Saskia Sorrosa is a former NBA marketing executive turned entrepreneur. After having her daughters, she found herself looking for practical meal options for her on-the-go lifestyle which would measure up to the home-cooked meals she made using a mix of vegetables and spices. Saskia soon realized the baby food market lacked wholesome and delicious choices free of sugar, that actually made vegetables the heroes of the dish. A problem-solver at heart and innovator at the core with a keen eye for business, this led her to create Fresh Bellies.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
I started thinking about the business soon after I had my first daughter. When she started solids, I decided to make all the food myself. It was exhausting, but I didn’t like the options that were available in stores. I kept thinking someone had to do something about the lack of variety and flavor!
Then, I had my second daughter and I was re-inspired by the idea of feeding babies food that was flavorful and closely resembled the food we eat as adults. It was how I was raised and how I wanted to raise my daughters. And as it turned out, there was a lot of research supporting a bold approach to baby food to combat childhood obesity and picky eating. It motivated me to take the plunge.
Tell us about your business.
Fresh Bellies is creating a new generation of healthful, adventurous eaters starting with a baby’s very first bite. Our company was founded in 2015 to tackle a fundamental issue with a dated baby food industry that serves bland flavors with a disproportionate amount of fruit to vegetable ratio. These feeding tactics are considered, by experts, to have contributed to a high incidence of childhood obesity and a growing generation of picky eaters.
By never masking our vegetables with sweet fruit and seasoning with herbs/spices like garlic and thyme, Fresh Bellies is changing the way kids eat from the onset. Each Chef-formulated recipe helps babies’ palates grow by exposing them to the bold and savory flavors they will eat as they get older. Our purees are made with organic ingredients, preservative-free and feature convenient packaging with a spoon in the lid, ideal for encouraging fine motor skills, at home or on-the-go.
Based on years of scientific evidence on infant nutrition, these are critical elements in combating childhood obesity, picky eating and ultimately paving the way towards healthier lifestyles.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Jet.com will be running a special promotion on our product the week of September 8 – 21 and again on Oct. 20 – Nov. 2. Additionally, all Shop Rite, DeCicco’s and Fairway stores in the NY/NJ/CT areas will be running a 2 for $6 special during the entire month of September!
In 2016, Fresh Bellies won the Best of Westchester award for “Best Mommy Approved Baby Food”. Earlier this year, we were nominated as a finalist for the NEXTY Awards in the Best New Natural Kid’s Product category. Winners will be announced on September 15th.
Where is your business based?
Westchester County, NY.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
I set everything up while I was still working at my corporate job: incorporating the business, getting a food processing license, partnering with an Executive Chef, finding a commercial kitchen, building a website, etc. Once I had the company up and running, I quit my office job to run Fresh Bellies full time. In the early days, it meant 12-hour stints in a commercial kitchen with our Executive Chef and prep cooks. We were making the food ourselves and hand filling each and every jar. We sold at Farmer’s Markets first, then several months later moved into stores. Once we were ready to expand nationally, we began to grow our team and build strategic partnerships.
When I first made the transition, I went from sitting behind a desk to standing under a tent at Farmer’s Markets, getting to know artisanal food makers and the farming community. It brought me closer to our food source and gave me a deep appreciation for our food system. It also gave me an opportunity to build relationships with our customers and understand their needs first-hand. Those very early days were critical in helping us grow from a deeply-rooted local business to a disruptive national movement.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Our social media channels have allowed us to generate awareness and organic growth, which has helped us build momentum around our mission. Utilizing our social media channels has been one of the most effective tools to disrupt the market and educate customers about who we are and what we do.
On a local level, we work closely with retailers to conduct in-store demos, giving customers the opportunity to sample the product and learn more about what we offer. Sampling has been a wonderful way to get customers to understand and support our mission! In select stores, we also sell the product in branded coolers. These stand alone – and very bright! – refrigerators provide more information about our key differentiators and our disruptive approach to baby food.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Educating consumers about the fresh alternative to baby food, one that is not found in the baby food aisle, is probably our biggest challenge. Changing decades of consumer behavior – heading to the dairy section for a preservative free alternative instead of reaching for that pouch on the baby food shelf – is an adjustment that takes time and guidance. While freshly made baby food is still a relatively new category, we see more and more families changing how they shop for baby food.
