For most people, having their organic food start-up grow in record speed (from 300 retail locations to 8,500 over the past year) and land high-profile appearances (on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and in People magazine) would have exceeded any measurement of success.
However, for Once Upon a Farm co-founders John Foraker and Jennifer Garner, these accomplishments were not the motivating factors why they joined this Berkeley-based start-up.
“Bringing good nutrition to children everywhere has been our mission since the beginning — it’s never been and will never be about just feeding children who have a socio-economic advantage. I’m committed to finding ways of providing healthy food to children who have less access and often limited opportunities,” said Chief Brand Officer Jennifer Garner.
Once Upon a Farm is now able to say that they are fulfilling this mission with today’s historic announcement that the company has become the first organic, refrigerated brand of baby food to be available to Women, Infant, Children Program (WIC)-eligible families. Its new line of 2-pack organic baby food bowls will be available to nearly 125,000 WIC Infants in Florida and West Virginia, with the goal of receiving WIC-approval in many more states in the near future.
WIC is a federal grant program that provides nutritious foods to supplement diets, nutrition education and counseling, and referrals to health and other social services to safeguard the health of more than 7 million low-income women, infants and children up to age five. Every year, half of the nearly four million babies born in the U.S. participate in the WIC program.
NOT AN EASY ROAD
For CEO John Foraker, one of the most respected and connected executives the organic food industry has ever seen, his decades-long relationships helped the company get meetings and eventually secure distribution agreements with many of the nation’s most important retailers.
But his stature in the industry did not carry the same weight when it came time to blazing a new trail and having Once Upon a Farm’s products receive approval from WIC, a program in which 38 of the 50 states do not allow organic baby food.
It was starting from ground zero, something that this proven entrepreneur was eager and unafraid to tackle.
“I was literally on the WIC websites of different states figuring out what steps we needed to take and how we were going to meet WIC’s very strict pricing, size and nutritional requirements. It was very difficult to make the products, figure out the supply chain and have a business model to sell at the required prices. This was a huge effort, but we doubled and tripled down on the time we spent on this in 2018 and got there faster than expected,” said John Foraker.
Once Upon a Farm’s WIC-line of 2-pack of baby food bowls are blends of whole fruits and vegetables and include four SKUs of stage 1 & 2 blends — Apple; Apple Sweet Potato Blueberry; Pear Carrot Mango; and Banana Strawberry Beet. The cost of the bowls, which have a suggested retail price of $2.58 per 2-pack, is comparable to other WIC-approved organic baby food in the program.
However, Once Upon a Farm’s products are cold-pressed to lock in nutrients, flavors and texture. They are also sold in the refrigerated section, thereby making them a fresher alternative than the other pasteurized, organic baby food offerings in the program.
A DIFFERENT TYPE OF INNOVATION
With today being the start of Natural Products Expo West, the organic industry’s biggest trade show in the U.S. and the place where many companies will be showcasing their newest offerings with unique ingredients and novel recipes, the timing of this news from Once Upon a Farm should send an important message to the industry.
“We hope that people will look at this and start to explore a different element of innovation — by creating great products for people who have not had access to them in the past. Maybe others will begin to say ‘we can do that, too.’ Everyone benefits if we can expand the tent of organic,” said John Foraker.
Once Upon a Farm has proven that cutting edge organic products can reach a traditionally underserved population in the U.S., and companies can do this in a profitable way.
Let’s hope that other brands follow Once Upon a Farm’s lead because everyone should have the opportunity to eat pesticide-free, organic food.
Our country’s health is depending on it.