In tandem with the launch of the Food+Tech Job Board, we are thrilled to launch the Food Startup Growth Series. This series will give you an inside look at the strategies, challenges and best practices of fast-growing food startups.
Meet Cassandra Curtis, founder and COO of Once Upon a Farm, a new baby food company that is breaking the prevailing paradigm in the U.S. that baby food should be cheap and shelf stable. During shelf stabilization food is subject to a heating process that kills off vital nutrients, enzymes and healthy bacteria. Eschewing traditional methods for High-Pressure Pascalization (HPP), Once Upon a Farm cold-presses its organic and Non-GMO baby food. The result is nutritionally-dense, fresher and preservative free food busy parents can feel good about.
Launched in January 2o16, Once Upon a Farm has been growing fast. In February 2017, it raised a $3.1 million Series A round of funding led by Cambridge Companies, with participation from S2G Ventures and Harbinger Ventures. It is using the funding to expand distribution to new regions and more stores, including Whole Foods in the Southern Pacific and Southwest regions and multiple locations of Fairway Market, Hy-Vee and Kroger.
I spoke with Cassandra about her strategy for growth (she’s hiring!), how she’s built a positive company culture and how she’s building a new baby food category.
Cassandra Curtis: Rapid growth! We are constantly increasing our distribution and velocity in-store, while simultaneously keeping our foundation strong by hiring the right personnel and maintaining a strong and positive company culture. At the same time, we are making sure quality and safety remain a priority and that operationally we are able to scale.
CC: We’re in 400 stores and quickly approaching 500. Right now our business is approximately 33% online and 66% retail.
CC: As a mom of two (and soon to be three!) and a nutrition fanatic, I only wanted to feed my daughters the very best food. I decided to make all of my first daughter’s food, while also working outside the home and being a mom 24/7. Quickly I found that doing all three was not realistic and took precious time away from my family. I found myself at the store caving in to shelf stable options and feeling very guilty about it. There wasn’t a better option so I decided to create it. I put my knowledge of nutrition, childhood development, recipe development and HPP together to bring you Once Upon a Farm, the freshest, most nutrient-dense baby food on the market.
CC: We use HPP (cold-pressure) instead of thermal pasteurization (high heat). This keeps the flavors, colors, textures, and aromas of the food intact. Shelf stable baby food is heated at least two times above 185 degrees in plastic packaging. This kills the essential vitamins, nutrients, and healthy bacteria that are critical for babies’ healthy growth and development and can also release pseudo estrogens into the food through the heating of the packaging. Try a shelf stable mango baby food and compare that to a fresh mango. The shelf stable mango is far sweeter, devoid of fibers and textures and dull in color. Compare our HPP’d mango to a fresh mango and you can’t tell the difference.
CC: We are a very positive team together and each person is self-motivated to make the company succeed and grow. We are as close as family and all of us work extremely hard. We found most of our hires through referrals or they were people we already knew.
CC: The fact that this is a new category and that something like this has never been done before has posed a challenge. Sometimes this has translated to retailers not having space for the refrigerated baby food category in their store. We have had to push to create that space in the store, but once the buyers have seen the increasing response to the product from their shoppers, it is easy to convince the next retailer to carve out that space in their set.
CC: We laugh a lot, we work hard and we have each other’s backs. I think we have built a truly amazing company culture and because of our hard working and diligent team, we have been able to get our company to where it is today in a short amount of time. You often here company culture starts from the top. My business partner and I are a very good fit and we make sure we hire people that will fit well within our company culture as well as have the skills to get the job done and to get it done well.
CC: Lots of communication, including everyone in the creative process and making sure we laugh.
CC: Aside from each individual job description’s responsibilities, the ability to wear many hats, helping a startup grow and seeing a direct impact your input and decision making has on that growth, thinking on your feet, the ability to quickly solve problems and come up with creative solutions.
CC: Digital Marketing Manager. This position will directly help us significantly grow our e-commerce business.
CC: For the digital marketing manager we are expecting someone who is already an expert in their field. We will, however, train them on everything they could and would possibly want to know about baby food and the nutrition that surrounds it.
CC: What are three things people love about you and what are three things that drive people nuts?
It is especially exciting to be working in baby food right now because up until we came into the picture, there was no innovation in the category. We are innovators and pioneers in the baby food space and are literally changing the paradigm in our country that “baby food should be cheap, shelf-stable, and some foreign substance that adults shouldn’t touch.” Instead, we are creating high-quality, fresh baby food that tastes so good adults will want to eat it too.