Co-founder Katie Jesionowski - a former media planner - told FoodNavigator-USA: “When my twins were about a year and a half old, we were having a playdate in my apartment in Manhattan and I was talking to Silvia [friend and co-founder Silvia Gianni - who has a background in finance] and we were saying that after baby food there is sort of a void.
“There are a couple of companies doing good things but there’s really not much out there.
“Later that evening Silvia texted me and asked me if I wanted to start a kids food company. I didn’t even know if she was being serious, but literally a couple of days later we were in a coffee shop drafting ideas!
“That was around July 2011, and in late 2012, our first product [mysupersnack granola bites] was launched at Natural Products Expo East. Our second product [organic nut-free cookies under the mysupercookies brand] was launched this year."
A lot of retailers are growing the healthier snacks space
She added: "Our first customer was a small natural foods shop at the bottom of my apartment building in Manhattan, but today we’re in around 5-600 stores from Whole Foods to Target, King’s Market and Amazon and we're having a lot of conversations [with potential customers], so next year is looking even more exciting. A lot of retailers are growing the healthier snacks space."
But what about schools?
It's early days, said Jesionowski, who attended the School Nutrition Association show in Boston this year to gauge interest from this segment. "It's a very different market but there is also tremendous opportunity there for us, particularly for the cookies as lots of schools don't allow nuts."
She added: “Ultimately we want to build a portfolio of good for you snacks for children and it would be great if people could see the brand and not even have to look at the Nutrition Facts panel because they know it's healthy."
High-quality and nutrient-dense ingredients
From a formulation perspective, nutrient density is key, she said: “Calories were not our big focus. Young kids need calories and they are active, so we were more interested in the quality of the food that they are eating.
“Obviously, it’s not the same as having an apple or a piece of broccoli, but we wanted to make something that wasn’t just better for you than other snacks but a good for you version, so we used things like flaxseed and chia for omega-3s, amaranth flour, blueberries, dates, oats, bananas, baobab, acerola, acai berries and quinoa. It's all about high quality and nutrient-dense ingredients.
"We also have no more than 8g of sugar per serving [click HERE for details], which is very important for parents.”
As for texture, she added: “Our first product was softer, something parents could give to an 18-month old or even a 14-month old. The cookies are a bit harder. In general the branding is designed to appeal to children aged 2+, so up to about nine or 10 years old.”
Products must appeal to kids and parents
As for market feedback, Jesionowski and Gianni started off using their own kids as testers, and then started taking them to the playground, playgroups, music classes, and so on, getting them in the hands of children from 18 months to 10 years old.
Where children are younger, feedback from parents is equally important given that they have control over what is bought and consumed, so their views were just as important as their children's as the products were refined and tweaked, she said.
People kept telling us the first five to seven years are really challenging
So what’s the journey been like?
Despite their professional experience and financial acumen, starting a food company required new skills and contacts, so both co-founders were on a rapid learning curve in the beginning, she said.
“The cash burn is a challenge; any money you bring in you are immediately putting it back in; people kept telling us the first five to seven years are really challenging.
“The only advice I would have is talk to people and learn from them, and go to trade shows. We learned a lot from one person that had run a very successful company that ultimately failed, but gave us a ton of great advice on what not to do!”