When Bitsy’s Brainfood launched its first products back in the tail end of 2012—cereals and cookies packaged in a colorful box with ingredients like carrots, squash, broccoli and spinach—Voris said that she and her business partner Maggie Patton felt pressure to grow within the natural and organic channel.
“But for us, it was getting accounts like Kroger and Target, particularly in the last year and a half—[it] started to really give us a chance to get out there more aggressively,” Voris told FoodNavigator-USA.
The brand’s newest product line-up 'Smart Crackers,' tangram-shaped crackers with a half-serving of organic vegetables per serving, was picked up by Target’s Made-to-Matter collection back in March, which means the chips are now nationally distributed and featured prominently with other brands that fulfil the criteria to earn the distinction: Reduced sugar, processed in systems with a smaller carbon footprint, less packaging, clean labels, and friendly to consumers with dietary restrictions.
“One thing that has been really cool about it is the collaborative piece of the experience,” Voris said. “I think Target has really been a big part of driving all the brands within the collective to think even more deeply and strategically on how to create innovative healthy products.”
There are three flavor options of Smart Crackers: Cheddar Chia Veggie, Maple Carrot Crisp, and Sweet Potato Cinna-graham, containing no GMO ingredients and, according to the package, certified organic by USDA, along with Oregon Tilth organic certification.
Kids need brands that are their own
A big part of Bitsy’s Brainfood’s brand strategy is to speak directly to children on the packaging. “I think a lot of times, when you’re talking about brands founded by parents particularly, there’s a lot of language that’s like mom-to-mom or parent-to-parent,” Voris said.
So instead of relying on the age old rule of having parents persuade their children that vegetables are healthy and delicious, the two founders took up the daunting task of telling children directly why vegetables are healthy and delicious. “We really feel like kids need brands that are their own, and from a mission standpoint we’re really trying to market healthy to kids,” she added.
Thus, the products’ packaging is chock full of activities. “There’s always a learning and game component, we always try to think like kids and what kids will look for,” Voris said, hence the 'brainfood' in the name. The tangram-shaped chips are designed to be like puzzles to allow children to play with their food (in a good way—“it helps teach logic and spatial reasoning and math,” she added).
The perks of being a mom brand
The idea for the brand came to the women back in 2007 when they were coworkers in a nonprofit combating childhood obesity. “We saw a critical need for innovation when it came to foods for kids that were convenient and organic and healthy, and the idea was really to conceive a product around what we learned,” Voris said.
And when each of them had their first children around 2010, Voris described a “sense of urgency” that sparked their entrepreneurial flames.
“Everything that we do with our brand really comes out of our experience as educators and moms, [it] informs how we develop our products and packaging,” Voris added. For example, the two co-founders are the personalities behind the brand’s social media outlets. “Social media is a really great way in engaging with moms—what you see on there is really coming from us,” she said, adding that learning from other moms in the comments section has been a really fun part of the journey.
Small fish in a big pond
The co-founders said that after expanding into more conventional channels, being competitive when it comes to price is one of the biggest challenges (the crackers sell for $3.99 at Target), especially as bigger companies are jumping on the bandwagon for creating healthy products for children.
“Big brands are definitely taking notice, they see a market opportunity and I think they’re moving towards it, which is great,” Voris said.
“Just because a product is organic and non-GMO doesn’t necessarily mean that its healthy—what we’d like to see is an expanded definition of healthy from larger brands in the way of authentically nutritious ingredients, but the fact that so many big brands are moving into the space is really good,” she added.
And to tackle how affordability can be an issue for the communities that need snacks like Bitsy the most, the founders set up Farm to Playground, an easy-to-access online form for nonprofits and communities to request free Bitsy’s snacks for children in areas of the United States where it’s hard to come across nutritious food.
Patton added that there are a lot of challenges and a lot of risk in being a startup with such big aspirations, “and we really come out of a place of wanting to do good for kids—our goal is to really be advocates in this space for better food for kids,” Patton said.