By Dustin Luca The Salem News, Beverly, Mass.
Rochelle Rosen was a journalist who faced the ultimate challenge every night at home: picky eaters.
An accidental discovery ultimately solved more than just her immediate problem. It gave her a chance to start a business, with a solution to the problem that hadn't been tried before.
Rosen, a 39-year-old mother of two, is the mind behind TippiTopper -- an all-natural seasoning meant to disguise the taste of nutritional foods so they'll appeal to children who otherwise refuse to eat them.
"I was always a foodie," Rosen said. "When I had my first child six years ago, I never imagined she'd go through a picky-eating stage, or that it'd be a problem to get her to eat the food I made."
Six-year-old Madelyn, however, had different ideas. So did her little sister, Sawyer, born three years later.
"This one, she just turned 3," Rosen said, picking Sawyer up and putting her in her lap. "She's incredibly stubborn, way more stubborn than her sister ever was. And with her, so much of it is about control."
The idea for the product came after Madelyn rejected a sandwich and demanded her favorite snack instead.
"She wouldn't eat the lunch, and I broke down and was just going to let her eat dehydrated fruit," Rosen said. "I reached for the pouch and realized it was empty, and all that was left was dust."
Rosen took the dust and sprinkled it on the sandwich. Her daughter tried it, and within moments the sandwich was gone.
"I realized it was even more successful when I allowed her to have control, to put the flavor in her hands," Rosen said. "Then she was apt to try anything."
Today, Rosen and her husband, freelance photographer Bryce Vickmark, have tested and created three flavors of seasoning under the TippiTopper name.
Rosen, Vickmark and Madelyn are enthusiasts of the Banana Bread TippiTopper, made of pulverized, freeze-dried bananas and cinnamon.
"We really do put it on everything," Rosen said, "from plain yogurt to hot cereals."
Sawyer, on the other hand, is in a peanut butter and jelly phase, using a flavor made of freeze-dried strawberries and peanut butter powder.
Their third flavor, Fruit Smoothie, contains four ingredients -- strawberries, bananas, blueberries and oranges.
The idea isn't as foreign as it sounds, Rosen says.
"The response you get from people is, 'fruit smoothie-flavored fish?'" Rosen said. "But if you think about it, how many marinades and salsas that we cook with as adults are adding fruit flavoring? We put it on everything."
Turning TippiTopper into a brand hasn't been easy. It took a year's worth of work to launch it, and it now includes a trademark, online store and wholesale deals.
"There was probably about a two-year period between when we were using it in our home consistently and when I actually started the process, which turned out to be a very long process with all the bases you have to cover when you decide to start a business," Rosen said. "Now I'm learning the ropes when it comes to dealing with buyers."
One of her buyers is Appleton Farms Dairy Store in Ipswich.
"It's a great product," manager and buyer Sandy Bemis said. "It's a natural product. There's no fillers, no additives -- which is right up our health-conscious customers' alley.
"Raising two children myself, I totally understood where she was coming from in terms of adding something pleasing-flavored," Bemis said. "When she told me what it was, I immediately said it would be a perfect match for our customers."
Rosen is looking to expand. While admitting that an investor would be nice, she said the ultimate goal is to have 10 flavors, with Apple Cinnamon a possible candidate for flavor No. 4.
Getting there won't be easy, though. Coming up with a new flavor makes Rosen a chemist of sorts, she said, and it comes at a price.
"Once I'm in the kitchen and have to monkey around with these things, I have to adjust them and make them work," she said. "When you have to take your attention off of one area and put it in another, well, there's nothing happening in this other area.
And with a one-woman operation, she's got to not only come up with the flavors, but deliver her products, update and maintain the website (tippitopper.com), and do plenty of other work.
But that's also the fun of flying solo with a business cooked up at the dinner table.
"It has been interesting, going the way of the entrepreneur," Rosen said. "It forces you get comfortable really quickly -- anything you don't like doing, you just have to figure out how to do it and get as comfortable with it as you can until you're big enough to not have to do that."