We chat to Cat Gazzoli, founder of new organic baby food brand Piccolo and find out the inspiration behind the Mediterranean inspired baby food brand. From sourcing fresh and local ingredients to experimenting with recipes, Cat shares with us behind the scenes of Piccolo.
Cat enjoyed a varied diet from a young age, including plenty of fruit and veg, pasta, pulses and a little meat. Lovingly-prepared food is part of her DNA. It is the way she was brought up, and the way she feeds her family and daughter, Juliet.
What first inspired you to launch your own brand of organic baby purees?
Working with the United Nations in food policy, and with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the UK’s largest parenting charity, I became more and more aware of the foods that were being given to young children, but also the concerns of parents and how much they wanted to be part of a brand that shared their values. I am a very values led person myself and that probably stems from being exposed as a child to my family’s deep commitment to living their values and incorporating them into our daily lives. You can actually live your values with the type of purchases you make and the companies you support.
Piccolo is an example of that due to our charitable commitment alongside an assurance on just excellent food for your little one. I started thinking more about the market place and what was missing in the baby food landscape, and how I could create a company alongside the charity that parents could relate to from not only a balance of flavours and excellence in nutrition profile, but also from an ethical and social purpose perspective.
What is your food background?
I have always worked in food, from helping my aunt in our family grocer’s in Northern Italy as a little girl to starting my career in food policy within the United Nations in Rome, I finally settled in London as the CEO of the Slow Food UK organisation where I started programmes with top chefs and producers around the country to source local produce and use British ingredients not often found in the big shops. I spent considerable time designing food education programmes for children and families too which the chefs helped me with, then becoming a mother myself, naturally the issues surrounding our children’s health and their relationships with food became an all-consuming interest to me over anything else.
There is a lot of controversy these days over what really is organic. What sets Piccolo apart from other organic baby food brands?
Over the six years I was heading up Slow Food, I got this question a lot – there are a few different schemes around organic and there are differences between them in terms of actual different stamps a consumer might see across the globe on food products labelled organic. At Piccolo, we source organic ingredients, but we also go beyond just being satisfied with the assurance of organic certification which we check with rigour. For us, it’s also about understanding our farmer’s concerns and challenges, even considering the challenges of getting organic certification for their farms. Piccolo is deep into sourcing and fair prices for our farmers and now is the time to continue our commitment to our farmers with the political landscape and climate change causing a lot of instability for them.
How do you go about sourcing ingredients?
Organic ingredients used in baby food have additionally stringent regulations to ensure each ingredient is perfect for babies. We spent a lot of time sourcing our ingredients to ensure taste and quality. With our flavours very much around the Mediterranean approach to well being, we source a lot of our ingredients from the Mediterranean basin especially for ingredients that lend themselves to grow well in that sunny climate, e.g. basil from my grandfather’s region in Liguria, olive oil from the region my daughter was born in Tuscany, apples from the Dolomites – of course the farmers might not always have all that we would love to source from them available, but we try to source as much as the season allows for.
Do you have a favourite flavour?
That’s a hard one for me as a lot of the recipes take me back to my childhood and I have lots of associated memories with the different ingredients. I love the peach, apple and basil, which is one of our original products. My nonni used to serve fresh peaches with basil when I was a little girl. And the sweet tomato and ricotta spaghetti is a family staple in my home. But I would have to say our Spring Greens with pear and apple, and mint is my favourite. I can’t leave any in the house as its also my daughter’s favourite and she can sniff out these pouches and demolish them in seconds!
Where can you buy Piccolo?
You can find us in Waitrose, Asda, Ocado, Booths, Amazon, Whole Foods Market, Planet Organic and Abel and Cole as well as lots of fantastic independent shops.
Where do you get inspiration from for new flavours and blends?
It’s a mix between inspiration from family recipes I have grown up with and getting inspiration from the new ingredients we discover. I have great fun in the kitchen with one of my co-founders, Alice Fotheringham, who is a trained cook and nutritional therapist, coming up with ideas and concoctions – both of our freezers are jam packed with jars of brightly coloured purees! Our other co-founder, Kane O’Flaherty who heads up creative and hand-paints every ingredient that then goes on our packaging, has some excellent tips from his family’s very Med traditions. He grew up overlooking the sea and eating a diet of really fabulous fresh fish in Malta.
