The best part has been the support and encouragement we've received from friends, family, and parents like you. So, while we get ready to celebrate this exciting milestone, we want to tell you a bit about why we built this company, the process we went through to create our puffs, and how we decided on the flavors.
How it started
When my son was seven months old, I couldn't find a packaged snack I felt good about serving him. Every option on the grocery store shelves (even at Whole Foods) contained ingredients I didn't want to feed my baby, or had flavors I wanted to limit his exposure to. This is why our top goal at Littlemore is to use the fewest and most nutrient-dense ingredients possible, and to use flavors that promote adventurous eating.
Every ingredient in our snacks has to count. What does this mean exactly? Well, it means that everything we include is wholesome, nutrient-rich, and suitable for babies and toddlers. If an ingredient doesn’t meet these criteria, it doesn't make it in the bag! Sounds simple right? Well, it turns out it's not as easy as it should be. When it comes to manufacturing snack foods, there's a lot of tricky variables.
For starters, many snacks are fortified with vitamins and minerals because the manufacturing process strips the nutrients from the foods, so these must be added later. This makes the nutritional panel on the package look good; however, our bodies do not absorb and use supplemental vitamins and minerals as well as naturally occurring ones.
When it comes to our body's ability to use the vitamins and minerals in our food, unprocessed (or as minimally processed as possible) is always best. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as underlying medical conditions, extreme food aversions, or the need for vitamin D supplements in the wintertime. Nonetheless, when it came to our snacks, I decided to only use wholesome ingredients that contained all of their naturally occurring nutrients.
Choosing the ingredients
The next step was deciding on a nutritionally dense base for our puffs. After much research, I was thrilled to discover sorghum. Sorghum is an ancient grain, a trendy term that really just means that it hasn't changed in thousands of years. Sorghum is nutritionally dense and contains 40% more protein and 300% more fiber than white rice. It's also full of antioxidants and nutrients like iron, vitamin B, and magnesium and is naturally gluten-free.
Next, I sought out an innovative source of plant-based protein. Again after lots of research, I chose sunflower seed protein made from cold-pressed organic sunflower seeds. Sunflower protein is allergy-friendly, contains eight essential amino acids, B-vitamins, antioxidants, plenty of fiber and is very high in protein. It also gives our puffs their melty yet crunchy consistency.
The next step was to determine the puff's shape and see if the sorghum and sunflower protein actually worked for the manufacturing process. We needed a manufacturer who could execute without stripping our snacks of their natural nutrition.
I wanted a process that used pressure, heat, and water to transform the whole grain sorghum flour into a snack puff. There are no facilities on the east coast with the equipment needed to bring my idea to life, and it's obviously not something I could do in my kitchen.
So, after much searching, I found a manufacturing company in the Midwest that could help us with this critical stage in our research and development. So, suddenly, this Bostonian found herself at a facility in the middle of a cornfield, testing puffs. When I arrived, I had absolutely no idea if a nutritionally beneficial, crunchy, yet melty snack puff was even possible. Talk about nerve-racking…
I spent a day with our new partner testing our ideas. We made many different batches of puffs with varying textures, densities, sizes, and shapes. We also tried different types of sorghum. I really wanted to use whole grain sorghum (again, to have more naturally occurring nutrients!), but at this point, I still didn't know if that was possible.
We also tested puffs with and without the sunflower seed protein. I was advised to skip the protein because it added costs and didn't make a big difference to the texture. The trials confirmed that the difference between the puffs containing sunflower seed protein and those without was subtle. However, leaving it out would diminish the nutritional value of the puffs and the consistency was good but not perfect, so in it went!
I ate A LOT of puffs that day, and to my relief and amazement, my plan worked. At the end of the day, I had a melty yet crunchy puff made from whole-grain sorghum and sunflower seed protein. And, best of all, it was created without frying, adding extra oil, or the kind of heavy processing that depletes nutrients.
The next step was picking the first two flavors. Many intelligent people encouraged me to choose familiar children's snack flavors like blueberry and spinach or sweet potato and broccoli. However, I didn't want to hide our veggie flavors behind fruity sweetness. I was determined to only use savory flavors because I didn’t want kids to think food must be sweet to be enjoyable.
It's indeed more difficult for children to learn to like savory and bitter flavors. Our palates and brains are evolutionarily conditioned to crave sweetness. This is why introducing savory flavors to children early and often is an essential part of creating healthy and adventurous eaters.
I was also advised to add salt to enhance the flavor. However, salt is a big no-no at Littlemore. Salt is ubiquitous in processed foods and is already present in lesser amounts in almost every natural food. So, babies, toddlers, and young children quickly get enough salt in their diet, and we want to avoid conditioning their palates to crave salty foods. If you've ever tried to cut down on salt, you know how hard it can be, but once you do become accustomed to less salt in your food you realize what an unnecessary ingredient it is.
I knew from the start that I wanted to have a sunflower butter flavor because it's allergy-friendly and has a lovely nut butter flavor kids love. After testing many, many vegetable powders, we chose tomato as our second flavor.
Botanically tomatoes are classed as a fruit because they have seeds and grow from a flower. Still, from a culinary standpoint, tomatoes are definitely a vegetable. Our tomato puffs have a tangy, very tomato-ey taste which is exactly what we wanted. In fact, we were happy when one of our young testers said they didn't like our tomato puffs because they didn't like tomatoes. This feedback confirmed that the puffs taste like the real thing!
Finally, it was so important to us that our snacks be allergy-friendly. I wanted them to be easy for parents! This means they needed to be welcome at schools, playgrounds, birthday parties, and on everyday adventures, whether a walk in the woods or a trip to Target. So I needed a manufacturing process aligned with this goal.
The end result
Finally, I had two flavors of puffs that little ones loved and that parents would feel happy serving them. That day in the cornfield, I learned my dream was possible, so it's still one of the highest points in this journey so far.
Next up was the packaging, distribution, building a website, bringing on a co-founder … and now we are ready to release our third flavor. Hint, it won't be sweet. And, we've learned so much, especially that just like starting a family, there is minimal downtime when it comes to starting a company. However, just like parenting, the rewards are many.
From my family to yours,
Mama, Harvard Associated Pediatrician & CEO + Co-Founder of Littlemore