Angela Vranich: Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer of Little Spoon

Episode 542

On this episode of The Kara Goldin Show, Angela Vranich, the Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Little Spoon, shares the story behind the company and how they are reshaping the baby and kids food industry. Little Spoon offers fresh, nutritious, and convenient options for parents, challenging the status quo of shelf-stable alternatives. What started with a line of baby food has since expanded to offer over 100 products for babies and kids. We hear about their direct-to-consumer model and how it has been successful for Little Spoon, allowing them to gather feedback from their loyal customer base and make informed decisions about product development. Angela shares about some of the collaborations they have done. Whether you're a parent seeking better food options for your children, a food enthusiast, or an aspiring entrepreneur, this episode offers invaluable insights and inspiration. Tune in now to hear Angela's incredible story and learn how Little Spoon is reshaping the future of baby and kids' food. Now on The Kara Goldin Show.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. And welcome back to the Kara Goldin Show. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce you to my next guest, we have Angela Vranich, who is the co founder and chief product officer of Little Spoon. And if you haven’t heard of Little Spoon, you’re gonna be so excited and so inspired by the story in the background behind it. It’s a company that’s reshaping the landscape of baby and kids foods. And it’s revolutionizing the industry by offering fresh, nutritious and convenient options for parents everywhere. challenging the status quo of these shelf stable alternatives that are trying to trick you. I totally remember those days for sure. So with a steadfast commitment to using high quality, natural ingredients, and a direct to consumer model, Angela is ensuring freshness and setting standards for the industry around great products that she is very proud of. I am very proud of her as well. So without further ado, let’s dive into our discussion with Angela, welcome to the show.

Angela Vranich 1:47
Thank you, Kara excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 1:50
Very, very excited to have you on and you and I were talking that we met years ago in San Francisco at a golden Goldman Sachs breakfast and I definitely recognize your face. I didn’t connect the two until you said that. But I definitely remember it. So what what were you doing before Little Spoon.

Angela Vranich 2:09
So Little Spoon is my my first real business, I guess you could say I did. I started a business when I was in college and moved to San Francisco where I met you right after college. But in college, I started a marketing company for natural organic food and beverage brands, I was always super interested in the food space in and around the food space going to trade shows meeting other founders and just kind of like following trends and seeing what was out there. So started a marketing company where I had a network of independent contractors working for me doing like store demos, and road shows and Costco and Merchandising, and all of that kind of stuff. So that was kind of like my first foray into the food space, met a lot of friends, a lot of founders, and kind of just like in and around the space, you know, helping various people ad hoc, you know, watch their brands and learning different aspects of the business. And they do idea for a Little Spoon really came about, you know, going to these trade shows and kind of tracking trends and seeing, you know, eight or nine years ago, this trend toward fresh, there was fresh pet food, fresh, cold pressed juice, when people were buying 10 and $12 bottles of juice. And every time you’d go to a trade show, there’d be a new 10 new juice brands and dips and dressings. And baby food was kind of this one glaring category that hadn’t yet been disrupted. So really saw that as an opportunity to start working on a fresh alternative. And that’s really how Little Spoon was born. It’s so

Kara Goldin 3:35
interesting, because I totally agree with you. It seems like there were like, baby food pouches and that whole trend started and obviously is alive and well today, but nobody was really doing real food that you can and not that those aren’t real food but they’re mushed up real food and put into squirting bottles and you know, you guys do that as well. But the core of your product really is kind of the, the the trays right and sort of what you’re doing to to bring food into the home. Yep,

Angela Vranich 4:10
exactly. So we did you know, all the products that shelf really like you know, Gerber has dominated the BB food industry for 100 years. And like you said the pouches really became popular about 10 or 12 years ago, but it’s really like the same product in a jar but just in a different packaging format. So highly heat process, killing a lot of valuable vitamins and nutrients in the process of pasteurizing that food and making it commercially sterile so it gets sit on a grocery store shelf. What we wanted to do a Little Spoon was really create a fresh alternative. So creating a product that sat in the refrigerator, not on the shelf. You know, that was as though parents were making it home themselves and using super high quality ingredients, interesting ingredients that maybe you couldn’t find at your local grocery store or weren’t quite sure or comparable and how to incorporate them into your child’s diet. So really like creating a whole system of baby food system of products, if you will. So that’s really you know, what we set out to do. But I think, you know, we started with the baby food, but we really saw an opportunity to grow with our customers as well. So we launched in 2017, with the baby food, but ever since then, we’ve been growing with our customers and launching more and more products. So we have over 100 products today that really cater from b2b all the way up to big kids. So we’re really not just a baby food company anymore, even though that’s you know, how we started.

