SAN JOSE -- For parents who think that nothing is too good for their baby, corporate America is about to unveil the latest -- a line of wholly organic, California-grown mush.
Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. will begin marketing a line of baby food, some of it grown by Northern California farmers, that is free of chemicals, pesticides and synthetic additives..
Until now, organic farmers have catered mostly to an audience of upper-income and chemical-conscious adults. Mark Duncan, manager of Whole Foods Market in Palo Alto, Calif., said he is surprised it took this long for the baby food giants to discover organics.
"It's hard to keep on the shelf," he said of the handful of brands peddled by smaller firms that until now have had the market to themselves. "People are afraid of what's in their food."
And so Beech-Nut becomes the first corporate giant to venture into organic baby food. It will say little about its product other than that it will be called Special Harvest. Spokesman Patrick Farrell says it will hit the shelves in late January or early February in three to six different regions of the country, Farrell said. Whether Northern California will be among them is a secret.
So is the price.
Beech-Nut is a distant second to Gerber Products Co., which feeds seven of every 10 babies in the United States. Beech-Nut has suffered adverse publicity since pleading guilty in federal court in 1987 to marketing fake apple juice.
Baby food is a perfect complement to the industry, said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers, the industry's trade group. Farmers have a tough time finding a market for the organic produce that is either too large or too small for the pleasing displays in stores. But the so-called "seconds" are perfect to process into baby food.