Little Pickins was founded by Kelly Wannier and Jen Bingham who met at a moms group where they would discuss and exchange healthy food ideas for their young kids. The business officially launched direct-to-consumer in June 2019, shipping products throughout the Boston area.
Prior to launching, both moms found it difficult to transition their child’s diet from pureed baby food to more solid foods that met their high nutrition standards.
“We couldn’t find anything that marketed itself as ‘gummable’ for a baby,” Wannier told FoodNavigator-USA, explaining that a ‘gummable’ product means a baby still developing his or her teeth and pincer reflex can easily pick up the food and softly chew or ‘gum’ it.
Wannier explained that once babies’ appetites expand beyond purees at around 10-months-old, the options for nutritious and gummable foods become limited for parents who are increasingly seeking out products outside of chicken nuggets and tater tots.
“There are a few products that are marketing themselves as for kids that are frozen and ready-made. Primarily, they have one vegetable and are potato based and then either have oil or cheese as the binding factor. It’s a huge white space in terms of the market,” Wannier said.
Developing palates at an early age
One of Little Pickins’ brand pillars is to create healthy, easy-to-eat food while also cultivating palates at an early age with unexpected, but still kid-friendly, ingredients and flavors. In her
book, First Bite, author and food writer Bee Wilson discusses the concept of the "flavor window" where babies are most open to trying to new flavors between 4- and 7-months-old.
“Broccoli and carrots, those are important and those are in our Pickins, but we want to show parents that you can go beyond those traditional vegetables that we think about to get a breadth of nutrition in a bite,” said Wannier.
Little Pickins portfolio includes pre-cooked, frozen bites such as ‘Spring Chicken’ made with mushrooms, zucchini, goat cheese, ghee, whole grain quinoa flakes, and chickpea miso (rice, aspergillus oryzae, whole chickpeas, sea salt, water) and ‘Lucky Thai’ made with white sweet potato, carrots, coconut milk, red and yellow bell peppers, chickpea miso, and organic ground turkey.
The bonus of flavor-forward products that aren’t just chicken fingers dipped in ketchup, is that if there every any leftovers parents are usually more than happy to eat them, added Wannier.
‘We want to make parenting just a little bit easier’
One of the biggest roadblocks parents have when it comes to feeding their kids is the time and effort needed to prepare healthy food on a daily basis.
“The data we were looking at shows that a high quality diet in kids, is driven largely by the time spent on meal preparation, which is real conundrum for many working and busy parents,” said Wannier.
Each bag of Little Pickins contains nine ready-made bites that come frozen and can be quickly heated up and eaten independently or as part of a larger meal.
“You can blend a bunch of Pickins up into marinara sauce and then you have dinner for everyone,” Wannier pointed out.
Slow and steady approach to expansion
Little Pickins currently works out of a commercial kitchen in Boston and sells its products online through the company’s e-commerce site, which has provided the brand with immediate sales data and consumer feedback.
Wannier said that there has been an educational component involved with building brand awareness for Little Pickins.
“When we went to market there was an educational component that was needed because people would ask, ‘well, what is it…? Is it a veggie patty, is it a chicken nugget?’ because those are the only reference points that people have,” she noted.
However, once consumers understand the concept, the brand started to gain traction.
“It’s great when people buy the product, but you really want to see repeat customers. We got immediate feedback through sales data that there was a demand in the market and that we were on the right trajectory,” said Wannier.
While in-demand, the brand is being cautious not to expand too quickly, according to Wannier.
“We’re open to different venues, but right now we’re focused on direct to consumer,” she said.
“We would like to offer a product more broadly to other markets, but we would like to show solid traction in Boston and then roll out further.”