Kara Goldin 5:34
So where did the name Little Spoon comes from?

Angela Vranich 5:38
A really, it’s not that interesting of a story. It just came. It came out of like a brainstorm just kind of like sitting around, writing some words down and putting them together. And I remember I came up with the name, and I really loved it. And my husband, who is my co founder, as well, I texted him, I actually found this text message the other day, it was like a text message from 2015 of me texting him the name. What about Little Spoon, and he was like, I don’t love it. And I was just like, what I really like it. And then eventually we did end up landing on the name Little Spoon, but it wasn’t it wasn’t. It wasn’t immediate. They didn’t get immediate buy in from everyone. That’s

Kara Goldin 6:19
that’s so funny. That’s like the story when I was coming out with hand and I asked my husband, he wasn’t part of this whole plan at that point. And I asked my husband, I had originally called him Wawa. And he’s from my husband’s from the East Coast. And he said, you don’t want to call it Wawa. There’s this giant supermarket or convenience store and the East Coast. And if you got if you get really big, they’re gonna turn around and sue you. And so I said, okay, and he was like, just think of another name. I don’t think he expected me to think of it right then. But so I did. And I said, Well, what about hint, and he said, four letter word, you’ll never get a trademark. He he was, you know, so negative about it. And I was like, you’re an attorney, just use an IP attorney, turns Chief Operating Officer, but he said, I said, Why don’t you just file it? And we’ll see what happens. And we have worldwide trademarks on the name hint. And so I always say like, you know, just because nobody sees what you see doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or bad at all. So it’s like our running joke. So yeah, there you go. There you go. So, so how many products did you actually start with? I think it’s unbelievable and fascinating that, you know, you saw this niche in the market, but you hadn’t never started your own company. Really? I mean, you were doing you were servicing other entrepreneurs. And so where did you find the courage to do this? And how many products did you actually launch with?

Angela Vranich 7:56
Yeah, so I mean, when, at the time when I was launching this business, my husband who is now my co founder, had had a business of his own. That was also in the food space, that was a distribution company. So they were distributing all types of fresh products into foods and smaller grocery stores like Erawan, and big grocery stores, like Safeway. And so when I started thinking about the product and Little Spoon, I thought, Oh, this will be like a fun project. Like I’ll, I’ll come up with this fresh baby food brand and like Ben’s company can distribute, distribute into retail, and like that was that was the original plan. And obviously, that changed because we ended up launching a direct to consumer, we we launched originally with only 10 skews, which we found out very quickly, we needed a lot more many many more skews because on a baby’s feeding journey. They’re you know, starting with single ingredient purees but very quickly moving on to you know, two and three ingredient purees and then moving on to more complex purees things with texture. So, you know, we launched with 10 and we you know, it was it was resonating with people they liked it, but there just wasn’t enough to keep them around. So we really started growing the line we buffed it out kind of at the stages. So stage one, stage two, stage three, we have six stages today that really range from you know, single ingredient purees to more complex to to things with texture. So when a child comes to us, they can start with us and we can take them all the way through that baby feeding journey until they’re ready. They’re ready to move on to more solid, you know, finger food and table foods, which we now also offer today.

