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WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS

Looking Out for the Health of Our Babies

After realizing there was a shortage of organic baby food brands on the market, two moms decided to make it their mission to provide healthier alternatives.
Liane Weintraub and Shannan Swanson, co-founders of Tasty Brand

With the current obsession with label-reading and organic ingredients, surely there must be dozens of organic baby food brands, right? That's what Los Angeles moms (and friends) Liane Weintraub and Shannan Swanson thought. But they were wrong. The pair started making organic purees for their own babies—each now has two kids—and couldn't believe how few options were available in stores. "We were looking for healthier alternatives for our own families," says Weintraub. "We noticed what seemed to be a hole in the marketplace."

So Weintraub, a local TV reporter, and Swanson, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and former cook at one of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants, got inspired to fill it. (Swanson's grandfather and great uncle founded Swanson Frozen Foods, the inventor of the TV dinner. The company was sold in 1955, before Swanson was born.)

They tested all their recipes in Weintraub's kitchen, and her son Cole, now 5, was the company's chief taster. They lined up a handful of investors: Friends and friends of friends. And in 2006, Tastybaby—now Tasty Brand—was born.

Today the brand—which features the founders' kids on the packaging—is carried at Whole Foods, Fairway, Central Market, Tops, ShopRite/Wakefern, and other chains. It's also available online at the company's website, as well as through Amazon.com and Diapers.com. The company turned a profit four years after its founding, and it's on track for sales of $2.5 million this year.

"Life's a Peach" is one of the typically whimsical names of their frozen baby foods, but getting the products onto the shelves wasn't quite so easy. Weintraub says the company's biggest challenge was just getting off the ground. "We had great ideas and a fantastic looking brand with attributes that directly addresses the growing concerns of the American consumer, but we had no knowledge of this industry or how to make or bring a product to market. The learning curve was absurdly steep," she says.

The pair had little idea—"unrealistic notions," admits Weintraub—of how long it would take for the world to learn about their products. Neither had manufacturing or food sales backgrounds, so they didn't realize how long it could take between the time they'd show a retailer a product to the time it appears on the shelf. They've also been frustrated by verbal "yeses" that then don't get handed down to people who write the orders—or the buyer when the company is being sold somewhere in the process (which has happened twice)—thus delaying the products' appearance on shelves.

One big victory: Getting the products accepted into Whole Foods's Southern Pacific Region. "That was a big win, and it is still our strongest market today," says Weintraub.

Another big victory: A column in W magazine mentioned the company's products—and in the same column, mentioned Stella McCartney. She read about the pair's organic and green values and offered to host their launch party at her shop's Los Angeles boutique. "Talk about being in the right place at the right time," says Weintraub. Cindy Crawford, whom Weintraub knows, attended the party, along with Angie Harmon, Gabrielle Reece, Kate Beckinsale, and others. The brand started getting press thanks to its celebrity fans, though Weintraub says they have never actively pursued any celebs or sent the product out.

Weintraub, 42, and Swanson, 38, who first met in 1996 when Swanson was catering a party at Weintraub's home, have since expanded into cereal bars and organic gummy candies. They also developed a candy version with electrolytes, which has been embraced by the sporty crowd, with write-ups in triathlete magazines.

Weintraub says she has almost daily moments of thinking, "We're crazy for doing this"—partly because she and Swanson deal with every aspect of the product. "There is a huge amount of travel—difficult for us as mothers of young children—and a lot of different personalities with whom we negotiate daily." Weintraub herself answers most customer inquiries. (The company credits a large amount of its success to "word of Mom.")

One particularly surreal moment: During six weeks of Costco roadshows last fall—essentially a test to see if the company's products would appeal to the retailer's members—Tasty Brand's warehouse announced it wouldn't be able to pack and palletize the product for the next day's delivery to Costco.

"We had to drop everything and do it ourselves," Weintraub says. "We packed tens of thousands of cardboard boxes, and stacked them onto pallets ourselves. It was mayhem, but we got it done and delivered on time." (And the roadshow? "A huge success," she says.) "I believe we have the right products at the right time," adds Weintraub. "Label reading has become important, and our ingredients pass muster."

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: May 1, 2011

COURTNEY RUBIN

Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.




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