Great expectations: Brands can build trust with pre- and postnatal snacks

In our latest roundtable webinar, experts discussed the broader implications of snack innovations targeting pre- and postnatal consumers.

Kimberly Decker, Contributing writer

June 14, 2024

5 Min Read
Seasoned potato chips.

At a Glance

  • Proper nutrition is important during pregnancy, but the myth of “eating for two” needs to go.
  • Don’t target pre- and postnatal consumers with bizarre flavor combinations trying to cater to pregnancy cravings.
  • Try combining sweet with savory to reach the broadest audience possible.

Could somebody please get Linda Alvarez, M.D., some conception-friendly sushi?

As the cofounder and CEO of female-focused sports-food brand Levelle Nutrition noted during a recent SupplySide Education Series webinar produced in partnership with Food & Beverage Insider, “I’m not pregnant now, but we are going down that path. So I’ve been cutting out all these different food groups, and that [read: raw fish] has been the hardest one to cut.”

Given the strides innovators are making toward commercializing plant-based fish alternatives, Alvarez may well get that pregnancy-safe sushi snack before she exits her first trimester. But the fact that she even needs to ask for one underscores the yawning white space waiting to be filled by brands formulating snacks for pre- and postnatal women.

“There’s so much that women can’t eat” during this time, Alvarez marveled. “If you’re able to develop a snack that replicates that [and] that’s safe to eat, that is money.”

Personal and professional stakes

This was a point that Alvarez and her co-panelists emphasized throughout the webinar, moderated by Cassie Smith, senior editorial content director, Informa Markets, SupplySide.

Like Alvarez, the other panelists — Devon Gholam, Ph.D., vice president of science and innovation at Step Change Innovations, and Maryann Walsh, RD, president at Walsh Nutrition Consulting — brought professional expertise and personal stakes to the discussion: Both are industry insiders, and both are moms.

All three understand that nutrition inextricably links women to the humans they’re growing and feeding once they “launch.” And all three understand how much confusion and misinformation still shrouds the pre- and postnatal space.

It takes two

They took a crack at several of those myths during the webinar, including the old chestnut that pregnant women need to eat for two.

In fact, Walsh observed, overeating and its attendant metabolic disruptions — including gestational diabetes — might pose the larger threat.

“We know that as pregnancy progresses, we do need more calories,” she said. But even by the third trimester, energy needs only increase by about 500 calories. “We do, obviously, want to stress the importance of being properly nourished,” Walsh concluded — but not by a factor of two.

Anytime sickness

Alas, morning sickness — or what all three women agreed is more aptly described as anytime sickness — can make getting proper nourishment an ordeal.

With symptoms ranging from nausea and vomiting to stomachache and constipation, the condition begs for applications that supply easily digested calories in an easily consumed format.

And that, Walsh said, can mean leaning on the carb-packed snacks we’re so often warned against, but that deliver their energy payload quickly and comfortably: white breads, crackers and cold cereal.

“I found personally, and I’ve also found working with patients for 15 years now, that having palatable options that’re also nutritious is super important,” Walsh declared. “The only thing I ironically enjoyed aside from white carbs was chocolate milk, and a lot of other moms have felt the same way.”


In good taste

Contrary to another common pregnancy trope, there’s no need to saddle these snacks with outlandish flavor profiles that cater to crazy cravings, a la ice cream with pickles. In fact, “Food aversion is a big thing” prenatally, Alvarez said.

Blame the dysgeusia, or changes in the sense of taste, as well as hyperosmia, or heightened sense of smell, that accompany pregnancy’s fluctuating hormones. (Perhaps that’s why Gholam — never “a vegetable fanatic,” she conceded — started craving kale during pregnancy.)

In any case, brands should center flavor profiles around proven winners. And while women’s preferences vary as widely as their pregnancies, ginger hits the mark for its calming and comforting effects, while lemon, honey and lavender also make pregnancy-friendly bets, Gholam said.

Swavory swerve

Because predilections for sweet versus savory can flip-flop during gestation, Gholam also suggested giving taste profiles a “swavory” swerve.

“Looking at foods where you can combine those flavors might appeal to a broader audience: things like trail mixes or granola bars where you can mix fruit and chocolate with savory nuts,” she said. “Things like that can help appeal to a wide range of flavors but also help with getting that critical nutrition in.”

And Alvarez cautioned against relying too much on high-intensity sweeteners. “Those can really be cloyingly sweet and also cause some ‘bubble gut,’” she said. “When you’re already dealing with nausea and constipation, it’s the last thing you want to deal with. So, bringing food back to basics as much as you can really helps women in having an ingredient label they can trust and understand.”

Trust in transparency

If ever women needed to trust their snacks, it’s when they’re building a baby.

During this emotionally charged time, the panelists agreed, brands must follow the soundest formulation science. But that can be tricky because the science around pre- and postnatal micro- and macronutrient intake is far from definitive.

That said, Walsh and Alvarez both applauded the drive to get more protein into pregnancy-friendly snacks. As Alvarez explained, “You have this massive increase within progesterone through pregnancy, and progesterone increases amino-acid oxidation. So essentially, you’re breaking down proteins all of the time.”

Neural tube development can begin as soon as a month after conception — before some women even know they’re pregnant — meaning snacks that include this B vitamin serve women at any stage of the fertility journey.

And for extra credit, Gholam recommended choosing ingredient forms like L-methylfolate and folate combined in a calcium salt over folic acid, as the former two “lend themselves a lot more easily to formulation and bioavailability.”          

Ultimately, Gholam sees no reason why snack brands should shy away from a market that, though niche, could become a brand’s lighthouse. “Women are the primary purchasers for groceries and supplements in households,” she said. “If you make us loyal to you and your brand and your company, then we will definitely go out of our way to look at what else you make because we trust you.”

To watch the webinar in its entirety, register here.

About the Author(s)

Kimberly Decker

Contributing writer

Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer who has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected].

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