On the up · 3 October 2016

Piccolo: Luxury Mediterranean baby food that won an exclusive Waitrose partnership

Cat Gazzoli founded Piccolo having started her career in food at 21 with the United Nations food agencies in Rome

Growing up around traditional Mediterranean food, Cat Gazzoli founded Piccolo following her growing frustrations over the lack of choice in Britain’s baby food market, particularly the lack of exciting flavours to introduce babies to.

Business Advice caught up with Gazzoli to find out more about Piccolo’s journey from her family’s grocery shop in Northern Italy to an exclusive partnership with Waitrose.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

At Piccolo we’re all about Mediterranean goodness; bright sunshine, colourful markets and families eating around the table. We believe that introducing a pinch of Mediterranean goodness helps to develop your child’s taste buds from when it matters most. The traditional Mediterranean diet introduces children to a variety of delicious ingredients in early years. Safe, good baby food doesn’t need to be bland. Adding a hint of mint here or a pinch of cinnamon there helps introduce tiny taste buds to a variety of flavours.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We are a baby ourselves! Well actually, Kane and Alice, the founding team members of Piccolo, and I started on this journey nearly two years ago but it took a little while to find the best ingredients and bring all our recipes to fruition – then all the design passion poured into every ingredient water-colour that is on front of pack.

(3) How do you make money?

How it works with the art of making food at a certain scale is that you have some profit after all that it takes you to make and sell your product through the main grocery channels. Not so different from my family’s grocery shop in Northern Italy. We started in Waitrose, which has been an amazing first partner in the grocery sector, with shared values that treat small suppliers well, supporting us in our startup and growth phase.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

We are on a mission to encourage a life-time of healthy eating from a young age. That is why we are committed to giving ten per cent of profits to help fund food education, in partnership with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), providing practical support around baby nutrition to parents. Our partnership with the NCT, the UK’s largest parenting charity, furthers this mission, helping to provide parents with the necessary resources and support for the early days of parenthood.

We have a range of fruit and vegetable purées, with a hint of herb and spice, that stretches a baby’s palette, all inspired by home-cooked recipes from my family and ways of cooking. We started with our initial range which had flavours like Apple & Apricot with a pinch of cinnamon, and we’ve just come out in September with Mango, Pear & Kale with a dash of Yoghurt, and Sweet Potato, Beetroot, Apple & Pear. So we are, in less than a year, offering a full collection to entice baby’s palette and senses.

Piccolo founder Cat Gizzoli with her father and daughter – two key inspirations for the business

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

Mentors who acted both as a guiding light as successful entrepreneurs themselves, as well as just a general now-or-never push when needed. Time flies by and then you wonder what you did with all your time on this planet – and who wants to be old with nothing exciting to tell the grandchildren?! My father has fantastic stories from a career in the United Nations, and is a good example of what it is like to love what you do so that it doesn’t feel like “work”. I always wanted the same and sought that in my professional life.

It’s definitely scary as a complete startup; you are taking a risk both with your time, money, and often other people’s money who you care about and respect. It helped that we are a founding team and my teammates had already worked with founders of successful food companies, so they had seen it done themselves and had good lessons learned on what to bring forward, or more importantly what not bring forward from those experiences.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

We are the only independent baby food brand in the major multiples, with a premium but mainstream proposition, bringing craft, heritage and sourcing to baby food. We know mums and dads are finishing our pouches if there is any left over and we made them so that they would be good enough for mum and dad to eat.

Our new Mango Yoghurt Kale is proving to be a real favourite. We’re getting lots of fan mail on that new flavour and that for me is the kind of achievement that counts – what the customer says that you are achieving for them.

My favourite moment recently is the direct feedback from a grandmother who came to our stand in a wheelchair, with her grandson and whole family in tow. She wasn’t in the best of physical conditions, but said she had come out to the Baby and Toddler Show because her grandson loved our Spring Greens with Mint and she wanted to meet us in person.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

The most recent is one that I could not have planned for. Britain leaving the EU has repercussions on everyone in the food industry. We have all kinds of delicious ingredients from the Mediterranean countries – which make our range taste as fantastic as it does – but it is now a bit more complicated without Britain’s future in the EU.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Continuing to make it happen with Piccolo right here in the UK but also in other countries where Piccolo mums and dads await us!

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Better to share the love and growing pains of a startup with a team who has all the skills you don’t have but share the same values – it’s always more fun than a total solo act.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

My mentor is Craig Sams, who is the Founder of the Green and Blacks and Whole Earth brands. He is my hero (though he would be embarrassed by that term) because his aims are never just financial but social and rooted in giving back to the community. He is also a lot of fun and put up with many a late night phone call when I was just taking baby steps with Piccolo, let alone at other twists and turns in life!

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.