By now, nutrition bars are practically American staples. To a lesser degree, so are health shakes. Among the active set, such products are a means of enhancing performance, but even the less athletically inclined seem enamored with these healthy items. As much as obesity has become a big story among reporters and health experts, a lot of people also seem to love the idea of having their nutritional needs condensed into an easily consumable product.

Whether average couch potatoes really need to bother snacking on such nutrition items is debatable, but they may just be ideal for non-athletes in one segment of the population -- pregnant mothers. That's the argument Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) is currently making.

The company disclosed on Monday that its Ross Products division is introducing a new line of Ensure products for pregnant mothers. Traditionally, Ensure has been marketed for the ill and the elderly, so the new items represent a significant shift. And the move is worth some attention, since Abbott may be tapping into a major market.

As Abbott's research shows, 70% of mothers think snacks should be nutritious during pregnancy. However, cravings often are directed toward junk food with low nutritional value. Chocolate and vanilla "Ensure Healthy Mom" shakes and snack bars are formulated to appeal to expecting mothers' cravings and provide for their nutritional needs.

This push is yet another step in Abbott's ongoing buildup in the nutritional segment -- it added to its Ross Products division through its acquisition of privately held EAS in 2004 and ZonePerfect Nutrition in 2003. Unlike other drug companies such as Novartis (NYSE:NVS) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) that are involved in nutritionals, Abbott seems especially focused in its commitment to the area. Ross Products President Gary McCullough has reportedly taken such steps as hiring managers from Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) to remake the division into a more dynamic consumer-products outfit, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Though the pharmaceutical area will remain the major growth engine for Abbott, the company's diversification makes a lot of sense, especially given the pressures in the drug segment. The firm's unique strategy is worth watching.

For related news, see "Abbott's Healthy Diet."

Fool contributor Brian Gorman is a freelance writer in Chicago. He does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.