Cat Gazzoli’s building a baby food brand that can give back and her mission has been backed by serial entrepreneur Debbie Wosskow’s new female-focused investment platform AllBright.
We caught up with the founder to talk about smart capital, how founders work out what to focus on and the ability to make mistakes.
1. Describe your business in one paragraph; what’s its vision and what problem does it solve?
Our purpose, alongside being an organic brand that aims to expand a child’s palette with a range of delicious flavours, is to give back from the get-go. Piccolo is in a truly unique position committing 10% of its profits to food education.
We are the first food brand to partner with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) charity and to support The Food Education Foundation, a charity I founded that teaches healthy eating to parents in disadvantaged areas. At our core is a social purpose; Piccolo has committed at a company mandate level to give funds to food education charitable work and is already doing so.
2. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I came up with the idea of creating a brand of organic baby food that was inspired by my Mediterranean background in 2014 after founding the Food Education Foundation. It was while talking to parents through the charity about their anxieties around introducing solid foods that the seed of an idea for Piccolo began to grow. I was a new mum at the time and had already started to notice that there were limited choices when it came to widely available organic, baby foods that tasted good, but also had an ethical basis.
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3. What’s your addressable market?
Piccolo’s products are for babies of around six months and the market size of that age group is about 240 million. Millennial parents are becoming much, much more brand savvy and like to know where their product comes from and what’s inside. They also are interested in brands that give back; making profit alone is not enough anymore.
Our customers tend to have an interest in food and want to have their baby try lots of different flavours in that window between six months and one year when babies tend to be more willing to try lots of different flavours.
4. What’s great about your team and do you have a mentor?
I have a brilliant co-founding team. Alice Fotheringham, who is our in-house nutritional therapist, has years of training in infant nutrition and huge passion for giving them the best start in life. Kane O’Flaherty is what I call our Maltese Matisse; he is our head of brand creative and works magic with water colours and patterns. All of our Piccolo packaging has been hand painted and then we make the print for the pouches.
I come from a background in food education with the United Nations and Slow Food professionally, but also from a personal experience as my family has a small grocery in northern Italy. Together, we put all our learning and passion into what combinations will not only taste amazing, but are best from a nutritional and developmental perspective, and look really striking.
I also have fabulous mentors in Prue Leith, the food campaigner and founder of Leith’s Cookery School, and Craig Sams, founder of Green & Black’s and Whole Earth.
5. What key challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
As founder, you are pulled in so many different directions; working out what is actually the most important thing for the business, as well as my family and the team, often keeps me up at night!
I normally ask at least four people’s opinions outside the company when it comes to big decisions to sense check that I am focusing in the right area. Also, working in a baby food category, means we need to talk to new parents every day as their little ones grow up and eventually grow out of our product. And, coming up with new and interesting ways to talk to mum and dad each day been an exciting ride. It is why we have focused a lot on social campaigns as well as talking to parents face to face.
6. How have you funded your start up and why did you choose this route?
I believe in directors who are not only bringing capital, but skills set and passion for your business to succeed, so I spent a lot of time on who would make up our investment circle. My co-founders and I choose our investor directors in a way in which as we scaled and grew we would remain with them. They are long-term relationships, not only about returns, but about people believing in people. I feel that too often the skills a really well run investor board can bring are not shouted enough about.
7. How do you market your business and how successful has it been so far?
Our marketing this year has been a lot about trying things out to see what sticks the best. Our three main areas are partnerships, social and PR.
The world of digital marketing and PR can be very intertwined now, so it’s important we have been able to be fast and reactive. This has seen some great results. For example, an Instagram post from out Piccolo Pop In cooking lessons with influencers can not only be seen by a customer but, for example, by a journalist who then gets in touch about an article.
Making mistakes early on, when you have a bit more grace as a newbie on the scene, is how you find other routes you might not have thought about.
There has also been great synergy between our social campaigns and our partnerships with baby and parenting activities throughout the UK. These activities are already reaching our target mums and dads, and these mums and dads, in turn, are really engaging with the brand and our online competitions, resources and recipe pages.
8. What are your plans for the future?
We have some exciting and innovative new flavours coming down the line tying into our quest to expand little one’s taste buds. We also have plans to export.
9. If you started again, is there anything you would do differently?
Oh, lots of things! It is a huge learning curve starting a business, but if I hadn’t made those initial mistakes, I would never have learnt. Making those mistakes early on, when you have a bit more grace as a newbie on the scene, is how you find other routes you might not have thought about or work out that gut instinct is key in bringing in new team members or how you respond to an uncontrollable factor.
10. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are starting a business?
Get a mentor. I encourage all the team to have one. You might not listen to their advice, but having a soundboard outside of the company with objectivity and more experience to you has been invaluable to me.
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