After canvassing the baby food aisle where fruit sugars appear in many products, Fresh Bellies founder Saskia Sorrosa, realized the toddler snack set
had a very similar problem.
"If you look in the toddler snack aisle, it’s all sugar-based too," Sorrosa told FoodNavigator-USA.
The company's customers were also requesting more products to feed their kids who were entering the toddler stage as well as older school-aged kids.
"We thought long and hard about how to innovate in that space with something that is uniquely different and that’s how we came up with our snacks," Sorrosa said.
Fresh Bellies launched two snack products: freeze dried red bell peppers (with sunflower oil and sea salt) and freeze-dried mango and basil snacks, both marketed for 'Ages 12 months to 100-years-old', according to its packaging.
The brand has unintentionally struck a chord with an adult audience, even becoming a NEXTY finalist at Expo West last year in the regular snacking category, because "the judges couldn't stop eating them," claimed Sorrosa.
The snacks' adult appeal has also opened up new store placement opportunities, according to Sorrosa.
"We’ve had stores ask us where we would like to be merchandised because they see that there’s a larger audience than just kids... but our response is, we want to focus on kids because that’s where there’s such a huge need. Everyone else is innovating in the adult market, but no one’s really speaking to kids," she said.
Fresh Bellies is expanding its line with two more SKUs to be launched later this year: beet chips seasoned with thyme and an apples and cardomon freeze dried snack product.
'Palates in training' approach to childhood nutrition
Born and raised in Ecuador, founder Sorrosa felt the baby food aisle was lacking in terms of flavor and nutrition.
"Fruits and vegetables are mixed together so from the moment babies are taking their first bite they’re just tasting fruit sugars. As they transition to table foods they’re just gravitating towards those sugars and having a really hard time eating vegetables because they don’t have an acquired palate for it," Sorrosa said.
Sorrosa cited the 'flavor window' concept popularized by the book "First Bite" in which author Bee Wilson explains that babies' palates can be formed and trained to enjoy vegetables if they are continually exposed to such foods between 4 and 7 months old.
"It’s not as if we’re born with an aversion to broccoli or hating kale, we really do learn to eat the moment we take our first bite."
However, you won't find cauliflower blended with fruit sugar to mask the flavor, emphasized Sorrosa. Instead its vegetable purees such as Cauliflower Dreamin' uses organic cauliflower and organic bell peppers blended with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and thyme.
Fresh Bellies also has two fruit purees (A Pearfect Pair and Apple of My Eye), because fruit does serve a vital role in a child's diet, Sorrosa clarified.
"We are not of the mindset that children should not be eating fruits. When kids are eating fruit they should be tasting fruit, when they’re eating vegetables, they should be tasting vegetables," Sorrosa noted.
Fresh Bellies has doubled distribution within the past month to 300 stores including Whole Foods in the South Pacific region, Fresh Thyme in the Midwest, Earth Fare, and Harris Teeter. Sorrosa is targeting a 1,000-store footprint by the end of 2019.
With a recent appearance on Shark Tank, Fresh Bellies' online sales have surged and the brand will be focusing on its e-commerce strategy as a tool to reach untapped areas of the US, added Sorrosa.
"Where we used to be entirely focused on wholesale, we’re now looking at a business that’s got two streams of really healthy revenue [from direct-to-consumer and brick-and-mortar] and we want to continue to grow both," she said.
A pouch-free future?
From day one, Fresh Bellies knew it didn't want to be in pouches, a packaging format that has taken over the baby food aisle.
For its core line of refrigerated baby food, Fresh Bellies uses fully recyclable and resealable cups with a detachable spoon embedded underneath the lid.
"Our cups are fully recyclable, but more importantly they’re reusable," Sorrosa said who has seen parents use Fresh Bellies' cups for storing Play-Doh and small toys.
According to Sorrosa, pouches are beginning to go out of vogue across the category.
"When I started this company five years ago when you walked down the baby food aisle, the majority of products were in a pouch. If you walk down the baby food aisle today, you will see many of the larger brands have moved from pouches to cups," Sorrosa said.
Well-known baby food brands such as Plum Organics, Happy Family, and Once Upon a Farm have all launched a cup version of their products recently.
"And these were the brands that innovated with the pouch a number of years ago," added Sorrosa.
Recent research by Technomic shows that demand for pouches will continue to grow driven largely by international markets such as Asia-Pacific and EMEA. However, rigid packaging still accounts for a 99% share of the global baby food market.
The critique of pouches for baby food is due to its heavy environmental footprint, but more recently, researchers have linked continual pouch use to overeating and tooth decay.
"Kids are just squeezing food into their mouths without listening to body cues, and we knew spoon-feeding is a really important part of encouraging healthier eating habits," Sorrosa said.
"There are a lot of reasons why pouches shouldn’t be the go-to for kids."