In 2017, you might think, what is there left to disrupt?
There’s baby food.
A crop of new startups are trying to bring meal kit delivery, subscription services, and a tech approach to the mashed-up foods parents have fed their children for millennia.
Jennifer Garner co-founded the baby food delivery startup Once Upon a Farm. The startup Yumi offers a similar service. Raised Real has parents blend the baby food themselves in a special machine (sound familiar?). A few meal-delivery startups for adults have added baby food offerings, though the biggest names haven’t yet followed suit.
Baby food entrepreneurs are quick to say they’re disrupting a $55 billion industry. And the reason they’re convinced it’ll work? Millennial parents.
“Most new parents right now are millennials.”
“Most new parents right now are millennials,” said Lisa Barnett, co-founder of the baby food startup Little Spoon. “There are different behaviors and different needs millennials have that previous generations of new parents didn’t have. And that change is accelerating now because more and more millennials are having children.”
Millennial parents are more likely to have dual-income households, care more about knowing what goes in their food, and are more open to trying services that help with annoying daily tasks. Those are problems that the traditional baby food brands like Gerber’s aren’t trying too hard to solve.
Little Spoon, which launched in April, is the first baby food startup to move beyond home delivery. The startup is offering a new Blueprint service that has parents fill out health information about their children and designs a customized nutrition plan.
Parents tell Little Spoon when their child was born, their birth height and weight, if they were delivered by C-section, their head circumference, if they have any food allergies, what foods they’ve been exposed to so far, their level of appetite, if they’ve taken any antibiotics, and if they breastfed or drank formula.
Based on that information, Little Spoon offers different nutrition plans. A child in a lower percentile for height or weight in a family that doesn’t have a history of that will get foods with more calories and more healthy fats. A child with an iron deficiency will get a higher proportion of iron and a child who might be missing out on some nutrients due to food allergies will get a plan that accounts for that. A baby who was delivered via C-section—so wasn’t exposed to the bacteria that babies get when delivered via the birth canal—gets a meal plan that accounts for that lack of exposure.
Danielle Grant, a pediatrician based in Austin, Texas, said building a nutrition plan based on these data points wouldn’t be necessary for most parents but wouldn’t be harmful.
“It’s a preference,” Grant said. “Height and weight at current visit would be important. And being formula fed versus breastfed is a big question that could determine a type of plan because breast milk is missing some vitamin D formula has and formula is missing some nutrients breastmilk has.”
All of Little Spoon’s meals that take into account these factors are organic, with blends like Beet Tahini Chickpea Apple Brown Rice Cardamom and Pea Carrot Apple Dill Coconut Oil.
This all makes feeding your baby sound incredibly complicated, and Little Spoon is trying to reach a certain kind of parent. Some parents who use Little Spoon, Barnett said, are overwhelmed by the switch from breast milk or formula to blends and solid foods and want to make sure they’re feeding their children the right combination of nutrients.
Little Spoon is trying to reach a certain kind of parent.
“For adult [meal kits], it’s really just a time thing,” Barnett said. “For your child, it’s that you have to feed them food and there aren’t many options out there they’re ready to eat. It’s about a trust factor. Our authority is really important to parents.”
Little Spoon offers meals for children from the “first bite” between four and six months up through 18 months. Parents get a delivery of at least 14 meals every two weeks, which costs a starting rate of $34.50 a week. The food needs to be kept cold and lasts for the two weeks it’s intended to. Once it’s opened, it’s good for about that same day.
The startup’s founders, with backgrounds in retail, food, and venture capital, priced their food around statistics that say the median household income for families with children is $70,000 a year. It costs about the same as buying your baby food at Whole Foods, but definitely costs more than Gerber’s.
The meal plan starts with simple, single-ingredient foods before moving to the blends that mix multiple ingredients and all superfoods, spices, and textured foods like rice and quinoa.
Next, Little Spoon—and its competitors—could move into finger foods and feeding children past 18 months.
“If you look at all the baby food that exists out there ready-to-eat, it’s been sitting there longer than the baby eating it has been alive,” Barnett said.
May the best baby-food startup win.