Little Dish gears up for US launch: 'No one was replicating what mothers make in their own kitchen'
Graves launched Little Dish in the UK in 2006 after noticing a gap in fresh food options for toddlers.
"There was so much for 6- to 12-month-olds, but nothing for toddlers," Graves pointed out.
According to the company, Little Dish chilled toddler meals and snacks are formulated to meet the nutritional needs of toddlers and are free from added sugar, salt, and preservatives. Each product contains one to two servings of vegetables.
"Everything is designed with a nutritionist so that it is perfectly nutritionally tailored for this particular age group. There’s a real science behind it," Graves said.
Aside from maintaining high nutritional standards for its products, Graves added that the Little Dish range is also meant to appeal to tiny taste buds and be as close to a home-cooked meal as possible.
"No one was replicating what mothers make in their own kitchen – really proper home-cooked meals," she added.
In September 2017, Little Dish formed a strategic partnership with Chicago-based investment fund Profile Capital who invested US$21.6m (£17m) in the baby food brand to help it conquer the US market next.
From shepherd's pie to veggie mac & cheese
To gear up for its US launch, Little Dish realized that its most popular products in the UK - shepherd's pie, fish pie, and curry - were not going to be as popular with toddlers in the US market.
"Here in the US, some of those UK recipes really didn’t test well with our US toddlers. At this stage we’re not launching a fish pie in the US, but we tested more local recipes," Graves mentioned.
Consumers can expect to see more American kid favorites such as macaroni & cheese, but with a veggie-powered spin on the dish.
"We definitely have a macaroni & cheese, but it’s just that our macaroni & cheese has cauliflower and butternut squash and sweet potato."
The company made its US debut at Natural Products East in Baltimore, Maryland, in September and will be rolling out to retailers in 2019.
Chilled baby food in the US
Sold in chilled coolers at major UK retailers including Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, and Waitrose, Graves noted how the UK market for chilled baby food is currently more developed than in the US, but that is changing.
"We always wanted to take Little Dish to the states eventually, but to be honest it was really just recently where we felt like all the dynamics have been in place," Graves said.
"There's some really great innovation and new products in this space, and importantly the retailers are really starting to pay attention to it and they’re looking for solutions like this to be bring into their stores."
Fresh baby food brands such as Once Upon a Farm and PureSpoon have made headway in working with retailers to introduce coolers into the baby food aisle and make shelf space in the dairy case next to kids' yogurt, which has helped open up the category to other players and introduce more consumers to the concept of fresh baby food, she said.
"In a perfect world, I think you would have refrigerators in [every] the baby aisle," Graves said, adding that for its US launch Little Dish is focused on partnering with retailers and working with other brands to accelerate growth of the fresh baby food category.
"This is what mothers are looking for....specifically millennial mothers; they want something as close to homemade as possible and that’s not always shelf stable."