SUNDAY 27TH JULY 2014
When Little Angels stopped online orders for their pure baby food earlier this year, they were amazed at the reaction from mothers determined to get their food for their babies.
Owner and Registered nurse Heather Baker decided after they had the five Auckland retailers, and one Wellington retailer, she could stop the online orders and focus on getting the products into more and more supermarkets. Big mistake!
The response that followed surprised everyone “The last day of online orders went crazy. People were stocking their freezers and ordering 15-30 bags at a time. It completely cleaned out our freezers and I had to order in more tape, ice packs and home delivery boxes.” Emails, phone calls and Facebook messages bombarded Heathers office "Mothers were calling me telling me how much Little Angels meant to them, and that being able to feed their babies Little Angels made them feel not guilty about not making everything themselves. Numerous messages came in telling her their babies loved Little Angels baby food so much and they could no longer go back to the jars and pouches as the babies wouldn't open their mouths for it. "Those emails always made me laugh and I would joke that they were very loyal little customers" One grandma decided to take matters into her own hands and tried to recreate one of the meals herself using the ingredients on the packet as a guide, but the baby wouldn't eat it and she rung to try and get Heather to divulge her 'secrets'. "I felt so sorry for her that if there was actually a secret I would have told her"
Heather bowed to customer demand and online orders are now available to all of New Zealand and the business continues to grow beyond Heather’s expectations.
“I only planned to set up a website to make it easier for her friends and family to order the baby food I made for them as gifts. "I thought it would be easier than writing all their phone call requests on post it notes stuck on the kitchen walls".
A few of my friends told their friends about the website and they must have told their friends, because before I knew it I was getting orders from people all over Auckland that I didn't even know. Heather scrambled to find a commercial kitchen that she could make it all from, and called upon friends Michael and Annette Dearth, owners of fine dining restaurant The Grove to see if she could use their kitchen on a Sunday to do all her cooking. That worked well for about three weeks, but even their pots weren't big enough to make enough food for a week of orders. "Within a month I had found a larger scale commercial kitchen which is set up for companies like mine to cook and sell food from. Heather then started to realise she might be onto something. She registered the company and called on her graphic designer friend to design the first lot of packaging.
Heather and her husband Jeff, solicitor at an Auckland law firm were working through the night peeling kumara, chopping pumpkin and carefully preparing all their organic vegetables ready for Heather to steam and mash the next day.
"Jeff would get home from work, take his suit off and I’d hand him a knife to start chopping pumpkin. Our dining table has the scars to remind us of the thrashing it took over those early months! Two months and many stick mixers later, they soon grew out of that commercial kitchen too, and in mid 2013 they hired the product development kitchen of a large commercial factory. "These guys were the real deal" they had huge pots, heavy duty stick mixers, ovens and a blast freezer where she could snap freeze all her products into cubes and place into the packets. Heather would call upon friends and family to help her with the steaming, braising, sautéing, mashing, pureeing and freezing. "It was a big ask of them though, it was very physical work" She was paying a 'small fortune' for the factory, the fresh organic produce, free range NZ meats and fresh snapper that she often had nothing left to pay her friends. "You certainly find out who your mates are when you can't afford to pay them" she laughs.
"I've had so many people along the way trying to get me to change my ingredients, telling me to add thickeners such as corn starch, stop using expensive ingredients like quinoa, and I still meet people who suggest I change my packaging to make the whole process quicker, easier and essentially cheaper" but it is her ingredients, the hand crafted process, the hours put into developing all 12 recipes and the ease of the packaging for the consumer that has been the backbone of Little Angels success. "The bottom line is that parents want healthy, natural, organic and beautiful tasting meals for their baby that is convenient to use, so that’s exactly what we give them".
"My customers are quite determined - it must be a mother thing, they don't take no for an answer" Heather laughs when recalling the moment the young male frozen manager from one of the supermarkets rung her sounding very stressed saying he needed an urgent order of the Braised pork and apple as they had a mother in store demanding they get more stock in as it was their babies favourite dinner and they had run out. Luckily I was in the truck dropping off cartons nearby at the time so I managed to swing by and deliver them a carton straight away so the mother could return later in the day and get the pork dishes in time for her sons dinner. It was after that moment that I decided to reinstate online orders. Naturally stores are going to run out of stock once in a while despite their best efforts, and I couldn't have my precious babies missing out on the meals they had grown to love so much! "Heather hired some help, got her dad on board delivering (who had tried to stay away since the peeling kumara days where he received some nasty blisters) and reinstated the online orders. "It's been just two weeks now that they have been back up and running and it went off with a bang. "I got a bit inundated, got myself in a fluster and made a few mistakes with putting the wrong items into the wrong persons boxes!! But all is running smoothly now and we are enjoying them emails coming in now being happy ones again.
Little angels baby food is available at Farro fresh, new works Victoria park, Remuera or Thorndon, and of course online at www.littleangels.co.nz