Bitsy’s began as part of a larger idea between Maggie Patton and Alex Buckley Voris who had started a national, federally funded nonprofit called GenerationON that addresses various community issues related to kids with an emphasis on health and wellness.
With five kids between them, Patton and Buckley Voris knew first-hand the struggles parents face with feeding kids nutritious and appealing food.
“Kids engage everyday with snack food and that was really where we saw the market gap. Snack time and convenient, healthy snacks was really a missed opportunity to reach kids and connect with them through food,” Patton told FoodNavigator-USA.
Patton commented on the limited options of kids' snack food around the time the company launched. Parents could either find classic junk food products from big brand names or snack products that had all the right claims such as organic and non-GMO, but at the end of the day were still just a cracker or cookie.
“It was also really the beginning of this ‘stealth health’ movement about sneaking things [veggies, fruit, ‘superfoods’] in on kids,” Patton said.
‘One of the biggest influences on food is peer pressure’
Bitsy’s didn’t want to hide the fact that there were vegetables or possibly unfamiliar ingredients to kids such as chia seeds in its snack products. The company wanted to be up front about its ingredients and communicate with kids about nutrition while answering their natural appetite for adventure but also familiarity. All of the brand’s products feature a vegetable component including beet, carrot, and zucchini formulated into kid-friendly flavors such as ranch and cheddar.
“If you’re honest from the start and you get kids’ buy in, it’s much more productive,” Patton said.
“I think one of the biggest influences on food is peer pressure and I think at the end of the day the peer pressure and the influence at the lunchroom table ends up being the most dominant influence over any sort of marketing you can put on a packaged bag. The influence of the kids around them is very powerful.”Patton added Bitsy's wants to spark a nutrition dialogue during snack or lunchtime through honest communication of its ingredients, which are featured prominently on the front of its packaging.
Out of its 10 products, Bitsy’s best-selling item is its cheddar chia veggie smart crackers made with sweet potato flour.
What can the industry do to improve kids snack food?
According to Patton, a missing piece to developing the kids snack food category for the better has been a dialogue between parents of young kids and the food industry starting with the retail environment.
“When we were launching our product, everyone said, ‘Well are you in baby or are you in cookie?’,” recalled Patton.
While Bitsy’s can be found nationwide at Whole Foods and Sprouts, and other natural retailers, Patton believes retailers could improve by creating a dedicated section for kids snacking items rather than lumping in the products with the rest of the snacking/cookie and cracker aisle.
“I think there’s starting to be stronger lunchbox sets for kids that are more nutritious,” Patton said.
Patton believes retailers should consider forming a “smart snack set” in their stores to help families make healthier food and beverage purchases.
“I think wellness for children is a full picture situation and kids have so much unhealthy stuff coming at them right now. Everyone has to really start making, I think more aggressive, bold choices collectively around these things,” she said.
“An amazing statement for a retailer to make would be to have a part of grocery that has an educational component for kids that makes it fun and a destination, because so many kids go through the grocery store with their parents… If a retailer was willing to make that more of an experiential destination for kids, I think it would be really powerful.”
What’s next for Bitsy’s?
Building brand awareness is a core goal for Bitsy’s moving forward, according to Patton, who wants to continue to move into new channels and encourage repeat purchases through promotions and online offers.
The company recently launched a subscription model direct through its website as well as on Amazon.
“I think the direct to consumer model with food and kids snacks is an emerging space,” Patton said.
Online ordering of snacks can also give parents of kids with allergies peace of mind knowing that products are coming directly from their warehouse to their door.
“I really like that model for the allergen piece and for just the convenience factor. You just never know when your snack mom day is going to sneak up on you and you need 30 packs of multipack crackers,” she added.
Bitsy’s has also extended into the wholesale channel distributing to some schools, added Patton.
As still a small player in the kids snacks space, Patton said the company is also focused on staying competitive on price, nutrition, convenience, and availability.
“I think the time now is for kids. It’s such a moment of opportunity because now everyone’s getting into the kids category; successful adult brands now want to extend down to kids,” she said.
“No other company is going to think of kids in the same way that we do. We really do it out of a love for kids and we want to keep championing that.”