Interview with Cat Gazzoli, co-founder of Piccolo

Cat Gazzoli is the co-founder of Piccolo, organic, Mediterranean-inspired baby food pouches. Find out how her business was inspired by a combination of her career in food, her ethics, her experiences as a mother, and her own Italian family.

What’s your career background?

I’ve spent my whole career campaigning for good, honest and natural food because I firmly believe good nutrition is at the key to good living.

I spent years with the United Nations in the food agencies in Rome, where I worked with some amazing food sustainability experts and scientists who are doing everything they can to help protect the livelihoods of small farmers across the globe. I then worked as head of the Slow Food organisation in the UK working alongside the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) on baby food education.

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After having my daughter, Juliet, four years ago I realised there was a real gap in the market for a delicious and healthy organic baby food company that also had its roots in ethical business and food education

I launched Piccolo in 2016, and we have gone from strength to strength in the past year – we are the UKs fastest growing baby food brand and we are winning lots of awards for both the things we make and the way we do business.

How did your career change after having children?

When I knew I wanted to start a family, it became clear to me that the crazy amount of international travelling I was doing wouldn’t really be possible. It was also about this time that I began really wanting to start doing my own thing and scratch my entrepreneurial itch!

I started the business plan and recipe development when Juliet was literally still a bump so she has been tasting Piccolo from the get go in womb too.

I am really passionate about food so making food for the most important little customer ever is a great thing indeed. It’s a big responsibility and I take this privilege very seriously!

Where did the idea for Piccolo come from?

When I was pregnant, I started thinking more about the baby food market place and what was missing. I knew I wanted to create a company that had a strong foundation nutritionally and with fantastic flavours, but it was important to me that it also had a strong social purpose around giving back to those who need it most.

Most of those early days were with friends of mine, sitting around my kitchen table eating and talking about the type of food and ethos they wanted to see in the market.

I was passionate about using delicious, carefully sourced ingredients that broadened a baby’s taste palate with a wide range of herbs, spices and ingredient combinations that I grew up on as a child.

I grew up with a big Italian family where food was at the core, and strongly believe that the traditional Mediterranean approach to food and life is not only great for us, but also brilliant for our babies.

How did you move from idea to actual product?

Once I knew what my core idea was, I began trawling old family recipe books for inspiration and speaking to local family farms near to where my family lives in Italy to discuss ingredients, seasonality and availability.

I then began the big adventure to find all the people to help bring the ingredients, packaging and nutrition all together to make up Piccolo. I co-founded the business with Alice, an infant nutritional specialist, and Kane, my creative director guru, and together we make a strong team.

Piccolo can now be found all over the country in big supermarkets like Morrisons, Asda and Waitrose, health food retailers such as Planet Organic and Whole Foods and smaller independent stores too.

We are the is the first baby food brand to work in partnership with the NCT. We also are committed to giving 10% of our profits to food education to help implement good nutritional practice from an early age.

What’s your USP?

Piccolo draws inspiration from the Mediterranean approach to health and well-being with a range of organic vegetable, fruit, and savoury meal purées, made with 100% natural ingredients and inspired by my family recipes.

We put a hint of herbs and spices in our blends to help develop a baby’s palate and introduce them to new flavours.

We are passionate about giving all children the best start in life and so are also committed to giving 10% of our profits to food education charities, and we believe parents want to help other little ones where they can too

Who’s your target audience?

I am our target audience! At Piccolo we want to reach busy parents who are trying to feed their little ones the most nutritious and balanced food they can, but don’t always have the time to make their own meals from scratch.

How do you spread the word about Piccolo?

Because we’re a start-up, we don’t have big budgets for large scale marketing campaigns, so we are having to be much more creative and innovative about how we spread the word.

One of the things we’re most proud of is our exclusive partnerships with organisations like NCT, Water Babies, Hartbeeps and Buggyfit. We feel a real synergy between what we do and what they do, and want to support each other in making life easier for mums.

We also have invested in PR so that we can get journalists excited about us as a brand and the products we make.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

I am still learning the ways and language of the grocery trade, and have made quite a few silly mistakes along the way – I’m always getting their acronyms mixed up and sometimes get lost in supplier conferences when they go into heavy grocery jargon.

I even started crying at the Waitrose supplier conference because I was so touched by the social responsibility agenda being discussed. I was sitting next to two very large multinational food brand managers who looked at me and burst out laughing. I am somewhat from a different planet to these guys!

And your proudest moment so far?

Having NHS midwives write to us thanking us for what we are doing, and bringing ethics to baby food with our unique stance on promoting the World Health Organisation code and promoting from six months on pack when our product can be consumed and is safe from four months.

This is a business achievement as much as a listing with a retailer is. Having health professionals support us is amazing.

Why is work so important to you?

Piccolo is a purpose-driven brand deriving from a firmly held belief around giving back to the community and a social mission. We have committed at a company mandate level to give funds food education charitable work.

It would be a terribly empty feeling for me as founder if the company was only about profit making. Piccolo will always be strong on its key values of giving back and supporting new parents.

Who inspires you?

I was really inspired by Craig Sams, Founder of Green & Blacks. He showed me that business success and social purpose could go hand in hand. When I launched Piccolo, I made sure giving back was at the heart of everything we do.

As well as that, I have found huge inspiration and support from other female entrepreneurs and businesswomen. It is really important to me that we all back and encourage each other, and so I have made sure my circle of investors includes 4 incredible women, who have been absolutely instrumental in supporting me and sharing their wisdom, including Prue Leith, the food doyenne.

One of the best things of building something from scratch is the generosity and help people are willing to give who had done it before. Having someone who cares about you, knows your strengths and weakness and can help you along on a new career pathway is paramount when building a new venture.

How do you balance your business with your family?

I cannot say I have set hours and work and family really are quite weaved together. Piccolo is quite special as it has a core social DNA, so the better we do, the more we can give to support with food education for parents and little ones.

My daughter Juliet is very proud of Piccolo and takes it to her friends in the nursery and tells everyone mummy makes it.

It was only fairly recently that we were able to invest in an office, so for the first months our work day started with the Operations manager sharing breakfast with Juliet in the kitchen in the morning.

She has grown up with the Piccolo team – she has even named her stuffed animals after members of the founding team. So work and family is very much a hand-woven tapestry at home and in the office. There isn’t an end or beginning to the day!

As founder you are being pulled in so many different directions, working out what is actually the most important thing for the business, as well as my family and the team, often keeps me up at night. I try to be zen but that’s hard with a start-up and a toddler, though it keeps life exciting.

I am juggling a lot of things during the week on my own as Juliet’s dad travels all week, though the team help if I cannot do a nursery run in an emergency!

What are your three top pieces for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

  1. Just start!
  2. You don’t need oodles of experience in the industry you want to go into. I have a career in food and food education which is helpful, but it is not necessary as a platform to become an entrepreneur to have a history in the industry you are entering.
  3. It’s great to read the relevant trade magazines which will help you get the buzz and be inspired to join in on all the fun.

You can learn more about Piccolo on their website