Crunchy mango seasoned with basil. Apples marinated in coconut oil and cardamom. Roasted red bell peppers with sunflower oil and a dash of sea salt.
These mouthwatering combinations sound like what you might find on the menu of a trendy Michelin-starred restaurant. But here’s the twist: they’re for babies.
Saskia Sorrosa, the brains and stomach behind Fresh Bellies, decided when she had her two children that she didn’t want to give them sugary, processed foods she found in grocery stores. So she invented her own line of tasty treats that is finding an audience among health-conscious parents.
Her new toddler snack line is launching in Whole Foods nationally by the end of the month, she said.
“Ever since I started this business, I dream about food and I wake up still thinking about food,” Sorrosa said. “I automatically think whatever tastes good to us is what kids should be experiencing.”
Inspired by South American Flavors
Sorrosa, former vice president of marketing for the NBA, came to the United States from Ecuador when she was 17. She remembers eating savory and spicy foods from an early age, and she wanted to give her children that same appetite for flavor.
So she quit her job in 2015, rented a test kitchen in Mamaroneck, New York, and hired two prep cooks and executive chef and restaurateur Nick Kennedy to teach her about the culinary world.
“I knew nothing about making food commercially, I just knew what I was making for the kids at home,” she said. “We were there for 12-hour days, making the food and filling the jars by hand.”
Her baby purees have names like “We Got The Beet,” “Broccoli Ever After,” “Cauliflower Dreamin’” and “Keep Calm and Cardamom.” Sorrosa’s freeze-dried crunchy snacks — “Two to Mango,” “Pepperlicious” — were devised with the same concept in mind.
“We never mix fruits and vegetables, and we’re seasoning everything with some type of herb or spice,” Sorrosa said. “When I taste a dish I like or I’m making a recipe at home that I think is super flavorful or different, then I figure out how to make that as a product for kids. That’s how all these flavors have been born.”
And ever the marketing pro, she also mentioned that the purees can be used as pasta toppers or toast spreads for adults (if their palates are sophisticated enough, of course).
Dealing with Picky Investors
Sorrosa used her own savings to get the business going. She looked for outside investment, including a failed bid on ABC’s Shark Tank last year — the judges weren’t fans of the flavors, and when she said her product would help combat childhood obesity, they pointed out that low-income communities with higher rates of obesity often can’t afford healthy food or don’t have access to organic chains like Whole Foods.
Fresh Bellies’ products have a relatively high price tag: A six-pack sampler sells for $20.99, whereas a six-pack baby food starter kit from Gerber costs $3.99 at Target.
But Sorrosa is now on her third round of funding. While she wouldn’t disclose the total amount she has raised to date, she told Shark Tank judges that she had raised $1.6 million. She said pitching baby food to rooms full of male investors to raise capital has proved daunting.
“I’m Latin, I’m female, and I was working in the sports and entertainment industry, which is pretty male-dominated,” she said. “I’ve never felt like [my diversity] was a challenge until now. As an entrepreneur, it’s the first time I have felt like it’s a really hard thing to overcome.”
Despite these challenges, Fresh Bellies is enjoying early success. It is currently being sold on the shelves of more than 2,000 stores, including Sprouts Farmers Market, Stop & Shop, Giant, Walmart and Kroger. There are two additional snack lines launching by the end of the year, at which point Sorrosa hopes to be in 9,000 stores.
Sorrosa now employs a staff of five, and the company outsources branding, warehousing, manufacturing and distribution. She said her focus now is on taking her company to the next level and building a multi-million-dollar brand.
“In the last year we’ve experienced incredible growth, and this year won’t be different,” she said. “I get so excited when I think of where this can go, not just for babies and toddlers, but beyond that.”
She added, “When I walk into a grocery store, what I see is white space.”