Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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True or False: Frozen Baby Food is Dead? Scoop on Starting Solids Blog Series

Many months ago, I was speaking with the buyer of a well-known natural foods grocery store about carrying frozen baby food from Little City Kitchen Co.  I figured if anyone would appreciate the value of “real” baby food, it would be this person.  After a minute, he looked me in the eye and said, “frozen baby food is dead”.

I must admit, I’m typically prepared to respond to just about anything in a business setting, but I was so stunned by his words that I sat there looking dumbfounded for about five seconds.  In classic Jill fashion, I then spent the next day replaying that conversation in my head and coming up with a better response.

Fresh or frozen baby food isn’t a product you can just put on the shelves and expect it to sell.  You have to educate parents about why frozen baby food is a better option, but once you have, they not only turn into loyal customers, they become advocates for real food within their respective communities.  Which begs the question…

Why aren’t parents already insisting on real food for their babies?

I have a few theories.

History, Culture & Marketing…Oh My.

First, feeding babies food from a jar is the accepted practice in this country.  It’s what you do, right?  I think it never occurs to most parents that there is any other option.  So why is it that in every other country in the world, baby eats what parents eat?  In Italy, a well-known first food is hard boiled egg yolk mashed with Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  Yummy, right!!

Like it or not, we are all susceptible to marketing messages.  Most people don’t realize that up until about 70 years ago, babies in this country didn’t eat food from a jar; they ate a pureed version of the family meal.   It wasn’t until Gerber developed baby food in late 1920’s and launched an aggressive marketing campaign that baby food started to take hold.

Parents seem generally intimidated and scared about introducing solids.  Don’t be!!  There seems to be a perception that baby food from a jar is the “safest” thing for your baby, but to me there is nothing as healthy as a real banana, or cooked apple, sweet potato.

The first 4-6 months of introducing solids is the one of the most formative time in a child’s life.  It’s a small, but definite window of opportunity to teach them what food should taste like, so why not pack in as much flavor, texture & spice as you can!  More and more research shows that kids will grow up to be adventurous eaters and make healthier lifestyle choices when you start with an array of foods from the beginning.  Check out How to Grow A Broccoli Lover if this topic interests you.

Let’s be Realistic, Shall We

I realize that there is a big time & convenience factor that shelf-stable baby food addresses, and I’m always an advocate for doing the best that you can with the time and resources that you have.  Making your own baby food may not be realistic for you, but if there is a company in your area that offers this product, consider incorporating their food into your baby’s menu, even in just the smallest way.

My prediction: you’re going to see more baby food companies popping up all over the country.  Some of them will offer fresh, some frozen.  Some will deliver, some won’t. I’ve even heard of a few CSA and cooperative models in the works as well.  I think that slowly people are coming around to the concept of offering fresh food to babies, and I just hope that the grocery stores can jump on that bandwagon to support that movement sooner rather than later.

And on a personal note, I’d love nothing more than to prove that buyer wrong!  Frozen baby food isn’t dead…it’s just new.

Note to Readers: I’d particularly love to hear your thoughts or comments on this subject.  What went into your food decisions for your child(ren)?  What more could baby food companies similar to Little City Kitchen Co. be doing to make this product more available for you?

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

How to Start a Baby Food Company: Lessons From a (Failed) Food Entrepreneur – Part 1

An interesting thing has happened since the last blog came out (where I announced my decision to stop making baby food); I’ve received several calls from startup baby food companies around the country showing their support for my decision and asking for suggestions on how to avoid the pitfalls I experienced.  Early on, I made the decision to be extremely transparent with my blog in hopes other aspiring food entrepreneurs would find the information it helpful.  It’s inspiring to realize that they have.

So on that note, I’ve assembled a short list of things I’d do differently knowing what I know now.  Some make call it mistakes I’ve made, but I heard a quote recently that resonates with me even more:  You don’t know what you don’t know.

Surround yourself with a qualified team

I’m talking about a formal group of trained specialist that are there to help you succeed, not just your friends & family that you rely on for emotional support. This could be a formal incubator program (like La Cocina or the newly-launched Food Craft Institute), it could be through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or the Youth Business Association (YBA), or it could be your own steering committee of highly trained experts. Experts being the key word here.

In my perfect food world, I would have liked to have: a graphic designer, a food lawyer, a product development & packaging expert, a public relations specialist, a commercial kitchen consultant, a CFO, a business strategist, a food distributor, and about a hundred other roles that I found myself in throughout starting this company.

Looking back, I would have been willing to pay several thousand dollars to surround myself with this type of talent, but again, at the time, you don’t know that.  It really (really) does take a village…

Find a business partner

I was not looking for a business partner in the beginning, and in fact, had adamantly insisted I didn’t need one.  While the ease (and control) of being a solo-preneur is nice, eventually it worked against me and may have been the biggest mistake I made along the way.

You need to share the burden, the successes, the motivation, and the workload.  You need someone to keep you both creative and accountable, and you definitely need someone call you out on being a jackass!  Looking back, I could have hit the breaks six months ago and put energy into finding the right business partner, but by the time I realized this, it was too late.

