An appetite for positive change
"The UK is home to so many innovative food start-ups but very little has happened in the baby food market for a long time. We knew that both parents and retailers were hungry to see something new that reflected the needs of millennial families."
We’ve known for some time that a varied Mediterranean-style diet promotes health and longevity—but Cat Gazzoli believes in starting young. The younger, the better, in fact. “Children’s lifelong food habits and relationships with food are hugely influenced by their first 1,000 days of life,” she explains.
Cat came up with the idea for the Piccolo brand of Med-inspired organic baby foods back in 2014 after founding a charity, the Food Education Foundation, which works alongside the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) to promote healthy eating for families through advice, workshops and events. “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,” she explains. Cat 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, natural baby foods. She sensed an opportunity.
“A lot of my life revolves around food—and, of course, my daughter,” says Cat, who herself grew up helping out at her family’s grocery store in northern Italy. “To be able to combine two of my great loves to create a business was incredibly exciting.” Italian roots had given Cat a lifelong love of cooking, sharing and eating good food, based on an ethos of fresh, colourful produce, combined with some pasta, pulses and a little quality meat. “I knew I could create something that offered more choice in flavours, that would help to expand a child’s taste buds.”
But while Cat had always dreamed of running her own business, she had never created a brand before. Nevertheless, having worked in food education for the United Nations before supporting local producers as Chief Executive of Slow Food UK, she had built a strong industry network that proved to be invaluable when launching the Piccolo brand. “The fact that I wasn’t a complete stranger to the food world made coming back and knocking on doors with a new product much easier,” Cat admits. An early supporter and angel investor was food campaigner Prue Leith, who immediately saw the potential in Cat’s vision.
The vision was about far more than simply creating a profitable business. “I wanted to bring people back around the kitchen table and create a brand that gives back to food education,” explains Cat. “I’m obsessed with good, fair food; I could never create something purely for profit. It’s about so much more than that.” Built into Piccolo’s business model is a promise that 10% of profits go to food education initiatives.
The Piccolo range of organic fruit and vegetable based purées hit the shelves in April 2016. Since then, big names like Asda, Waitrose, Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic and Abel & Cole have gone on to stock Piccolo products in their stores around the UK. Fuelling the brand’s growing popularity is Cat’s ability to hit the right note with parents. She has forged strong partnerships with influential groups like Water Babies (which runs parent-and-baby swimming groups around the UK) and the National Childbirth Trust. These partnerships give Piccolo an invaluable platform from which to keep listening to parents and responding to their needs.
Connecting with parents
Having launched Slow Food UK’s social media channels from scratch, Cat also knew that Facebook would be an important way for her brand to engage parents. She’s found new ways to connect, too. “With Piccolo being such a creative style of brand, I have fallen in love with Instagram’s striking visual cues and the way we can build a design narrative that’s true to us with images,” she says. “It’s like weaving a tapestry with our Piccolo mums and dads, who share their images, too.”
Reflecting on a big year that’s seen rapid market success, Cat admits that her learning curve has been a steep one. “As a founder, you get pulled in so many different directions,” she says. “Things move fast and there are big decisions to be made. I’ve missed out because of not having had the right advice before now. It’s the times when I’ve not asked for help that I regret the most—now I always make time to ask.”
Learn more about Cat Gazzoli and Piccolo Foods: