For Women Only

Food makers are pitching products like fortified cereals and energy bars to busy women, but can good nutrition fit into a pocketbook?

July 17, 2002|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Women, the food companies understand what you're going through.

They know you're busy and stressed, and don't have time to take care of yourself the way you should. They also realize you're the one who trudges to the grocery store to buy food for the family.

And they know what you need - nutritious, low-calorie, good-tasting food just for you. They even have come up with names for these products - like Harmony, Oasis and Luna - to evoke that feeling of well-being you seek.

In the last three years, about 80 of these foods aimed at women have turned up on grocery-store shelves, and more are being developed as food companies try to get an edge on their competitors, says Lynn Dornblaser with the Chicago-based marketing firm Mintel International.

"They're trying to stand out amid all the clutter," says Dorn- blaser, who tracks new products for the company.

The marketing strategy behind these foods is not new. Manufacturers have supplemented cereals and juices with vitamins for decades. And this is not the first time the companies have marketed their product to a targeted audience; that's why there's green ketchup for kids.

So with studies showing most women fail to get enough calcium, folic acid and iron, and the recognition that women are the primary grocery shoppers, the companies found a logical niche for new food products. The trend started with Viactiv calcium chews in 1999 and grew to include snack bars, cereals and yogurt.

While some nutritionists have labeled these products "fortified junk," women are snatching them up.

One of those happy to see these foods is Cindi Monahan, a fitness instructor with Brick Bodies in Baltimore. Monahan, a 40-year-old mother of four, likes Quaker Oats' Nutrition for Women oatmeal because one serving gives her 35 percent of the iron she needs for a day as well as added calcium, folic acid and vitamins. Her 10-year-old daughter, Kelly, is a fan of Luna nutrition bars, finding them a tasty snack between school and ballet lessons.

And Monahan says she likes giving her daughter a bar that helps make up for some of the vitamins she may be missing. "It makes me feel like I'm giving her something other than a Snickers bar," Monahan says.

Costing between $1.49 and $1.79, Luna bars are more expensive than candy bars. And they are packed with a day's worth of vitamins C, E, K, B, B2, niacin and folic acid, and 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium and iron.

Like most of these products, Luna is aimed not only at women's nutritional needs, but also at their tastes and frenzied lifestyles. Luna bars come in 14 flavors, including Chai Tea and Chocolate Peppermint Stick, and are marketed as a "whole nutrition bar" that women can easily stuff into purses or backpacks.

Stonyfield Farm has also found a niche in marketing to women.

"The yogurt market is maturing fast," said company president Gary Hirshberg. "We think there is room for very specific targeting."

The company knew that the typical yogurt buyer is a woman and that most women are calcium-deficient. Stonyfield developed its line of YoSelf yogurt that contains a fiber extract that helps women to better absorb yogurt's calcium.

Stonyfield then offered the yogurt in chocolate and caramel flavors and packaged it in 4-ounce cups - half the size of standard yogurt cups. The idea, Hirshberg says, is to give women a little indulgent treat. And those 4-ounce cups contain 110 calories, almost the same as low-fat yogurt in 8-ounce cups.

The names of many of these products are also designed to appeal to women by promising a sense of tranquillity and well-being. General Mills named its women's breakfast cereal Harmony to "reflect the balance between taking care of yourself and the constant pressure of life," said Liv Lane, a spokeswoman for the cereal.

On the package, a woman stretches her arms out on a beach framed with daisies. "You know your needs are different, Harmony does too," the package says.

Many of these products also advertise their contributions to women's health and business concerns. A pink label on Harmony cereal, for instance, says "Proud to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation." The manufacturer of Oasis nutritional bars touts its grant program for women's businesses.

Although the category of women's foods is small for food giants like General Mills and Kraft, the price markup on some items is large enough that they make significant contributions to a company's bottom line, says Standard & Poor's analyst Ron Neysmith.

While consumers are embracing these products, many health experts do not.

Kathleen Zelman, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says women's nutritional needs do differ from men's, but adds, "You find all the nutrients you need in the food supply; you don't need special foods."

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