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Despite minimal consumer marketing efforts, the $2.6 billion baby formula market continues to grow. The category's 7.8% growth can be attributed to price increases and more births.

Abbott Laboratories' Ross Products division's Similac continues to be the leader, holding 36.6% of market share, followed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Mead Johnson Nutritional Group's Enfamil, with 18.5%.

While consumer sales determine share in most categories, baby formula marketers capture share by winning bids for the lucrative federal low-income Women, Infants & Children program.

Around one-third of baby formula volume sales come from WIC. Fluctuation in share within the category highly depends on marketers gaining or losing WIC bids in states or groups of states.

"Consumers have a modest impact on the category share of the market leaders," said Donald Stuart, a partner at Cannondale Associates, Wilton, Conn., a marketing consultancy.

The top six baby formula brands-Similac, Enfamil, Ross' Isomil, American Home Products Corp.'s SMA, Mead's Prosobee and American Home's Nursoy-aren't advertised directly to the consumer, but marketed through physicians and hospitals.

But formula marketers made a significant effort to reach consumers recently by introducing several new products.

Last October, American Home launched Bonamil, a low-price knock-off of market leader Similac. But price hasn't been a factor in the formula market, where Nestle's Good Start and Carnation Follow-Up formula brands and Gerber Products Co. have struggled to grow share. Normally, consumers remain loyal to the brand recommended by their doctor.

Many formula makers have targeted toddlers, trying to expand the market. Ross Products introduced Similac Toddler's Best, a milk-based iron-fortified beverage geared to children older than 12 months. Mead Johnson launched Next Step toddler formula, aimed at children between 1 and 2.

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