While baby food formulations have become a lot more interesting in recent years, with new products featuring on-trend ingredients such as lentils, amaranth, quinoa, chia and avocado as well as the standard fruit and veggie purees, they have struggled to connect with Latin American shoppers, claimed chief marketing officer Natasha Cabrera.
“Through our research we’ve realized that a lot of the big baby food brands like Gerber and Beech Nut have really tried relentlessly to reach the Latin market,” said Cabrera, who co-founded the business with her sister in law Melissa Pire earlier this year and is aiming to go into full production in the fall.
“But they have failed to really understand the Hispanic American market and the kind of flavors and meals that Latin Americans eat, so they target Latin Americans with papaya or guava or pineapple without realizing that the heavy meals are legume and vegetable based.
“So that was the initial opportunity that we saw, although we are also tapping into a wider demand for different kinds of cuisines that you see from the success of brands such as Tio Gazpacho," added Cabrera, who is still doing her day job in business development; while Pire is also still working full-time in the insurance industry).
Calabaza & Carrots, Cuban Garbanzos, and Green Peas
The first three SKUs from The Latin Baby - which like other HPP babyfood brands such as Pure Spoon and Once Upon a Farm must be stocked in the refrigerator - will be Calabaza & Carrots, Cuban Garbanzos, and Green Peas in 4oz fully recyclable plastic containers (MSRP $3.49).
Each product – which can be eaten cold or warmed up - contains calabaza (west Indian pumpkin, a kind of squash popular in Latin American cooking), lime juice, apple juice, garlic powder, plus other ingredients such as turmeric and oregano depending on the flavor. They are all Non GMO Project Verified, but not (yet) organic, in part because it can be difficult to source USDA certified organic versions of some of the ingredients, she said.
The ingredients are steamed enough so they can be blended, or just blended cold, depending on the SKU, and then put into plastic tubs and run through a high pressure processing (HPP) step to kill pathogens, all at the same location in Maryland, she added.
“A lot of baby food brands use these sweet fruits or add fruits to veggies to make them more palatable or sweet, but you don’t need to get babies’ palates to adjust to sugar – they naturally do that!
“We want to introduce babies to savory foods that aren’t bland, so we use things like cumin, oregano and turmeric. What’s interesting is that a pediatrician told Melissa that babies are actually already used to some of these flavors if their mothers eat them because they are getting them from the breastmilk.”
The packaging, meanwhile, is bright and colorful, whereas most other HPP babyfood brands have gone for a white background with fruits and vegetables on the front, she said. “They look like they belong in the yogurt aisle, whereas we wanted something brighter and more playful.”
We didn't want to make a sugary, over processed, heat pasteurized sauce
As for the format, said Cabrera, “The original plan was to produce a shelf-stable product in a pouch, but once we started looking at what was involved in getting a baby food product to be shelf-stable, you worry that all the nutrition is just going to get blasted away, that you are essentially just left with a sugary, over processed, heat pasteurized sauce.”
High pressure processing (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 – adds cost, but it means you can make products that retain the texture, nutrition and taste of homemade food, with no preservatives or added flavors, and a shelf-life long enough to secure national distribution, she said.
“Obviously you see a lot of cold-pressed juices using HPP but we also saw a few baby food brands using it like PureSpoon, little spoon, and Once Upon a Farm, that were using HPP (high pressure processing), so we looked into our options.
“We looked at pouches, because they are really convenient, but we wanted something fully recyclable, and we also love that connection you get between Mom and baby when you use a spoon. You can get pouches that have a little spoon attached, so we may look at that in future if we can get something recyclable, but for now we’re going with a BPA-free recyclable plastic tub.”
“We’ve created our products based on Latin savory dishes, but our brand is not just about Latin culture, we’re really targeting all Millennial moms, who are looking for something healthy and delicious for their babies that is not full of sugar."
Natasha Cabrera, chief marketing officer and co-founder, The Latin Baby
Millennial moms are looking for new brands
So what’s the go-to-market strategy for the brand, which recently uploaded its products to RangeMe so participating retailers can review its wares, and has just started having conversations with some leading retailers?
According to Cabrera: “We’ve had a lot of positive conversations. HPP baby food hasn’t really landed here in the southeast yet although it’s growing rapidly in the northeast and on the west coast, but retailers are definitely looking closely at this category and watching what Target is doing [installing refrigerators in its babyfood aisles].
"You also see refrigerators in the dogfood aisle at major retailers like Publix and PetSmart and they really do see babyfoods doing the same.”
While they are confident there is a market for HPP baby food, they are bootstrapping as much as possible at this stage of their self-funded enterprise, said Cabrera.
“For example, when we started we wanted to have nine flavors, but as we progressed we decided to start with three; you have to constantly refine the business plan as you get a clearer understanding of your costs, but we are very confident that there is a market."
Melissa Pire (pictured here with her two children) is the CEO and founder of The Latin Baby, which is hoping to carve out a niche in the burgeoning HPP baby food category.
We’ve created our products based on Latin savory dishes
She added: “We’ve created our products based on Latin savory dishes, but our brand is not just about Latin culture, we’re really targeting all Millennial moms, who are looking for something healthy and delicious for their babies that is not full of sugar.
“Working moms don’t have time to make their own baby food but they say they are looking for something better than what’s out there on the market. They are also just looking for new brands, so we really see an opportunity.”
Interested in where the HPP baby food market is heading? PureSpoon founder and HPP baby food pioneer Alyson Eberle will be speaking on day two of Food Vision USA 2016 in Chicago on November 10 as part of a panel featuring Health Warrior CEO Shane Emmett, MALK Organic CEO August Vega, and Veggie Fries co-founder David Peters.
Find out more HERE .