Studies have shown that 80% of American women fail to get even two-thirds of one or more of the vitamins and minerals they need on a daily basis.
Women compose well more than half the population, yet the opportunities to be found in exploring this audience have been largely ignored. Of late, however, they have become a prime target for food companies, evidence of the growing diversification of the grocery aisles.

Identifying the first company to market food to women would be as impossible as it would be futile. To some degree, women have always been the target, for they have traditionally been the primary grocery shopper. However, the move in recent years has been to focus upon women with foods that address specific health concerns, indulge or simply give her something of her own.

Health Matters

A woman will face a unique set of health issues throughout various times of her life. Among those concerns are osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer, and these have genetic and dietary factors. Furthermore, women may also contend with premenstrual syndrome, pregnancy, lactation and menopause--stages in a woman's life when she has special nutritional needs or can address certain conditions with specific nutrients. For example, expectant mothers need to increase their intake of calcium and folic acid, which are essential to the healthy development of a baby. Calcium requirements can increase by 33% during pregnancy, and the increases needed for lactation can be twice that amount.

Calcium intake has been a particular concern for some. As Gary Hirshberg, president and CEO at Stonyfield Farm, notes, "When we talk with calcium experts, their No. 1 concern is teenage girls, who are going through these massive hormonal and body changes. Partly, these girls are not eating well, but I have heard the word epidemic used to describe the lack of calcium in the diets of these young people."

To help improve calcium intake, Stonyfield included a key ingredient in their new yogurt targeted at women, YoSelf.

"Two aspects of YoSelf are important," Hirshberg relates, "Stonyfield's cultures, including an L. reuterii culture which has been proven to stop certain species of salmonella and E. coli and to help with yeast issues. In addition, we have inulin, a digestible fiber that is so important to women and for a range of digestive issues. This particular fiber in tandem with our cultures increases calcium absorption. People only get about 20% of the calcium that may be listed on a food label. The inulin makes the cultures even more voracious in breaking down the calcium that is available and results in about a 20% increase in calcium availability to the consumer."

"It is no secret that women often do not get the calcium, iron and perhaps folic acid their bodies need," said nutrition expert Roberta Duyff, author of The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. Commenting on General Mills' Harmony cereal for women, Duyff noted, "It is great that a woman can now increase her intake of these important nutrients with a simple bowl of cereal for breakfast, and if you add milk, the vitamin D in milk makes the calcium in both the fortified cereal and milk itself more absorbable."

In addition, for the past decade healthcare practitioners have been telling women of childbearing age that a diet rich in folic acid can help to reduce the risk of birth defects. Now, a study from the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science suggests that women aged 60-85 can protect themselves from the risk of heart disease with daily consumption of foods rich in folic acid.

The growing number of women voicing an interest in their overall health prompted Balance Bar to introduce Oasis--a complete nutrition bar designed specifically for women. Scheduled to hit shelves in June, Oasis provides 22 essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, folic acid and contains eight grams of soy protein. According to ACNielsen statistics, energy bar sales have doubled over the past three years, and women's wellness bars contributed to 20% of that growth.

When developing Woman's Bread, Lynn Gordon, president and founder of French Meadow Bakery, recalls, "I was eating too many bars. I was on the go, night and day, and I had concerns about how I was eating and nourishing my body. I wanted a food that was high-protein, low-carb, high-fiber, and high in omega 3 and 6 and soy isoflavones. It was a combination of diet and my wanting hormone-replacement therapy. One slice of Woman's Bread is the daily requirement of soy isoflavones for women, and we have received letters from nursing mothers and young women that are thanking us. They are conscious of their health and do not want to face menopause and osteoporosis."

Women during menopause present a particular need. Tori Stuart, founder and president of Zoe Foods, notes, "My mother's physicians advised her against using hormone-replacement therapy because she was at high risk for breast cancer. After extensive reading, research and discussions with physicians, she learned that flaxseed and soy are both natural ways to control fluctuating levels of estrogen. When she could not find a product that blended these two ingredients, she made her own."

The result was Flax & Soy Clusters, a granola with natural ingredients that can ease common menopausal discomforts like hot flashes. Created by Zoe Foods, the granola's key ingredients, flaxseed and soy, provide phytoestrogens, fiber, protein and omega 3 fatty acids that also help promote heart health. Nearly 30 million American women are of age for menopause, and as Baby Boomers ease into their fifties, more than a million more will join that group this year.

"In my case," Gordon relates, "(developing Woman's Bread) was totally a need for nutrients, something easy I could eat every day. For me, I wasn't looking for a product for women because they are the major consumers. I think the industry at large does some of that, because women do most of the shopping. I think, for all companies, when designing packaging, ad campaigns, that is totally in the forefront (of their thinking)."

General Mills’ Harmony cereal offers women the nutrients they need in a package designed specifically for them.

Delivering the Message

Designing a package targeted at women is something of a dilemma for some firms, though. At Stonyfield Farm, for instance, "there are some benefits (from YoSelf) that are particularly important and appealing to women," Hirshberg notes, "but we fall short of saying anything explicitly on the packaging, just because we have come to realize that, regardless of what we think, consumers will decide on their own whom it's for. We launched YoBaby a couple of years ago, and the number of big, brawny, football-player types that consume YoBaby has once again proven that marketers don't know much."

Other firms take a different tack with their packaging. Quaker Oats' Quaker Oatmeal Nutrition for Women, for instance, places the trademark white-haired Quaker man on a vibrant pink label. Furthermore, as a General Mills press kit mentions, "The clean, simple design of the (Harmony) package makes it stand out in the cereal aisle. The soft blue and yellow tones add calm to the breakfast table. The female silhouette above the product name is reaching for and achieving balance--or harmony--in her life."

What distinguishes these foods from non-gender-specific fare? In some (but by no means all) cases, not much. However, comparing Harmony with the similar Smart Start cereal from Kellogg reveals that each provides the same 100% of the daily recommended allowance of folic acid, vitamin E and thiamin. The difference? Smart Start does so in a one-ounce serving, while Harmony's serving size is 1.25 ounces. Furthermore, Harmony provides 50% of the daily value of iron, while Smart Start offers 100%.

Nevertheless, General Mills notes that one serving of Harmony cereal provides essential nutrients for a woman's diet, including calcium, antioxidants, iron and folic acid, and is made with soy. In addition, Harmony provides something else for women, a feeling of a product for them. The cereal says it is especially for women. In fact, General Mills did extensive focus-group research and found that women liked having a product of their own.

What started the trend, and where is it headed? "In hindsight," Hirshberg relates, "I would say that the LUNA bar jumped out and was a phenomenally successful product about two years ago, and that was the first obvious one. Then we started to see a lot for women--SoBe's drink, Odwalla's Femme Vitale. All of this began about a year-and-a-half to two years ago, but I think we are starting to see a real trend here, one that may not be specific to women. I think it is a trend to the 'niche-ifying' of the shelf. I think it is something consumers will go for. They want to own their own thing." PF