Baby Food for the 1%

Once Upon a Farm’s mango puree is a brighter yellow than the competition.

It was really only a matter of time before the cold-pressed, cold-packed, hand-selected direct-to-your-door meal movement made its way to baby food. After all, parents of babies are universally-known to be exhausted balls of nervous energy. We’ve got a trigger finger for any “Buy Now” button that promises to make parenting even one iota easier.

Former CEO of Annie’s Homegrown, John Foraker, teamed up with super-mom Jennifer Garner to lead Once Upon a Farm, an ultra premium baby food company. The elevator pitch is impressive: They combined the star power of Jessica Alba’s Honest with the commitment to parents offered by Plum Organics and the convenience of Blue Apron. Indeed, Once Upon a Farm makes a compelling brand promise that is sure to captivate nervous parents:

  • Premium Flavors Lovingly crafted blends of farm-fresh produce with the help of an expert pediatrician ensure the most nutritious, delicious food for your little ones.
  • The Color Says it All Every product features a window to show the vibrant color and freshness of our blends. The truth is in the color!
  • Healthy Fats Contains rich healthy fats proven to improve brain development and nutrient absorption, giving your little ones a nutritious start.
  • Keep Refrigerated Each blend is prepared fresh and packaged under intense pressure, meaning no heat or preservatives.

Yup, these proprietary blends, like “Wild Rumpus Avocado” made of “organic pineapple, organic avocado, organic banana, and organic mint,” are like manna from the heaven for a certain demographic – those moms (yes, it’s always moms) who only want the best for their babies, but are too busy to blend farmers-market produce themselves. Never mind that you wouldn’t be able to find pineapple, banana or avocado at most farmers markets in the U.S. And never mind that the kids in this demographic already have their nutritional needs satisfied. There will always be a market for the parents who want to go above and beyond.

The baby food purveyor suggests that we can find these pouches in the refrigerated section, but their website pushes the direct-mail option, with the overnighted freezer packs that entails. Customers can buy a trial 8-pack for $2.49 a pouch, after which one is automatically upgraded to a subscription of 24 pouches at a time for $59.76. (Still $2.49 a pouch for those too tired to do the math.) For readers who have not gazed confusingly at Target’s entire aisle of baby food pouches, this is approximately twice the cost of the nearest premium brand – Plum Organics. Plum makes a similar healthful brand promise, but is – gasp! – shelf stable. Actually, to my mind, that’s a feature not a bug, since I can leave them floating at the bottom of the diaper bag for any toddler emergencies I face. But cold-pressing preserves nutrients and flavor, or so they tell me. Never mind that young children are not known for their sophisticated palates. My three-year-old’s ideal dinner is a pile of still-frozen peas and a slice of Kraft cheese.

Plum’s pouches are still too rich for my blood at $1.25, since my baby will eat approximately 1/10 of a pouch before dive-bombing for my garlic bread. But at least Plum is a B-corp, which means they commit to better business practices in addition to better product offerings.

Now, yes, the cost of Once Upon a Farm pouches is relatively obscene. But I know there’s a demographic out there who can afford it. That’s not the point. Companies that make a sustainability brand promise must go beyond the sustainability of the product they produce and look at the larger community. Once Upon a Farm does make some vaguely-worded promises of a larger social mission on their website:

Once Upon a Farm aspires to be a leading organic family food company that will fight for and support efforts to drive positive social change and food justice for the benefit of parents, kids and families. It’s with this mission that Once Upon a Farm strives to nurture our children, each other, and the earth to pass along a healthier and happier world to the next generation.

That’s good, but not very actionable. Sustainability programs require tangible targets.

Here are some more specific numbers Once Upon a Farm might consider:

  • 7.7 million mothers and children meet their monthly nutritional needs with WIC benefits. To qualify, families must meet income guidelines and be individually determined to be at “nutritional risk” by a health professional.
  • 21% of American kids – 15 million children – live in poverty. The household income to qualify as “living in poverty” was $24,036 for a family of 4.
  • Once they reach school age, 20 million+ kids in America receive free lunch at school
  • 97 cents is the average cost of a public school lunch.
  • 73 percent of the kids who eat school lunch get it for reduced or free prices, meaning those who eat school lunch mostly have no other choice.

President Trump’s administration recently relaxed the already-weak nutrition standards for the public meal program. Additionally, it is well-documented that kids who get free breakfast at school have better behavior, attention, math scores, and are less likely to repeat a grade. You do the math: It’s hard to concentrate when you are hungry. These kids weren’t eating breakfast at home. Becoming a parent has made me much more sensitive to the plights of all children. There are kids out there who are not getting enough to eat to the point that they are malnourished and qualify for state benefits. When we feed them, we don’t always offer healthful options. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a national tragedy.

Given that Once Upon a Farm is just getting off the ground, I urge Foraker and Garner and the rest of the gang to take the tremendous opportunity they have in a nutritional food start-up to put that general interest in social justice into action sooner rather than later.

Sponsor a school garden program! Invest in a one-for-one model! Lead the charge on nutrition research and lobbying! I’m sure you have something in the works, but we all know that the best sustainability programs are built in from the ground up. You’ve done your nutrition research, now make a commitment to America’s children who really need the help.

Update: Check out the response from Once Upon a Farm CEO in the comments below! 

Image credit: Once Upon a Farm 

Food & Agriculture

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Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

One response

  1. Jen,

    Thanks for the push on this. We agree these impact goals and programs need to be embedded early in the life of the business. Rest assured that we co-founded this business to make a difference, to drive significantly better nutritional options for moms everywhere, and to make a positive impact on kids everywhere, especially those in deepest need. We are currently developing the programs that will be deeply integrated into the brand and that will reflect our core values in order to drive positive social change. Stay tuned, and we look forward to talking with you in more detail about these in the near future. Jen has a tremendous passion to help kids and families everywhere and you can see that through her years of work and advocacy with Save the Children where she has been a champion for kids everywhere. My own experience with almost 18 years at Annie’s Homegrown was focused on driving big social and environmental impact for the benefit of kids and the planet. Our shared passion for these issues will be a big part of the way we together build this business. We are in the process of being B-Corp Certified as well and you should see that soon as well. Stay tuned, I think you will like where this is headed. Best, JF

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