By Ian McCue, commerce and retail reporter
⏰ 5-minute read
- Baby food and vitamin brand Little Spoon has seen record demand for its products, which are delivered straight to customers’ doors.
- The manufacturer has increased production quickly to keep up with demand and produce 35,000 extra meals to donate.
- Little Spoon has paid special attention to its online parent community so it can address their changing needs.
As a producer of baby food that ships direct to customers, Little Spoon is facing record demand as the coronavirus affects our daily routines. The business has had to make and ship more baby food and vitamins as parents avoid leaving their homes as much as possible to comply with stay-at-home orders.
The federal government has deemed food manufacturers like Little Spoon an “essential service.” That means it can continue making its “babyblends” food and “boosters” vitamins and natural remedies in its California kitchen, send those to fulfillment centers and deliver them to the doorsteps of parents with young children. The direct-to-consumer (D2C) company has yet to have any issues sourcing the fruits, vegetables, spices and other ingredients it uses in its foods, nor has it had any delivery delays, said Lisa Barnett, Little Spoon’s co-founder, president and CMO.
“The demand has just been skyrocketing, and that’s because people aren’t leaving their homes,” said Barnett. “You also have a situation where [in the millennial] generation of parents that we’re targeting, seven out of 10 young families are dual income, so you now have two parents who are stuck working at home, with no childcare. So the need for something convenient and healthy is even greater.
“In a weird way, just because you’re home, you actually have less time than ever, and parents have already been strapped.”
“Seven out of 10 young families are dual income, so you now have two parents who are stuck working at home, with no childcare. So the need for something convenient and healthy is even greater."
Little Spoon customers choose from a rotating menu of 25-35 organic, fresh baby foods with ingredients like carrot, mango, avocado, sweet potato, chia seeds and quinoa. These blends vary in nutritional value and texture to accommodate children of various ages. After launching in late 2017, Little Spoon sold more than 1 million babyblends in 2018, and more than doubled sales last year.
Making more baby food on short notice
Since early March, Little Spoon has continually set weekly records “for every number and every KPI you can imagine,” Barnett said. The New York-based business increased production quickly because its facilities had additional capacity the company had not been using. It also helped that the nutrition brand began planning for this surge in demand when it first realized the coronavirus could have a significant impact on the U.S.
“We’ve been getting a lot of practice as a small business and as a startup really scaling up quickly,” Barnett said. “We have really zoned in on our protocol, our processes and made sure we’re thinking ahead in terms of sourcing ingredients and scheduling all of our different production runs, making sure that we’re touching base with everyone at every part of our value chain.”
Little Spoon's babyblends and boosters are made from a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds and other organic ingredients.
Little Spoon has always followed strict safety guidelines in the kitchens where it makes food and vitamins. Employees wear masks, gloves, hairnets and protective clothing to prevent contamination and work in highly secure facilities. Barnett said the company is “enhancing all of that” in light of the coronavirus. (There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, according to the CDC.)
Filling a critical need
From Little Spoon’s perspective, keeping up with customer demand isn’t the only goal. It also wants to produce enough baby food to help those in need.
Little Spoon is donating 35,000 of its meals —- $100,000 worth of baby food — to Feeding America and partnered with several restaurant groups, including Lettuce Entertain You and Union Square Hospitality Group, to offer their laid-off employees at-cost baby food for their children through June. In addition, parents who are essential workers or have lost a job due to the coronavirus get a 30% discount on meal plans.
Little Spoon, which is backed by venture capital, doesn’t have cash flow issues, which gave it “all the more reason” to help, Barnett noted.
“It’s our duty to give back,” she said. “We’re able to produce food, and that is a really big deal in this kind of current environment.
“We hope we can continue to do more; [donating to Feeding America] is just the beginning of what we’re doing. And we’re learning more what people need and what our role is and how we can service them.”
“It’s our duty to give back. We’re able to produce food, and that is a really big deal in this kind of current environment."
Tightening its relationship with the community
Little Spoon has a site targeting new parents called “Is This Normal,” which is full of useful and entertaining content. The site has blog posts answering parents’ questions about their children and relays the real-life experiences of community members. There is a special section titled “New Normal-COVID-19” with suggestions and video journals from parents on how to keep kids entertained during social distancing.
Staying closely connected to that community of parents has been more important than ever in the time of the coronavirus, Barnett said. The platform helps the co-founder and her colleagues understand what parents are going through and how Little Spoon can help.
“More than ever, we’ve as a team, whether we have kids or not, internalized how difficult it is to be home with families, with distractions,” she said. “I think the empathy and sympathy that the whole company is developing is above and beyond what we had before.”
Little Spoon founders Lisa Barnett, Angela Vranich, Michelle Muller and Ben Lewis, from left to right.
For example, more customers want to order larger quantities of food than come in Little Spoon’s biggest box — meals can be frozen for up to three months — so the customer service team helps them place larger orders. The company also pushed back the cutoff time for address changes and other order adjustments as some families relocate or their needs change.
Barnett and other executives have focused on keeping the business nimble given the speed at which circumstances, both in daily life and the business realm, are changing. Entrepreneurs, especially those who head up young companies, are often used to constant change, which makes them well-suited for this environment.
“One of the things I’ve learned is how to operate under very ambiguous situations,” said Barnett, who previously worked in venture capital. “A lot of our tendency is to want clarity and to want fact, but the reality is a good entrepreneur is someone who kind of jumps out of the plane and builds the parachute on the way down. … I think part of what I’ve always been doing is problem-solving and re-shuffling priorities hour by hour, day by day. It’s part of the rollercoaster of starting a company.”
Staying dynamic in a remote environment
Responding to customers’ shifting needs is especially challenging because, like so many others, Little Spoon’s employees are working from home. Tasks that previously required simply walking over to a coworker’s desk now require a video call.
To make sure everyone is in lockstep, Barnett meets with her team every day and encourages others to reach out right away if they want to talk through something, rather than scheduling a meeting. While her management style was previously “a little more arm length’s apart,” she now asks everyone to share the five or 10 things they’re focused on completing or pushing forward each day. A new project may today supersede a key concern from the day before.
The genuine concern coworkers have for each other during this situation has brought them closer together, and Barnett thinks the camaraderie Little Spoon has developed virtually will have long-lasting effects.
“You’re just more a part of each other’s lives, for better or for worse, and I think one of the key changes not just Little Spoon is going to face, but I think a lot of the working world, is just more of an integration between your personal and your professional life,” she said. “I think that enables people to be more of their authentic selves and bring their full selves to the job.”
"I’ve never been more sure of what we’re doing. So that commitment to not failing these parents and being there for them could not be higher.”
While the last month has presented plenty of tests for Little Spoon, it has ultimately reaffirmed Barnett’s belief in her company’s purpose and role in the food industry.
“Our dedication to this community of new parents and wanting to help them continue to flourish and continue to raise healthy children — I’ve never been more sure of what we’re doing,” Barnett said. “So that commitment to not failing these parents and being there for them could not be higher.”
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