter parenthood, it’s an issue that won’t be going away any time soon. With brands like Little Pasta Organics bringing Gluten Free Mini Gnocchi to the table, and the launch of cold-pressed baby food co. Little Tummy, there’s certainly growing choice out there for today’s discerning parent.

Of course, there’s still a place for the single-flavour pouches and jars of old – all little taste buds must start somewhere. But, more and more, these first tentative steps into weaning are being in-housed, particularly with more parents now working from home: why buy a £1 pouch of blitzed peas when you can whip it up yourself in 5 minutes? Baby brands must offer more.

The chilled aisles are full of exciting meat-free options, from M&S’ Hoisin ‘No Duck’ Wrap, to Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen Wicked Mac. Every supermarket now has a comprehensive plant-based offering, but this is yet to be seen reflected in the baby aisle. Sure, there’s plenty of quinoa and kale to satisfy the food trends of 3 years ago, but where’s the ‘flexitarian’ parent’s choice? It’s time for baby brands to diversify and modernise – if they are to remain current, they need to be hot on the tails of today’s adult food trends. If you can have jackfruit curry for dinner, why should your toddler miss out?

In the age of influence, trends will continue to come in thick and fast over the coming months. So, keep your ear to the ground as our newest generation of parents continues to shape the category.

We’ve been working with mother & baby brands for over 7 years. If you want to know more, or see how we can take your brand further, or drop us a line. We’d love to talk.