Parents are looking for preservative free options and are increasingly heading to the refrigerated section for food that is fresh and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for years! Consumers are looking for cleaner food – for themselves and their families – and as the refrigerated baby food category continues to grow, consumer behavior will continue to evolve. Eventually, heading to the cooler for baby food will become the new norm.
How did you overcome these challenges?
- Education and key partnerships.
- The first way we address education is by using all of our communication tools to inform consumers about where to find our product at the stores – social media, demos, newsletters, partners, etc. At every touch point, we inform customers that we are available at the store level and where to find us once they are there.
- The second way we address education is strategic partnerships.
- The stores themselves play a big role in educating consumers and directing them to the right place. Making sure we partner with key retailers to communicate the right message and educate their own teams about Fresh Bellies and our unique offering is a critical component of communicating our message. Parenting groups, parenting media and key influencers are also an important part of this process.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
Our social mission keeps us motivated at all times, especially during difficult times. Believing that we can change the prospects of future generations by focusing on babies, that very first moment when we begin to develop our relationship with food, is our biggest driver. We can help promote healthy eating habits in future generations by offering an alternative for families to enjoy nutritious, preservative-free foods that expose babies to new flavors. Nothing beats knowing that you can make a positive impact.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
For decades, parents and baby food brands have masked vegetables in children’s meals. At the heart of this approach is the notion that children have an innate resistance to vegetables and will only eat them if baked into desserts or mixed with fruit. Under this premise, kids are taught to have a preference for the sweet foods that are used to trick them and not for the foods that are good for them. From an industry perspective, little has been done to shape infant nutritional preferences and encourage healthier choices.
Fresh Bellies is filling this void with its holistic approach to baby food. Made with organic ingredients, we created a line of fresh, preservative-free and tastefully seasoned baby food that accentuates bold flavors and never masks its vegetables with sweet fruit. Fresh Bellies innovates the space with ingredients like cauliflower, bell peppers, and Swiss chard, and seasons with herbs and spices like garlic, without turning to added sugar or salt. At its core, Fresh Bellies’ disruptive mission is training baby palates to become accustomed to a variety of flavors, colors and textures from the very first bite.
Our signature packaging is another product differentiator. Our PVC and BPA-free containers are clear, making it easy for parents to see what they are buying and for babies to see what they are eating. Our custom packaging is practical and speaks to our company’s overall mission of encouraging healthy eating and developing fine motor skills. We made a conscious decision to deviate from the pouch, an industry standard in the baby food aisle, and instead each Fresh Bellies cup features a custom lid with a nestled spoon for on–the-go convenience.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Celebrate the wins, big and small.
Seeing your idea come to life, after countless sleepless nights, is surreal. Reaching every milestone feels like winning the lottery. At the advice of seasoned entrepreneurs, I’ve learned to pause and celebrate every single win, no matter how small. It’s an important part of fueling your vision and energizing your passion every step of the way.
Don’t answer your own questions.
When I first dove into entrepreneurship, I was hesitant to ask for help. I don’t mean help troubleshooting my computer – I mean help starting my business. I knew I had built an impressive network of professionals over the course of my career, but I was afraid to reach out to any of them to ask for anything – advice, introductions, support. Then one of my mentors said, “Stop answering your own questions!” I wasn’t sure what he meant until he explained, “What’s the worst that can happen? They say no? That’s fine. But what if they say yes?”
The bottom-line is that you don’t know how people will respond unless you ask. Everything else is an assumption. Something as simple as learning to ask – for help, for advice, for support, for better deal terms – is an important skill that will help you grow your business and further develop the social intelligence you need to run a company masterfully. Most people are happy to help if you just ask.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
What you don’t know CAN help you.
Had I known all the things I know now about starting a business, I would have thought twice about quitting my comfortable corporate job! The learning curve was steep, and it was scary. But I didn’t know any of this before I dove in, and that’s precisely why I did it. My passion and optimism led me to take the plunge and have kept me moving in the right direction. Through setbacks and hurdles, always remember your purpose and what got you started in the first place. Be honest with yourself, accept what you don’t know and leverage your strengths. The unknown will come into focus just when you are ready to take it on.
Passion is contagious.