Kara Goldin 9:37
So how did you figure out your go to market strategy? So

Angela Vranich 9:42
it came about and like quite a roundabout way like I said, we we originally thought that we would launch this product in retail. We actually got approved in a couple of regions of Whole Foods, which we were super excited about. We were at Expo East Expo West or we’re We were doing that whole dog and pony show, which I’m sure you’re very, very familiar with. Which I still, I still love going to those shows and watching those shows, but um, we, you know, we got approved in a couple of regions of Whole Foods and fresh baby food was something that no one was doing at the time refrigerated baby food, there was no destination for it in the stores. So you’d get, you’d maybe get stuck in the produce section or you’d get stuck with the juices or you’d get stuck with yogurt. No one really like if there were going into the store, no one really knew where to find it. Because people were typically used to walking in aisles and buying shelf stable baby food products. And there was no you know, inline refrigeration for baby food at that time in those stores. So anyway, I mean, we got, we got a new couple regions of whole foods were really just got stuck in this stuck in this like, line of approval with their global people, because they were like, We haven’t sold fresh baby food, we got to look into this. There was a lot of employee turnover. And we were just kind of left like with our hands up and they’re like, Okay, we were approved. But like, when can we start selling in your stores and it just like, so much time was passing, we had done production runs, we were sitting on finished product, and we were like, This is ridiculous. And then the more we started to think about it was like baby food is very much a premeditated purchase. Parents especially first time parents are going online, they are aggressively researching what brand of food they want to feed their child what ingredients they want to feed them, you know what, what characteristics and value they’re looking for, and the food they’re feeding their child. And if they’re going to be doing their research online of this modern parent, like we want to be the first thing that they see whenever they’re on Google looking for fresh baby food and we want to be able to make it easy for them to buy our product and baby food is of course a repeat purchase. So a subscription DTC model just kind of made sense. So neither my husband or I, we also have a third co founder, Michelle had, you know, experience in the direct to consumer world I mean, back then, it was like these grocery delivery services and meal delivery kits were kind of just becoming popular, it wasn’t really the norm wasn’t really to buy groceries or food online, it was still like very much in its infancy. And none of us had the experience like experience building a website or fulfilling perishable direct to consumer food, but we we managed to figure it out, got our first website off the ground and kind of just, you know, iterated from there and really felt you know, we sold over a million meals in our first year online. Amazing. Yeah, we were like, Okay, this is working and we’re gonna go the direct to consumer route. We’re not even gonna bother with retail at this point.

Kara Goldin 12:43
Interesting. So, so down the road, you could go when, as you get bigger.

Angela Vranich 12:50
Oh, yes. Always, for us. always

Kara Goldin 12:52
an option. That’s amazing. So when when you think about like trends, and there’s always trends no matter what year we’re in, but how do you stay, I guess stay ahead of trends, but also make decisions around what products you want to launch is there I am not going back to the hint days again, I remember, lots of consumers would say we want different but the reality is is like the best. The most popular fruit in the fruits and vegetable section are the ones that sell because people say they want different but they actually want something that they can imagine that it’s going to be good. So what would you say to that?

Angela Vranich 13:35
So I think the the beauty of our business model is that we have a direct line to our customers which makes it really easy to gather feedback like instantly so if we have a quick question or we want to send out a longer survey about you know potential product mine or you know line extension that we’re thinking of coming out with you know, we we have we have over 2 million email subscribers we have a very loyal community of parents who you know are loyal to Little Spoon they’ve fed you know, fed their first child and they’re feeding their second and third third children with us and they’re always ready and willing to give us feedback good and bad. And so it makes us it makes it very easy for us which is wonderful to you know gather that feedback and really make informed decisions around you know, what products or flavors we want to come out with next but I would say you know to your point of you know, people want different and everyone aspires to feed their child green vegetables and you know, all the healthy things but you know, we have a line of plates that are kind of ready to eat meals for toddlers so we have everything from like chicken potstickers to macaroni and cheese with hidden vegetables in the sauce and Chicken Nuggets with hidden vegetables and you know so we in the past we’ve had like chicken tikka masala we’ve had like interesting global flavors, but of course like the best sellers are just like the tried and true key Good familiar favorites, which are chicken nuggets, pancake puffs, macaroni and cheese, but at littles we what we try to do is at least make those kid favorites as nutritious as possible. So hiding vegetables and superfoods wherever we can and sauces and you know, components on the dish. And we do try to, you know, expose children to vegetables. So we always try to have a present veggie on the plate as one of the components. But yes, I mean, I would say also one of the challenges of, of having kids food company is that children are picky. So you gotta you gotta cater to all of the all of the kid. Kid tastes.

Kara Goldin 15:35
Yeah, definitely which one is your favorite if you had to choose.

