Booming baby market is more than child's play

By Connie Green Freightman

Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- When Marcia Ward of Atlanta had her first child nine years ago, there were no Diaper Genies or exersaucers, no remote-control mobiles or even two-way monitors. Today, the mother of three -- Evan, 9, Morgan, 5, and Mikayla, 8 months -- has discovered what a difference a decade makes.

She's purchased items for Mikayla that she couldn't have dreamed of getting for Evan. She already had a highchair but couldn't resist the new reclining version where Mikayla sometimes naps after a feeding while Mom works in the kitchen. And the combination bottle warmer and cooler saves steps up and down stairs to the refrigerator during late-night feedings.

"It's amazing how the baby market has changed. Like cars, they're always coming up with new models," Ward says.


(For the uninitiated: A Diaper Genie, brand name of the unit by Playtex, is a diaper disposal system that individually seals each diaper to lock in odor. An exersaucer has a rotating seat that allows babies as young as 4 months to sit and swivel 360 degrees, play with built-in toys or bounce, rock, play and stand for exercise and entertainment.)

Indeed, the baby market is booming, crowded with new ideas and products.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association reports that clothing sales in the infant/toddler market mushroomed from $4.4 billion in 1991 to $10.6 billion in 2001. Sales also have increased for functional baby equipment like cribs, car seats and bedding from $3.7 billion in 1994 to $6.02 billion in 2000, according to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

Part of the reason is the rising birthrate. Women in the United States are having more children than at any time in almost 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the 1970s, '80s and '90s, the average birthrate was fewer than two children per woman. The average now is 2.1.

Today's parents also are more demanding consumers, and grandparents are making duplicate purchases of items like cribs and portable swings.

"This whole expansion of choice has made it a growth industry," said Kathleen Williams, president of Graco Children's Products. "The big change is recognizing there are different lifestyles and different family dynamic needs and financial needs."

Among the innovations:

Angular bottles promise to help keep baby from gulping too much air.


Spoons change color if the food's too hot.

Monitors have night lights, music and two-way communication.

Portable play yards come with removable bassinets and diaper-changing stations, music and vibration control.

In retail, Gap spun off Baby Gap. Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan have clothing lines for babies. The Discovery Channel Store has launched a Baby Boutique department in its stores and online ( Five-year-old Babies "R" Us has 170 stores nationwide. Kroger and Publix have baby clubs. has launched an online baby department.

"In general, we've become a more kid- and baby-centric culture," said Jerry Perez, executive vice president for marketing and design at Fisher-Price. "We've been able to grow our business to unprecedented levels because we've been able to read the needs of today's parents."

Babies "R" Us and Target provide baby registries and information on products. Babies "R" Us also sponsors seminars and "baby fest" weekends.

"It's all added information for parents. The service is very important," said Sue Montecallo, vice president for marketing for Babies "R" Us. "Having a baby is such a wonderful time that you want to buy the right things and make life easier."

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