I learned this throughout my corporate career and have found it even more relevant today as an entrepreneur. People get excited about passion in a way they rarely do about tangible objects. People feed off of good energy and motivation and grit. Remember to bring your passion with you wherever you go; share it and give it the spotlight it deserves. You want people to get excited about more than just your product. You want them emotionally vested in you and your passion. You want them to believe in your willingness and determination to do the right thing, and in your ability to build a movement that is worth the ride.
It ain’t pretty, it’s a balancing act.
I was a working mom before I started my own business, so I thought I knew all about balancing motherhood and an office job before starting my own company. I was sorely mistaken. Starting a business is like being pregnant and giving birth to another child. You carry it with you for months, preparing for its arrival, and planning financially for its future. You give birth and you realize it depends on you for survival. You do everything in your power to give it a healthy start and make sure it thrives. Different from a corporate job where you can disconnect from the challenges of keeping a business afloat, having your own business means you are always connected because it depends on you to prosper.
As a mom of two, devoting so much of my time and energy to getting this business off the ground and helping it grow has been hard. It has meant missing out on fun activities with my daughters and other times realizing that even when I am around, I’m so distracted by the business, I’m not fully present. It’s when I hear my daughters say they want to be “a Fresh Bellies worker” when they grow up or when I hear them squealing at the sight of Fresh Bellies on store shelves that I realize it’s all worth it. I remind myself I am building this for them. They too will learn to follow their passions and live their dreams. I am teaching them if they work hard and prepare themselves, there is no limit to what they can do.
And I try to find a balance. When I need time to reconnect with my home and my children, I disconnect from the business, just enough to feel whole again. Something always has to give and that’s OK. The important part is embracing your journey, knowing hard work is hard, and that you are teaching valuable lessons to yourself and your family along the way. You are a business owner and a mother. You are living the example of what that looks like, and while it may not always be pretty or easy, it’s real and inspiring.
Never stop learning.
Surround yourself with an infinite source of knowledge. Find inspiration everywhere and look for ways to fuel your drive every step of the way. Team up with experts who complement your strengths, supplement your background, and make you better. Many experts are looking for ways to get involved with new projects and social missions that have potential. If you can get key people excited about your business, their involvement becomes negotiable. Look to others who have gone before you and learn from their experiences, their successes as well as their setbacks.
Entrepreneurship is a life-long journey, one where you never stop learning and you’re constantly evolving and reinventing yourself. Every conversation and experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. Use it. The world changes every day and we need to be ready to adapt. We need to be flexible to changing demands and ready to pivot for the sake of improvement and innovation, always keeping your mission at heart. To evolve, we need to educate ourselves, and to educate ourselves, we need to be on a constant path to learning.
What are your favorite business tools/resources and why?
- One business resource I recommend is trade publications related to your industry because they allow for you to stay connected to your industry and abreast of the latest news, trends and players in the space.
- Quickbooks is an incredibly useful accounting tool for startups that allows you to manage and keep track of purchase orders, invoicing, payments, cash flow, P&Ls, pay roll and everything else you need to handle financials.
- Mail chimp is an easy way to set up newsletters and integrate sign up widgets into your website and digital platforms.
- I would also add Dropbox! It’s a great way to share company files without having to take up space on your server. You can manage privacy settings and share access with the click of a button.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I recently finished reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World by Adam Grant, and I was absolutely fascinated by it. It’s a must for any entrepreneur, but also an insightful book for anyone who doubts they have the power to be creative and inspire change. The studies he references and the various examples of successful and unsuccessful businesses put so much of the world into perspective – what works, what doesn’t, and even how we can nurture originality in our own children! It’s a fast read, and I highly recommend it.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
I learn something new every single day, and I don’t expect that to change. Entrepreneurship is a life-long journey and the path is rarely smooth and straight. I have learned that I need to be willing to pivot, be ready for challenges and keep an ear to the ground at all times. Awareness of what’s happening around you is as important as knowledge of your own business. That said, if you ask anyone that works (or has worked) with me, they would probably say I am currently learning the art of patience!
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
We have enjoyed a solid distribution across the Northeast region with major retailers in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey carrying the product since March 2017. In July, we launched nationally with online retailer Jet.com. Over the next few months, we will continue to expand retail distribution nationally and launch our own online storefront on Freshbellies.com.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.
Hashtags #womensupportingwomen #palatesintraining #adventurouseating #freshbellies