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At an upscale café in Manhattan, bouquets decorate a candlelit wooden table. Glass jars of rosewater overnight oats and blueberry chia seed pudding, served family-style, sit in the center.
This isn’t a normal brunch — it’s a launch party for Yumi, a startup that delivers organic baby food. And everything on the table is technically food for infants.
The company is pitching its products as healthier than store brands, which can contain high levels of sodium and sugar. A subscription service, Yumi delivers meals weekly to customers’ doors, making it more convenient and less time-consuming than putting together food at home, according to the company’s founders.
“You used to live in a town where your mom and your grandma lived, and they used to help you. But now you live far away from home, and they might not know the right [baby] food to cook anymore,” Angela Sutherland, a cofounder, told Business Insider. “We want to support you, as a mother, so you don’t have to think about those things.”
From 2010 to 2015, the baby-food industry grew globally from $36.7 billion to about $55 billion. At the same time, sales of traditional baby food have been declining since 2005, partly because of an increase in parents making meals for their babies at home. Sales of Gerber, the top-selling baby food in the US, dropped by 2% within the category in 2016, according to Euromonitor.
To keep up, legacy brands like Gerber and Beech-Nut have in recent years added organic lines with trendy ingredients like quinoa and kale.
Yumi, which launched on Tuesday, works like many food-delivery subscriptions: Customers sign up and pay a monthly fee, and meals are brought to their doorstep. All the products are certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture and contain simple ingredients, Sutherland says. The service is available throughout California, with plans to expand in the future.
Even for organic baby food, Yumi’s prices are on the high side. Meals range from $6.07 to $8.33 each, depending on the plan. For comparison, a 3.5-ounce pouch of Gerber’s organic veggies costs $1.25 at Walmart.
But Gerber doesn’t offer a weekly delivery service or chef-prepared, nutrient-dense meals.
To see how customers might respond to the food and prices, the company conducted a pilot test with 100 babies (and their parents) in early 2017. One Santa Monica-based parent who participated, Natalie Bruss, told Business Insider that ordering Yumi was worth the time and money she would normally spend preparing organic baby food at home.
“I was paying a nanny on Saturday or Sunday afternoons to spend prime time with my son, Jack, so that I could slave away in the kitchen trying to purée him beets and add wheat germ oil and this and that. It was too complicated. Meanwhile, I could hear Jack goo-ing and gaga-ing,” she said. “So I thought, ‘Why am I doing this when I could be spending time with my kid?'”
Bruss used to pay a babysitter $60 to watch her son while she prepared weekly meals, so she said she considered the $50 plan for six meals a week a bargain, and she supplements it with organic store-bought meal pouches.
Yumi isn’t the only startup offering high-end organic baby food.
Tinder cofounder Sean Rad and Chobani cofounder Kyle O’Brien were early backers of a similar service called Little Spoon, which launched in New York in April. Raised Real, a California-based company that started delivery on the West Coast in 2016, is more like a Blue Apron for baby food — it sends customers organic ingredients, and they purée the food themselves. Thistle and Gather, other healthy-meal-delivery startups, have recently added organic baby food to their offerings.
Yumi has raised $4.1 million in venture-capital funding, led by Brand Foundry, August Capital, and NEA. Sutherland, previously a director at the private-equity firm Sierra Partners, founded the company with Evelyn Rusli, a former Wall Street Journal reporter. The company says its target demographic is new parents, most of whom are millennials.
“People want more from a food brand — this is not Gerber,” Sutherland said. “Millennials want transparency. That’s one of the reasons why our food is transparent. It’s in a see-through container, so you see what you’re getting.”
“If we say this is kale, it is kale,” Rusli said.
“There is that much green stuff” in the container, she added. “There’s no hiding it.”
To ensure the meals include the right nutrients, the founders worked with Nicole Avena, a nutritionist, who followed the Food and Drug Administration’s 2016 daily-intake recommendations for infants.
She told Business Insider she paid special attention to how vegetable and fruit nutrients changed when puréed. For example, puréed apples have been shown to raise insulin levels by more than smashed bananas, while certain blended berries can reduce insulin levels.
While some studies suggest that homemade baby food is healthier than commercial brands, most of the research on early pediatric nutrition is new.
“We don’t know all the answers yet,” Carina Venter, a registered dietitian at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a coauthor of a new narrative review of infant-nutrition research, told Business Insider.
In her review, Venter found there were a handful of concerns with most store-bought baby food. Yumi manages to avoid many of them.
There is little data available about nutrient profiles for store-bought baby food. It often lacks texture, which can stunt infants’ chewing development; there is little variety in the ingredients, which in early life has been associated with an increased risk of asthma; and the microbial load (the amount of good bacteria) in commercial baby foods is typically much lower than in homemade foods.
Organic foods, on the other hand, have been shown to contribute to a more diverse gut microbiome, which can help prevent allergy development, as well as conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, depression, and anxiety.
“We put rosewater in the oats — you would never make that at home,” Sutherland said. “Parents can eat it, too. It’s a new kind of baby food.”
At SeeVay, we know that the safety and well-being of your baby is your top priority. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing you with the tools you need to make sure you’re always on top of your baby’s safety. We understand that being a new mom can be overwhelming, and there’s so much information out there that it can be hard to know where to start.