Five years ago, when Cat Gazzoli was pregnant, she started to think about what she would feed her newborn once she came off milk.
But looking into the options, she couldn’t find a single product for sale that she thought was right for when it was time for her little one to start weaning.
So she made one.
Cat, 42, was brought up on a diet rich in Mediterranean meals and wanted the same for her daughter Juliet, now five.
She believes the Mediterranean approach to nutrition and lifestyle is “one which champions good, honest and natural food”, and this is the ethos behind the organic baby food company she founded in 2016, Piccolo.
Piccolo has been incredibly successful since its start, is set to turnover Sh641.5m (£5 million) this year, and is now stocked at a range of supermarkets, including Morrisons, Asda and Boots.
It also has a strong social purpose and has given thousands away to sustainable food charities.
“I wanted to create tasty, real, and honest food which made it easier for busy parents to encourage a lifetime of balanced, healthy eating in their children from a young age,” Cat explained.
She knew there were already food products available for convenience, but she couldn’t find anything that was also made with high-quality ingredients that would be nutritious for her baby.
Luckily, she is no stranger to the food business – with 16 years of experience working in it.
Her path to success is in part down to the connections she’s made during her career, but while having the likes of the Great British Bake Off’s Prue Leith on hand helped, it’s not the only reason the business has become so profitable.
The baby food market is not an easy one to break into and the fact Piccolo has achieved so much success in so little time is also down to Cat’s commitment and the emphasis on creating an ethical brand with a social conscience.
“I’ve definitely seen it all, having been exposed to the work of chefs, suppliers, start-ups and non-profit organisations, I’ve had a passion for ethical sourcing, social justice and giving back instilled in me,” she said.
The challenges she had to overcome
“I didn’t have the same know-how as established players in the game when I set up the business but setting it up has taught me a lot about adaptability, flexibility, and creativity,” said Cat.
While she had worked in the food industry before, this was largely from a charity and government background and suddenly she was having to deal with big retail buyers about things such as supply and margins.
“It was a big learning curve but honestly is always the best policy and I ask if I don’t know always,” she added.
Looking back, Cat said a failure in the business would have been not setting up a leadership team fast enough and trying to do it all on her own.
“I was very lucky to find my other halves on the nutrition and creative side in my co-founders, Alice Fotheringham and Kane O’Flaherty respectively, however key other areas took a bit longer.
“Having people you can trust and believe in around you is the only way forward as you grow,” she said.
Cat’s top tips for setting up a business
The number one tip from Cat for those who are thinking about setting up their own business is to “surround yourself with a team of people who are experts in the areas that aren’t your forte”.
Cat had the advice of several experts in the industry when setting up the business, including Prue Leith who helped with brand and recipe development.
She also has two business partners on board, Alice, who ensures the recipes are nutritionally balanced for babies and toddlers, and Kane, who keeps the brand looking fresh and engaging.
When she’s not working, Cat says cooking and spending time with her friends and family is her number one passion and she’ll usually be found cooking for big groups packed around her dining table with Mediterranean classics like fresh salads and pasta dishes her forte.
Juliet was a big inspiration for the business, both in planning what kind of company it would be an in the recipe development and this has helped Cat with a life work balance.
“Running Piccolo is a 24/7 passion, but I do involve Juliet in the business,” and Juliet is the logo mascot (the little Piccolo logo).
“I won’t say I stay away from the business I involve her in it!” she says.
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