Entrepreneurs cook up baby food for the health conscious.
Inside a rented commercial kitchen at Greenway Crossing Montessori School, best friends Heidi Speight, 33, and Jacy Eckerman, 35, transfer frozen cubes of “Appykale” into plastic pouches. A mixture of kale, applesauce, and cinnamon, Appykale is just one of several baby food products offered by YumTum, a start up that launched Oct. 1, 2011.
YumTum offers organic, vegan, and gluten-free food suitable for babies four months and older. Menu items include vegetables and fruits, three main dish products called “Tummy Grubs,” and toddler snacks, two of which are vegan. The co-owners created each recipe, incorporating local ingredients whenever possible. A farm in Cambridge, for example, provides the kale used in several YumTum concoctions.
Speight and Eckerman – moms of 2½-year olds – were seeking healthier food options for their own children when they decided to combine their talents and create their own company. They sought advice from WWBIC – Speight’s former employer – and the SBDC before conducting their own survey of “mom groups.”
Each Sunday, the women whip up as many as 160 pounds of baby food that they will deliver to stores the next morning. Monday afternoons are reserved for packaging. “We used to make food every two or three weeks when we first started,” Speight said. “Now, we do this every weekend.”
YumTum’s frozen food cubes can be thawed and served or mixed with other ingredients and typically retail for between $3.99 and $4.99 a bag, depending on a store’s markup. Its busiest retailers sell about two cases of each product type every month. Hy-Vee was the first to offer YumTum, but distribution has since ballooned to include Woodman’s, Metcalfe’s, Willy Street Co-op, Miller & Sons, Bill’s, and Sentry in Lake Mills.
A combination of personal money, local investors, and cash generated from an online Kickstarter [kickstarter.com] campaign fueled the start up. “We raised over $6,000 from strangers who thought our idea was cool,” Speight said about Kickstarter.
There were a few lumps in the batter: Just three months after launching the company, the women rewrote the business plan, overhauled the website, rebranded the product, and changed the packaging, which they deemed too bulky and expensive. “We had the opportunity to fix things,” said Speight, “and it was the best thing that could have happened. But sometimes it’s hard to see the problems in advance.”
The Web is next. “We’re about to take on an online shopping cart so we can ship our food nationally,” Eckerman said. Eventually, they hope the revenue generated from online sales will translate into income. “We’re able to pay our bills, but not ourselves yet,” said Speight. “We hope that will happen by the end of year two.”
Within three years, the women hope to find a distributor to market YumTum products throughout the Midwest and beyond, and they foresee hiring extra help.
No exit strategy has been planned.
“This is our baby,” Eckerman smiled. Speight agreed: “It wouldn’t be easy to sell, but perhaps some day we can step out of the kitchen and let others run it.”
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