Angela Vranich 15:40
So my favorite I’ve I have a lot of favorites. So we have six different product lines. Now, we have our line of baby food, we have a line of smoothies and a pouch. So those are fresh fruit and vegetable periods and a pouch, we have a line called vitals and those are cut to size transition to table foods for kids just weaning off of baby food into table food, we have our line of plates, which are fully formed meals. And then we most recently just launched like on line of shelf stable snacks. So healthy, better for you shelf stable snacks and build it yourself lunches for kids. So we have a lot of skews. I would say in the plates arena. My favorite is our turkey taco bowl. I just think it’s delicious. I love tacos. So, you know, that’s one of my favorites. And then on our smoothies line, we have a Strawberry Banana Shake smoothie, which is delicious. And probably I think like our team’s top favorite as well.

Kara Goldin 16:31
And yes, and you can be an adult, although that is to eat this consume your products. But obviously that is not necessarily the target market. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a consumer as well. So can you share some success stories? Or I should say memorable moments. You talked about consumers and having that direct connection. But have you received any emails or phone calls or run into somebody over the years that shared with you how your company your products really changed their situation and made it better? Yeah,

Angela Vranich 17:05
I mean, it’s interesting, I think. I mean, all the time, honestly, we have people writing in parents, grandparents sending super cute photos of their kids, you know, enjoying kids grandkids enjoying the food. Like I said, like people, it’s so now that we’ve been around since 2017, it’s been cool the past couple of years to see people come back and say like, oh, I started my baby on Little Spoon. And now I’m on my second or third child, and they’re also eating Little Spoon. And people will say I really attribute it to, you know, my kid being a great eater and not being picky. A few weeks ago, my husband was at a restaurant in New York City sitting down and the the manager of the restaurant walked up to him and was like, Excuse me, are you the co founder of Little Spoon? And are you the founder of little spinner. And he was just like, yeah, he’s like, I just want to say you have saved my marriage. And he was just because you’re the convenience that your foods offer. My kids love it. And my wife and I are fighting about over who’s cooking. And he was like gushing about Little Spoon for for a few minutes to the point where my husband was just like blushing and embarrassed. But it’s just so sweet. Because we do hear sentiments like that from people all the time. And it’s lovely.

Kara Goldin 18:25
I always say that it’s the life of an entrepreneur is there’s so much more in the background that you never hear that they’re working on. And I know how much work you’ve put into everything from the plates that you can heat the product in, or just, you know, overall the operations and product offerings, the packaging, look and feel of so what has been kind of the most challenging to kind of get right of anything, when you think about just all the different aspects. I mean, it’s you can’t, I don’t think in today’s world, you can have a product that doesn’t taste good, right? You have to do that and make sure that that’s that that’s, you know, correct. But then it is the packaging, even if you’re not in stores, you can’t just deliver something that looks you know, half assed in some way. And I know you haven’t done that. So kudos to you. But what has been sort of the hardest aspect of that. I

Angela Vranich 19:22
would say in the early days, the hardest was finding contract manufacturers who are willing to work with us because especially with a fresh baby food product. No one was making it, you know, high liability, you’re feeding a sensitive population. So really finding someone who was a true partner and willing to work with us on that proved to be a huge challenge. And, you know, in the early days to get that product off the ground because we were using high pressure processing, to process that we had to do all custom packaging and finding all of those partners when we have no volume and really not that much money because we bootstrapped it all in the beginning to really believe in us and believe in our vision was the biggest challenge. I think, today, the biggest challenge is managing a portfolio of upwards of 120 skews. We have a big team, now we’ve got 70 people on our team. So really, you know, we don’t do any of our manufacturing in house, it’s all it’s all we use all co Packer. So, you know, managing all that all the procurement, the contract, manufacturing, the fulfillment, you know, any little tweak that we want to make to a recipe, and you know, in the old days, it used to be like, alright, well, let’s just dial back the apple and like, it’s fine. Now, it’s just like a whole, it’s a whole process that we have to go through. So and they get, it can become a little challenging and a little frustrating, because we feel like it, it can slow us down a little bit. So I think, you know, managing, managing that, managing the existing portfolio while still trying to innovate and come out with with new things and market new things as you grow and still trying to be nimble. And move quickly is, I would say, our greatest challenge today. So

Kara Goldin 21:12
collaboration and partnerships can be super powerful tools for growth. Are there any partnerships that have been just amazing for you that have just like, you know, really helped you either get the word out about your product, or, you know, some people do collaborations with chefs? And so is there anything that has come up that you think has really been amazing?

