The demand for healthier children’s food options is at an all-time high. According to the Organic Baby Food Market report, the global organic baby food market is projected to reach $12.65 billion by 2027. Yet, even as the industry prospers, the Institute of Food Technologists reported that fewer than 10% of children aged 12 to 48 months get adequate amounts of dietary fiber—the majority is through french fries. Also, 40% of 1-year-olds and 70% to 75% of children aged 2 to 3 exceed the upper limit for sodium. As the demand for healthier options commands the market, companies such as Tiny Organics, have emerged as trailblazers in the space.
Sofia Laurell, co-CEO and cofounder of Tiny Organics, has built a company with her cofounders, Betsy Fore and Carolyn O’Hare, that provides healthy baby food that introduces youngsters to different flavors and textures. Seventy percent of each of the company’s meals are vegetable-forward, meaning that the vegetables are the focal point of the meal. The company has raised $11 million in a Series A funding round led by Springdale Ventures, with participation from other prominent investors, including InvestEco, Silas Capital, Human Ventures and Babylist.
“The majority of the products that are on the market are shelf-stable,” Laurell explains. “Most of them are pureed or strained. And most of them are very sweet because even if you don’t add added sugars if you’ve pureed fruit, it’s inherently sweet. So the biggest differentiator for us is the fact that it’s textured. … There’s something called a flavor window between four and seven months in a human being’s life when the flavor profile actually develops. That’s when you can instill these healthy habits. Human beings have an innate preference for sweet foods. Also, breast milk is quite sweet. So what we’re trying to do is introduce different flavors and textures, as many different flavors and textures as we can before the age of two. Research shows that your baby’s more of an adventurous eater, the more flavors and textures you introduce.”
Growing up in Finland, Laurell had always wanted to build a company that impacted not only people but specifically empowered women and children. So she moved to New York City in 2010, working in the financial sector while searching for opportunities in the U.S. entrepreneurial space. She then had a chance to head the marketing and PR for Ascend Foundation. The nonprofit conducted research on why women and minorities struggled to secure seats on corporate boards. However, her goal of building her own company kept coming to the forefront of her mind.
“With Ascend being a nonprofit, it trained me to be very creative with the resources that I had,” Laurell states. “That’s why nonprofits are actually a great platform. They’re not often necessarily seen as that, but I think they really are because you have to get very creative and resourceful with what you have.”
Laurell and Fore had known each other for a while before they started sharing company ideas with one another. They each had different ideas but found common ground in wanting to make the lives of families easier and healthier.
Tiny Organics evolved from the Finnish baby box concept. In 1938, expectant moms in Finland received baby boxes from the government. It started as a way to support impoverished families and counteract high infant mortality. The box served as a make-shift bassinet and was filled with various baby products and food. In 2018, the cofounders started mapping out a strategy and were able to serve as entrepreneurs in residence at Human Ventures for over a year.
“We had different ideas that we could build for parents,” Laurell states. “In particular, one of them was the Finnish baby box 2.0, but we quickly realized that we could have the biggest impact on childhood development through food.”
In 2019, Laurell and her team began to raise a seed round of capital. They raised $2.5 million led by Elizabeth Street Ventures with participation from Human Ventures, Rocana Ventures, Chingona Ventures, Bonin Ventures, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Liz Lange.
“So we had pre-seed funding from the startup studio, and then we raised our seed round when we had developed the product,” she shares. “The pre-seed funding gave us the runway to develop and perfect the product with these founding families. So we went from 100 founding families to 25 power testers and really tested different versions of the meals with them. We delivered food to their homes for months [to make sure it worked and the kids liked it].”
As Laurell continues to expand the company and transition her leadership style, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Build out your networks before you need them. Start developing relationships with potential investors from the beginning. That concept also applies to team members you want to onboard. This way, it’s easier once everything else is in place.
- Embrace your uniqueness. Find what you’re great at and what makes you stand out; people will find it interesting and want to learn more about you and your company.
- Discover how you can genuinely directly connect to your consumer or clientele base—they will feel included and part of the brand. They start to feel that it is something bigger than just a product or service you’re selling; there is a mutual cause that everyone is working towards.
“There is a perception that you need to act a certain way as a leader,” Laurell concludes. “I’ve always brought my own perspectives into the way I lead. At Tiny, not by design, we were an all-female team until about five months ago. We always laugh that we were looking for more men. There is a lot that I think, being a woman, and how that shapes your leadership style and having empathy and compassion, I think those things are strengths.”