Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | March 4, 2008

Anxious parents go organic, at a cost

There’s a six-week wait for a $15 stainless steel sippy cup made without harmful compounds. Some big box chains are eager to start selling a $300 organic crib mattress that was tested to ensure it doesn’t emit any dangerous gases.

Last year’s recalls of lead-tainted toys alerted many parents to the possible presence of toxic substances in their children’s favorite playthings.

Entrepreneurs and national retailers learned a lesson too: Uncertainty over the safety of the everyday products that surround their children means parents are willing to pay handsomely for peace of mind.

All they have to do is look at the rapid growth of businesses that cater to chemical-conscious moms and dads.

The families buying these products make up a small segment of the U.S. households with children younger than 3, which totaled 12 million in 2006, according to the U.S. census.

But market researchers say their disposable income makes them influential beyond their numbers. They’ve helped spur growth in the multimillion-dollar market for baby furnishings, clothing, gear and personal-care products.

Major retailers are taking notice. While the Food and Drug Administration last month said the health effects of plastic additives called phthalates, for example, are not clear, Toys “R” Us said that by year’s end it would not sell baby products that contain the compounds. Wal-Mart Stores handed down a similar edict to its suppliers.

Whole Foods plans to start selling its own brand of baby bottles in June, joining a slew of boutique bottlemakers, including one that markets an $18 shatterproof glass bottle with nipples imported from France — seven times pricier than the typical model.

Parents such as Laurie Cunningham and her husband, Travis Bowen, choose to err on the side of caution, even if it means paying more.

Last summer, the Centreville, Va., couple started looking for an organic crib mattress because they wanted to avoid exposing their daughter, Samantha, now 8 months old, to flame-retardant chemicals used in mattress filling. Then “it all sort of snowballed,” Cunningham said.

“We prioritized because everything is expensive,” said Cunningham, who now acquires secondhand toys and clothes to save money. She and a neighbor, Alexa Hutchins, are starting a local chapter of Holistic Moms Network, a national group for parents interested in green alternatives.

So far, parents like Hutchins and Cunningham have helped drive up sales of organic baby-care products to $15 million in 2006 from $12 million the previous year, and organic baby food to $235 million in 2006 from $206 million in 2005, according to the Organic Trade Association.
source:www.chicagotribune.com


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