Angela Vranich 21:40
Yeah, I mean, on the on the product side, we’ve done a couple of really fun collaborations. Last year, we collaborated with bonza, the chickpea pasta company. So we use their pasta in a limited edition plate where we did a hidden veggie white cheddar, macaroni and cheese and the bonds of pasta. We also recently did a collaboration with comparte days, a chocolate company based out of LA so we did a co branded chocolate bar with dark chocolate covered strawberry chocolate bar with them. And then we did a Little Spoon next compart days, dark chocolate covered strawberry smoothie for our customers, which is a limited was a limited edition for Valentine’s Day. We love collabs they are so fun. We have I wish I could I wish I could tell you but we have two more really fun ones coming out this year, amazing. We’ve grown and the Little Spoon name has gotten out there more it’s it’s fun to you know, talk to these other brands who are interested in working with us. And so we love collaborating with other brands, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a win win for both parties. Because, you know, works, we like I said, we have a email subscriber list of 2 million people. So it’s a very valuable way for the brands that we’re collaborating with to get their brand in front of a captive audience and a way for the Little Spoon brand to become exposed to other people who might not be on the market for kids food, but maybe one day they will and so you know, Little Spoon is then in the back of their mind and associated with that brand as well.

Kara Goldin 23:05
When you look back on this brand, what what do you think you’ll be most excited about when you think about where you’ve started? Where you’ve come to? I think so often entrepreneurs and particularly founders, you know, they don’t give themselves any time to sort of, you know, pat themselves on the back of a gay, you know, whatever you need to do. Because I think this, it’s really hard. There’s so many aspects, as you’ve described, what do you think you’ll look back on this journey? And think, you know, Damn, that was pretty amazing.

Angela Vranich 23:47
Yeah. I don’t know, it’s a great question. Because like, I’m just like, in the weeds, I’m not, I’m like, That’s right. Um, we do try to celebrate the little wins, we make we make it a point to celebrate the little wins with our team. But I would say I think really just growing with our customers, so you know, when we started, we just had the line of baby food, and ever since then, we’ve really been creating more products to keep people you know, in our pipeline. So, you know, we see that as we launch new new products, our you know, average order value has gone up. So when we launched the beat a couple years ago, our average order value was hovering around $60 Now it’s, you know, over over $100 And that’s really, it’s really amazing and wonderful to see because, you know, it shows that people are interested in what we have to offer they they trust us as a brand and they’re willing to you know, try new things that that we’re coming out with and their kids are growing with us. So I think when I look back on Little Spoon and the legacy, you know, we’ll I will be most proud of that we’ve you know, not just created a single category brand, but really a brand that can stretch You know, baby, the big kid across, you know, many different ages and product lines.

Kara Goldin 25:05
I couldn’t agree more. So last question. You’re giving advice to entrepreneurs who haven’t launched a company yet, and they’re thinking about launching something? What thoughts would you give to them about what they are about to embark on that you’ve that you’ve learned along the way?

Angela Vranich 25:25
I guess, I would say, you know, if you’re thinking about launching a brand, talk to as many people as you can, don’t, don’t be shy reach out to people in the early days, I was like, really shy to talk to talk to you even at that breakfast brewing that, you know, seven years ago, probably I was like, Oh my God, she’s amazing. Like, why would she ever want to talk to me? Um, I, I love hearing from you know, people who are thinking it do have ideas and thinking about starting businesses like I, you know, I love you know, giving advice or, you know, storytelling about, you know, what happened with me in the early days. So I think, don’t be shy, build a network, you know, meet as many people as you possibly can learn from what, what went wrong for them or what went right for them. People can open doors for you, you know, if you if you have a network and you’re meeting people, and you’re trying to get something off the ground, it’s really just, you know, important to talk to as many people as possible, get, get as much advice as you can. And it can be tremendously helpful as you’re as you’re growing and scaling. So

Kara Goldin 26:30
Angela Vranich, co founder and chief product officer of Little Spoon. Thank you so much for joining us today. Good luck with everything, but everyone needs to try Little Spoon. We’ll have all the info in the show notes too. And it’s super, super yummy. So really excited for everyone to learn more about Little Spoon.

Angela Vranich 26:49
Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 26:51
Thank you. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.