How can we help our children have a healthier relationship with food?
Children’s lifelong food habits and relationships with food are all hugely influenced by the first 1,000 days: from conception through to early weaning and up to the age of around two. Despite enormous amounts of research alluding to the importance in these early days – most support, guidance and intervention only starts at school age. Getting children eating a wide variety of foods from those very first days is key.
The area where parents can have the most influence on their children’s feeding habits can be seen in the research behind how children choose what they like and dislike based on how familiar a food is. There is a direct link between exposure to a food, the frequency of which you offer a food, and a child’s food preferences. Often parents will only offer a food two or three times before deciding the child didn’t like it. Repeated exposure in the first few years is important, as it can take up to 12 times for a new food to be accepted.
What is the ethos of the brand?
I created Piccolo because I wanted to build something inspired by my background and the great ethos that is the Mediterranean way of life, and had social and education aims at its core. We are a purpose driven brand deriving from a firmly held belief around giving back to the community. We have committed to giving funds to food education charitable work and have done so since day one of Piccolo hitting the shelves. I couldn’t have founded a company for profits alone. Giving back and supporting new parents will always be key to our growth and our values.
Do you have any weaning tips for new mums?
Be kind to yourself and have patience! It takes time and doesn’t always follow the steps in the books. Just remember that their milk is giving them most of their nutrients at the stage so don’t worry about quantity, think about it more as a play time to introduce lots of different tastes and textures.
As a working mum, what do you like to do to unwind and relax?
Taking the time to open a bottle of wine, put on some jazz and eat good food is an absolute must for me.
Do you have any family friendly favourite restaurants across London?
I am afraid I am very Italian about bringing my child to restaurants. She comes with me to restaurants I want to eat at. I often forget that places here can be a bit funny about children in nice restaurants, in Italy all the children are out and about eating with their parents! It’s a bit easier to take her to any restaurant in Italy rather than in central London though.
Both as a family and Piccolo we are very centrally based, so around our Covent Garden/Soho area it’s a bit tricky. My Italian husband appreciates a good British pie and loves all the craft beer coming out of the London breweries, so marrying that with a toddler’s dinner table abilities, we find that Juliet is most welcome at Great Queen Street on Great Queen Street. By far that would be my favourite, but she is normally the only little one running about. Broadway Market and Maltby Street Markets are other family favourites for street food eating and where Juliet can run about – not restaurants but loads of foodie fun!
When you are not busy working, what do you enjoy doing with the family?
I am a family type, who misses the grandparents all the time and always ready to go join them. We love going back to my parents in law in Udine, Northern Italy for weekends. It’s a beautiful house with a big garden and lots of friends and family about. My mother in law is an incredible cook, so we also make the most out of that! We also visit my father who lives right off a gorgeous national park in France in Burgundy. He is a huge help to me by both helping out with Juliet, and to the team at Piccolo by also checking in on the French farms we source from.
In a few sentences, describe an average day?
Each day is very different, which is the joy of a small company. I get up before my daughter and check my emails and put a cake or quiche in the oven for whatever meeting I have that day or make something for the team lunch. I have a daily battle with Juliet on outfit choices, currently it’s her new pink tutu, then we walk round the block to nursery and I head on to our offices round the corner, which is extremely handy!
As founder, my day involves a lot of meetings, so I could be seeing a buyer for a supermarket, meeting with one of our partners such as the National Childbirth Trust, or a visit to a farm. If I am having a London day, I will head to the office and catch up with the team about our latest creative campaigns or what’s happening on social. We try and eat lunch as a team as often as possible, we have a lovely kitchen and big meeting table in the office, and we often bring in things, or have food from photoshoots to tuck into. I leave the office around 6pm to pick up Juliet and she helps me prepare dinner. I am a bit of a night owl, as is my daughter, so we often have people over for dinner, and once they leave, I am known to really start the day then, getting to all my emails and doing market research.
Are you able to share with us some exciting insight into any upcoming projects you’re currently working on?
We have some exciting new products coming out in the next few months, and summer is also a busy time of new recipes for us- we have had a busy few months in the kitchen developing – I am afraid we can’t reveal them yet, but our fantastic creative team will be revealing them on our Instagram with our characteristic painted vegetables and fruit…!