By Pat Gee The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet the two mompreneurs from Hawaii who are creating fresh delights that babies AND parents are gobbling up!
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Only in Hawaii will you find a baby food company that uses fresh local ingredients like taro, ulu, lilikoi and mango--and delivers to your door.
Healthy Baby Hawaii was started in late 2017 by two moms, Aly Akina and Nicole Dodson, who made pureed foods for their own kids but found it painfully time-consuming. Each has two children (ranging from 2 to 6 years old ), and they like to call themselves "the Healthy Baby Mamas."
"When you only have one kid, it's fun in the beginning, but when you have multiple, there's not enough time, " Akina said, especially on top of cooking for the adults in the family.
Dodson added, "Once they started eating more, we had to make more, which took more time. So we'd buy the shelf stuff, but never felt good about it."
Close friends for more than 10 years, Akina and Dodson thought their infants deserved better than the over-processed, bland, preservative-and sugar-laden stuff on the shelves--that was often older than their keiki.
They noted that fresh dog food is sold in stores, but you can never find fresh, refrigerated baby food. "It's crazy !" Dodson said. They also felt they owed it to mothers like themselves to relieve them of so much kitchen duty.
They're confident their company is Hawaii's first organic baby food manufacturer, based on their marketing research, but more so because it took almost a year to obtain permits from the state Department of Health. The agency had never issued such permits before, they said, so it exercised extra caution, as babies are a high-risk population.
WORKING FROM a commercial kitchen in Kailua, Akina and Dodson make mealtime and snack foods with no meat products, use local sources whenever possible, and offer gluten-free and vegan options. Ingredients like poi and ulu (breadfruit ) that you won't find in standard commercial brands are incorporated, Dodson said.
"We keep the recipes very basic. We don't put salt or pepper, or add unrefined sugar, " she said. Spices like turmeric, curry, rosemary and cardamom are used sparingly to add interest.
Akina said baby food is usually just a watery, overcooked puree, but their products vary in texture, from blended and chunky purees to finger foods, toddler meals and more, to suit different skill levels of eating. Texture is added to some foods with quinoa, oats and brown or wild rice to help keiki move up from purees to solids.
Flavor combinations vary weekly and depend on what is seasonal or fresh and available, as well as what's been popular. "The peach cobbler was a huge hit. We've even had parents order it for themselves, " Akina said. For more mature eaters, the cobbler is made in a chunky puree in extra large sizes.
In fact, adults are among their customers : a grandmother with no teeth, chemotherapy patients and a man whose jaw was wired shut, Dodson said.
The blandness of vegetables is balanced with the sweetness of fruit so kids would never know there are good-for-you veggies in their food, and it's not as boring to their palates, Dodson said. A top seller is tiny pancakes that can be eaten by hand, in such blends as banana-spinach, taro-apple and sweet potato-banana.
The pancakes are included in Baby Led Weaning Bundles, soft snacks designed for babies with little to no teeth, to encourage them to feed themselves. A typical four-pack for $22 includes yummy-sounding kalo-banana pancakes, apple-berry oat bites, curry-carrot egg cups, and tomato-carrot mac-and-cheese bites.
Bundles (their word for combo packages ) come in jars or squeeze pouches good for on-the-go eating, and are delivered on Sundays to homes and three pick-up locations around Oahu. Shipping to neighbor islands began last month. People who tend to forget to place a weekly order can sign up for automatic delivery by monthly subscriptions.
AKINA AND DODSON met while working in a restaurant, one as a waitress, the other as a bartender--not as cooks. It took a lot of trial and error to learn to make food commercially and how to best package it. They needed jars that would keep food fresher longer, and that are freezable. This meant absorbing high shipping costs, but they say most customers recycle the jars, returning them for sterilizing and reuse.
The two did all the cooking, packaging and delivering themselves until recently, when they hired another mom to work part time.
The company has 40 regular customers on Oahu and their kids' flavor preferences and allergies are so well-known to the owners that they can customize the orders--"We've watched their babies grow, " said Akina.
Dodson is optimistic that their business could quadruple with more exposure. "Once they get a taste of our doing the work for them, then they realize : 'OK, I'm getting it from here, I don't have to worry about what's in it, and it's one less thing I have to do.'"
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