There’s no shortage of competition in the burgeoning organic baby food business, but Jessica Sturzenegger, the 30-year-old CEO of San Francisco-based Amara Organic Foods clearly has that optimism gene all good entrepreneurs possess. She is betting her newbie brand, which she developed with cofounder and chef Vicki Johnson, offers consumers something special.
Like many of the newer entrants into the baby food market appealing to Millennial parents, her line of fresh, plant-based baby food is free of preservatives, GMOs and additives. But unlike its competitors, the meals, which come in powder form, are also shelf-stable, requiring no refrigeration or freezing. That makes them easy to store and to carry on the go. (You just mix it with a liquid, such as water, breast milk or formula). And the low price point per meal—less than $3—makes it affordable and accessible to more families than some of the other brands. Currently, her product is aimed at children six months to two years old, but she hopes to expand into toddler foods later this year.
“For me, it’s important we’re not a niche brand,” Sturzenegger tells me. “Everybody deserves access to better food.”
The products first launched in Whole Food Market’s northern California region in 2017. Sturzenegger expanded its distribution from 100 to 1,000 stores, including some Targets, in 2019 alone, but the company couldn’t cope with all the demand. “We realized we couldn’t just grow organically. People were paying attention to the category and we had so many people reaching out we couldn’t keep up with production,” she says.
That could soon change. The three-employee company will announce today that it has raised more than $2 million—the round was slightly over-subscribed and some investors had to be turned away.) The investors in the seed round include the ex-chairman of Hershey’s CPG conglomerate, health and beauty e-commerce distributor Pharmapacks and Moses Ventures, the Connecticut-based investment fund started by Danny Moses.
It took Sturzenneger three years working with food scientists, nutritionists and engineers to develop her patent-pending technique, which she calls pressure protection.
“What we do is is actually apply pressure to fruits and vegetables, grains and plant-based proteins and we take out the water,” explained Sturzenegger. The dried food is then ground into a powder. “It retains all the texture of fresh. Oats and berries has a totally different texture than the peas and carrots.”
The funding will go toward hiring new employees—there are just three right now— and expanding distribution in stores and online.
“”The gold standard for moms is homemade baby food,” said Sturzenegger. “But the reality is a lot of them are working, and making homemade baby food is very time consuming, especially if you don’t normally cook. We just saw this gap.”
Sturzenegger, who always wanted to be a chef, was born in Switzerland and mostly raised in the U.S. She grew up in a French-speaking family with a stay-at-home mom who fed her family fresh homemade meals. She likes to tell the story of the school chum who had never tasted a fresh pea until she ate dinner at her house.
“I had to understand why she was going crazy over it,” Sturzenegger says. “It was because it was fresh. In the 1980s, people cooked from cans.”
Sturzenegger doesn’t have any children, but she believes that healthy eating needs to start with the youngest generation. Research shows that children form their food preferences before age 3.
“The way you tell good food, is you look at the smell, the taste, the texture,” says Sturzenegger.
And it should be the same for baby food. For her part, she’s a big fan of Amara Oats ‘N Berries. “I eat it almost every day on the road,” she says.