And while Alison Eberle's Pure Spoon branded HPP organic fruit and veggie purees are more expensive than heat-treated rivals, buyers at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Hy-Vee, Wegmans and Fairway have all been sufficiently intriged by the concept to give them a chance, while Target has even worked with her to create a dedicated refrigerated kids’ food section in its baby aisle.
Not bad going given that she is barely out of the starting blocks (Pure Spoon only launched this year).
“Pretty much everyone I talked to was super-excited about the products and the concept,” Austin, Texas-based Eberle told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Moms buy what’s on offer today because there isn’t anything else and they don’t have time to make their own baby food.
“But when you talk to them, they say they want something better, something that tastes like what you make at home when you scoop out fresh avocado, or roast a butternut squash,” added Eberle, who started her business after having a baby of her own and feeling dissatisfied with the products on offer.
“Most products on the market right now, whether they are in jars or pouches, have been heated up [pasteurized to kill pathogens] which depletes the nutrients and changes the taste and texture. If you try our product vs others on the market, there’s just no comparison.
“I don’t trust anything that’s been sitting on the shelf for that long.”
Moms want something better
HPP – whereby foods or beverages are put into a high-pressure chamber that is flooded with cold water and pressurized (thus the ‘cold-pressured’ moniker) in order to kill pathogens without heat - enables Pure Spoon to produce baby food in custom-made recyclable 4.2oz containers that tastes exactly like the stuff you’d make at home, with no preservatives or added flavors, and a shelf-life long enough to secure national distribution, she said.
“In a few years’ time this will just be an established part of the baby food category.”
Like fellow HPP baby food brand Once Upon a Farm, however, Eberle has had to work with retailers to find the best way to merchandise her wares.
Most are putting her in the dairy section, but others are exploring ways to incorporate her products into the baby food aisle.
While not everyone can afford $2.69 or $2.99 for a serving of baby food, the $2.99 varieties (which contain more expensive ingredients such as avocado) are actually outperforming the cheaper ones, she noted, while the strong velocity she is seeing in stores proves she has a brand that can generate loyalty and repeat custom.
Parents also see the value proposition, she claimed, observing that while it’s obviously cheaper to make your own baby food, a lot of parents just don’t have the time and energy to do it, and see that while Pure Spoon is more expensive than Gerber or Plum Organics, they think the extra dollar is worth it.
“Now when we go into a meeting with a buyer we can show them the data and show them what we’re doing with other retailers and it makes the conversation a lot easier. They want to see velocity.”
It’s not the first or the second purchase order that really counts, it’s the third
She added: “I always say this to start-ups I mentor in Austin: It’s not the first or the second purchase order that really counts, it’s the third. The first one is hey, you had a great pitch, the second is the DC ordering when the product first sells, the third one is the re-orders, and that’s what really matters.
“Retailers also like the fact that we have done our homework, we’ve spent a lot of money on shelf-life testing and getting the packaging exactly right, developing the recipes with a dietitian and doing all the safety testing, because there is just that expectation that there will be an extra layer of protection for baby food.”
First I educated kids, now I am feeding them!
Funding for the business has thus far come from the proceeds of a tutoring business Eberle had previously set up, she said. “First I educated kids, now I am feeding them!”
However, she will in future need to seek outside investment, but is not prepared to compromise on the product. “If I had listened to everyone giving me advice at the start I’d be using citric acid and ascorbic acid and putting my product in a pouch, but I didn’t want to do that.”
Right now, she is focused on cultivating relationships with retailers and spreading the word about the new brand. But she doesn’t want to get pigeonholed as a ‘baby food’ company, noting that her products are also popular with children, athletes and adults looking for fresh fruit snacks, and that the range will expand into new areas with these audiences in mind.
“Some of the recipes will be similar but we’re also looking at adding protein and things like beets.”
I wish I had a whiteboard in the shower
So what’s it like running a company that’s taking off like a rocket ship?
Exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, said Eberle. “I wish I had a whiteboard in the shower. I’m always thinking of things I need to do.
“I’ve also learned to stick to my guns where it matters but also be honest with myself. You can’t walk into a room with a big ego and think you have all the answers.
“You’ve got to be able to stop, pause when you reach a plateau, be able to re-evaluate and quickly make changes. But you’ve also got to enjoy it, have a margarita once in a while and watch the sun set.”