BALTIMORE — The trendy paleo diet has inspired significant product innovation in recent years, but to Serenity Heegel’s surprise, no brands were marketing paleo baby food. After scouring the market last year, the Austin, Texas-based paleo coach, along with her partner and aspiring entrepreneur Joe Carr, decided to develop and sell a line of low-sugar, high-protein, high-fat baby food in shelf-stable pouches.
The brand, Serenity Kids, is debuting at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore and features varieties such as Grass Fed Beef with Organic Kale and Sweet Potato, Free range Chicken with Organic Peas and Carrots, and Pastured Uncured Bacon with Organic Kale and Butternut Squash.
Perceived as clean or minimally processed, paleo food and beverage products do not contain grains, dairy, legumes or refined sugar. Each Serenity Kids recipe was developed under the guidance of a certified clinical nutritionist and formulated to match the macronutrients of mother’s milk, with 4 to 5 grams of protein, 5 to 8 grams of fat and 9 to 11 grams of carbohydrates per 4-oz serving. The products contain 2 to 3 grams of sugar per pouch from organic vegetables.
“There are baby foods that have 15 to 18 grams of sugar per 4-oz serving, which to me is astonishing,” Ms. Heegel told Food Business News. “We are deliberately keeping our sugar content low, and our sugar only comes from super nutrient-dense sources like starchy veggies.”
The company donates a portion of its profits to the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and sources humanely-raised, pastured meat from small American family farms.
“It’s no coincidence that what is healthiest for babies is also most humane for the animals, most economically sustainable for the farmer and also good for the planet,” Mr. Carr said.
Serenity Kids already has sold more than 2,000 pouches in pre-sales on-line.
In an interview, Ms. Heegel and Mr. Carr shared insights on introducing a first-of-its-kind product to the market.
Food Business News: What inspired you to develop this product?
Ms. Heegel: Joe and I both found the paleo diet through healing our own health issues. We were at a Paleo (f)x conference in 2016 and had been talking about starting a family someday, and I started getting all maternal and said, “Let’s go find the baby stuff!” And we looked at every single booth, and there was nothing.
Where was the whole-food, real-food baby food? I couldn’t believe it didn’t exist, so I went to every grocery store, I looked on-line everywhere, and I mostly found fruit purees. There’s a couple weird jars of ham and gravy and a few pouches that have meat, but not many. Joe at the time had been going to lots of entrepreneur workshops, and he said, “I think we should do the paleo baby food.”
Mr. Carr: We initially planned to do a paleo niche baby food to fill that niche that was missing, but when we learned about how much baby food out there was lacking real nutrition, we started to get mad. Not only is there no paleo baby food, but all of the baby food is extremely high in sugar, largely fruit sugar, but still very high sugar content… There’s no high-fat baby food on the market at all, and babies need a lot of fat.
That was when we realized it’s going to be a lot bigger than paleo baby food because we’re making the first low-sugar, high-fat baby food that contains grass-fed meat as a company that has a mission bigger than just selling more of its own product.
What were the most valuable lessons you have learned since launching this business?
Ms. Heegel: One of mine was how important branding is. We were really lucky to call in the right advisers at the right time in our journey, and one of the early suggestions to us was that we needed to bite the bullet and spend a decent amount of money to get a great look for our products and have a solid brand that people can identify with and trust and get excited about. To me, as the food nerd, having the brand be an important aspect was surprising.
Mr. Carr: I was mostly surprised at how long everything takes and how expensive everything is... We did an investment round, which was totally a new thing for me.
Are you concerned the higher cost of your products may deter consumers?
Mr. Carr: Our suggested retail price for grocery stores is $4.99… At Whole Foods, the next most expensive shelf-stable pouch is $1.99.
It’s definitely something that will require us to educate consumers about why it’s so different from those others. If you compare the cost of an apple to the cost of a steak to the cost of a grass-fed steak, it’s not even comparable. That’s the message we want to send; that we are actually competing with homemade baby food. People cooking meat and vegetables in their kitchen and blending it up — that’s basically the only thing you can compare our food to.
What is your long-term vision for Serenity Kids?
Ms. Heegel: I have lots of ideas. I wish I could spend all of my time on product development. First of all we’re going to expand our pouch line. We’re already working on our next flavors and formulations for those.My vision and Joe’s vision is to have our product lines expand with our core eaters, with the babies that are infants now, and next year hopefully we’ll release some toddler foods, maybe even possible kids’ foods.