Advice: Look for someone who has a skill set complimentary to yours and shares the same basic vision and philosophy as you do.  Sign a mutually beneficial NDA (non-disclosure agreement) so you can speak freely about your ideas, and start exploring potential scenarios.  Brainstorm first; figure out the numbers next.  This could take years, and (I think) to my detriment, I was too impatient.

Prioritize raising investment money

Your business growth depends on having money.  If you have no money, you end up doing everything yourself.  If you do everything yourself, you waste precious time, and you get tired.  If you get tired, then you don’t have the mental or physical energy to stay in an entrepreneurial frame of mind.  And that’s the kiss of death.

Four small hints:

  1. Expect to invest three times as much as you originally intend.
  2. Institutions don’t like lending to startups with no sales history; it becomes a little easier to gain access to capital after one year of revenues.  If under one year, be prepared to have a co-signer or prove to them that you are able pay the money back if your business isn’t successful.
  3. It can take upwards of six months to secure a small business loan (for small food startups, this is generally in the 25k range).  Start the process earlier than you need, even if you think you won’t need it.
  4. Every successful entrepreneur I’ve met says the same thing: Raising capital becomes an ongoing, and everyday part of the process.  It’s always on their mind and on their radar.

Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!  And a heartfelt thanks to all the customers, friends & family that have shown their support in the last few weeks…

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.


A Change in Direction for Little City Kitchen: Food Entrepreneur Blog Series

As many of you know, this has been a tumultuous few months for me and for Little City Kitchen Co.  I wrote a few weeks ago about the struggle to make this a profitable venture, and after several months of weighing my options, I’ve finally come to a decision: it’s time to stop baby food production.

There will be additional details with logistics coming out for customers (some are at the bottom of this post), but in the spirit in which I started this blog, I wanted to share why I’ve come to this decision, and my process to get here.

Although I have been hesitant to share my doubts publicly, I’ve grappled for several months with where to take Little City Kitchen Co.  I’ve learned through this process that commercial-scale cooking isn’t for me.  Give me the microphone for a 200-person cooking demo any day, but keep me out of the kitchen!  Not only was the cooking physically (and mentally) draining, but to my detriment, it took me out of my entrepreneurial frame of mind.

Let me be clear, I do still believe that this type of baby food business can be profitable, and given the proper amount of motivation and support (both financially and with collaborative partners), this could still be a hugely successful venture.

It boiled down into two simple options for me: grow, or die.  And I decided that I didn’t have the infrastructure or the motivation in place at this time to grow.  There is certainly the possibility that I will re-launch the baby food at a later date, but not in the short-term.

A Little Heartbreak

The part that breaks my heart (just a little) is that I’m still convinced that 1) I’ve created a great product, both in look and in flavor, and 2) there is a dire need for this type of baby food on the market today, and 3) it’s not a product you can just put on the shelf and expect to sell; there is a large amount of education that needs to take place first.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my ego has taken a big hit.  I’ve always prided myself on being the one that can make anything work, so it’s hard to make such a dramatic change without some crap bubbling to the surface.  However, I’ve come to the conclusion that maintaining the “status quo” by continuing on this path is actually the weaker move.  The stronger move is to admit this isn’t working and to make a change.  So that’s what I’m doing.

My New Outlook

Somewhat surprisingly, I feel really good.  I still feel like I’m in the right place, surrounded by the right people, and have no regrets about any choice I’ve made to get me here.  My hope is that by not putting my energy towards that part of the business, I’ve made more space in my life to attract other, even better, opportunities.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself…over and over and over.

So, what’s next?  Don’t worry, I’m not out of the baby food business entirely!  I’m going to keep on writing and teaching, two parts of the business I’ve always loved.  Stay tuned for a four-part baby food cooking series in the next couple of months with more hands-on instruction.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of writing a book, baby food or otherwise.  I wonder if the title ‘Confessions of a Failed Food Entrepreneur’ is available??   In the meantime, there will be blog posts dedicated to lessons I’ve learned, and hopefully it will help both inspire and provide a realistic picture for other food entrepreneurs out there.

Read more about Little City’s direction…

Baby Food Orders for Customers

The next baby food pickup/delivery date will be Saturday, March 10 as you know.  The order form will be coming out in the next few days.  I don’t want to leave all my best customers high-and-dry, so there will be opportunities to continue ordering in April and May, but they will be limited to existing customers only.  So those of you who have just started ordering through Little City Kitchen Co., you should have plenty of opportunity to stock up on food if needed.

So there you have it.  Big news.  I don’t want to get too mushy here, but I do want to take a moment to thanks all my friends, family & customers for their amazing support over the last two years.  I’ve received so many incredible calls, texts, emails, etc… with kind words throughout this process.  It really has meant so much – thank you thank you!!

Wait, this is starting to sound like a goodbye.  I assure you, it’s not.  You don’t think you can get rid of me that easily, do you?

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.