YUMI founders on fresh baby food, millennial moms and going viral: ‘Parents love to share recommendations…’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: YUMI
Picture: YUMI

Related tags Baby food

New parents are busy, demanding, and sleep-deprived (cranky). But if you make products that solve problems for them, they’re also far more likely than most consumers to tell other people about your brand, which is the kind of free marketing most start-ups would kill for, say the founders of direct to consumer baby and toddler food delivery brand YUMI.

We launched in late summer of 2017 and we’ve been blown away by how much of our growth has been through word of mouth,” YUMI​ ​co-founder and CEO Angela Sutherland told FoodNavigator-USA. “We’ve really benefited from people loving our product, becoming fans, and telling their friends.

“There is so much anxiety in that period; parents are always asking other parents and friends about what works for them.

“Parents really do like to share recommendations, it’s one of the most viral markets; they are constantly swapping advice,”​ added Sutherland, a former investment banker who teamed up with business journalist Evelyn Rusli to create YUMI after researching baby food options for her own baby and feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

I went to the store and was asking why would I feed my kids something I wouldn’t personally eat? If I ate shelf-stable applesauce all day long I’d be malnourished. A lot of my friends were making their own baby food, but not because they enjoyed it. Most of us don’t go home after a long day at work and sew pants; they were doing it because the market didn’t have what they wanted.

“Millennial parents are far more demanding: they want organic and fresh foods for their own diets and they want the same for their children, so we started working closely with pediatricians and nutritionists to look at nutrient density in every meal, to improve the fiber to sugar ratio, and ensure we had enough protein and healthy fat.”

‘There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the meal kit category’

But why build a direct to consumer business rather going into retail? Lots of reasons, said Sutherland, one being that prepared baby food lends itself better to the online subscription model than meal kits, as new parents are creatures of habit, no preparation is involved, and the products can be frozen if plans change.

 “As a parent, once you find a diaper brand that works, you stick with it. The same applies to baby food, if you find something your baby likes and you’re happy with it, you don’t tend to keep switching.”

But the key for Los Angeles-based YUMI – aside from having a differentiated product and appealing brand – has been building a relationship with parents and following them on their journey, so that YUMI becomes a trusted resource, she said.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the meal kit category. Unless you have a very deep relationship with your customer and you build that from the beginning, you’re at risk of being commoditized.

“So from day one we knew that beyond the product – which had to be differentiated - we also had to flesh out the content and experience."

‘Several customers have been on for more than 50 weeks’

She added: “We have nutrition coaches as part of our customer service department who can provide free advice. People ask us all kinds of questions beyond food that shows we are more than just a food company. We invested quite a bit in customer service off the bat because we wanted to make sure we could build those relationships and deliver on our promises from day one.

She added: “Several customers have been on for more than 50 weeks, which shows that this is something people are sticking with. We started with blends but snacks were the #1 thing our customers were asking us for, so introducing our Tot Box​ [bites and puffs] was completing the picture for us. We also find that other members of the family are eating the products too.”

2019-04-29 15_19_35-The First 1000 Days (@yumi) • Instagram photos and videos

Tot Box items include: Carrot spinach millet bites​ with bananas, spinach, black beans, garlic, sweet potatoes, and olive oil; Cubano bites​ with millet, shallot, spinach, cilantro, garlic, gluten-free oats, ground flax, carrots, and curry powder; Pizza bites​ with mushrooms, onions, lentils, thyme, gluten-free oats, garlic, tomato paste, and basil; and Cauliflower puffs​ with sorghum flour, cauliflower powder, and sunflower oil.

‘We felt there was a big information gap as well as a product gap’

Cofounder Evelyn Rusli added: “We felt there was a big information gap as well as a product gap. Of course we wanted to create better products but we also wanted to support parents with information, so that’s why content is a big part of the YUMI experience, so we talk about how the nutrients we deliver correlate to the development of your child.”

Sutherland explained: “So we’ll say,your child is now crawling and it’s the first time your baby’s bones will support weight, so you should support this period of growth with calcium, to create strong and healthy bones. We’re helping parents to connect the dots, and as a direct to consumer business you have the unique ability to have a conversation with your customers over time.”

* Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) displaces oxygen with inert gas to ensure food stays fresh for longer.

YUMI pots

YUMI​, which has raised $4.1m to date from backers including August Capital and Brand Foundry Ventures, ships its fresh organic chilled baby food in modified atmosphere-packed* BPA-free recyclable plastic containers on a weekly basis to parents in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York areas in insulated packaging designed to keep it cool for up to 48 hours in transit.

The blends - which feature names such as papaya buckwheat bowl and kiwi chia pudding - include a wide range of fruits, legumes, greens, grains, root vegetables, spices, and healthy fats, and will stay fresh in the fridge for seven days (or two months in the freezer).

YUMI's average jar has a 3:1 sugar to fiber ratio, while the average squeeze pouch on the market has a 12:1 ratio, claimed Sutherland, who chose sorghum rather than rice for her new cauliflower puffs owing to its higher protein and fiber content.

You can start for as low as $35 a week and it goes up from there based on how many meals you want.”

 ​All of the products are free of the top eight allergens, said Sutherland, who acknowledged that experts now advise the early introductionof allergens​ such as eggs, peanuts and milk, but said she wants parents to be in control of this process.

“We provide materials to parents about the importance of delivering allergens to children early, but we want to give them control to do this and add in things like nut powders if they want to and when they want to.”

The decision to opt for plant-based products was also born out of a desire to give parents the option of adding meat or fish if they wish, she said: “Parents tell us that it’s easy for them to incorporate a little bit of meat.”

Interested in what we're feeding our babies and children? Or whether you are what your mother ate? Join us at the second FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit​ in Chicago on November 18-20. Get full details HERE​.


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