When her son Jonah was diagnosed with a milk allergy at 3 months old, Jessica Harris decided the only thing she could do was to change her diet. It wasn't until she started weening him that she soon realised there was no free-from food on the shelf, that nutritionally fit what she wanted to give her child. So she set off into the community, and after asking other mums in similar positions, it became clear they were all looking for the same thing: a fun, delicious, allergen-friendly yoghurt for their kids. Addressing what Jess saw as a gap in the market, she decided to take a leap of faith and with that, Little Bandits was born. In this episode we talk about how Jess got started, the role that mentorship played in her journey, her launch into ASDA, why she decided to fortify, the challenges in finding a free-from manufacturer and the exciting future for the startup as they welcome a new cofounder, free-from veteran Lucy Orton, on board.
When listening to the story behind Little Bandits, there was one thing that really stood out to us about Jess' journey: her use of a mentor to help bring the brand to life.
Jess: 'My background is not in food at all, I was on my own, I didn't have a cofounder, and it was really important that I got someone to support me that had that experience.'
How did she find one? At a food founders' festival in the UK called Bread & Jam. It wasn't until her second time attending that Jess knew she wanted some more hands on board and set out with an intention to find that person who could help her set up the business.
Jess: 'I purposefully went looking for someone who could fill that gap, and I was lucky enough to find a brilliant mentor.'
When asked why it was important to her she replied:
Jess: 'Lots of people are happy being sole founders, that was kind of a struggle for me. It's quite isolating.'
It's not the first time we've heard how starting your own business can be an isolating experience. It requires so much time, energy and attention, that it makes sense to have someone to help guide the way. And it was clearly worth it, as the byproduct is a fun, attention-grabbing kids yoghurt for all.
Jess: 'It was important to me to have a playful, fun kids brand, not pointing out a difference between children.'
Speaking to her own experience, she told stories of how her son always knew he was different because of his allergies, and Jess wanted to change that.
Jess: 'The brand is representing what childhood should be, which is not having to worry about food and social occasions, but about being fun, carefree, mischievous.'
We also spoke about the product development side of things, and why she decided to fortify her yoghurts with calcium, B12 and iodine.
Jess: 'I initially wanted the product to be natural, that was very important to me. But soon enough I realised it's not what parents wanted, or what retailers wanted. They wanted it to be fortified.'
That wasn't the only thing that Jess came to realise when starting her journey. She also spoke of how difficult it was to find a suitable manufacturer, with her first one falling through only a few months before her launch into UK's major retail supermarket chain ASDA.
Jess: 'For me it was really difficult because I'm not just selling a good quality product but also reassurance to parents, that this is a safe product.'
In times of challenge, such as this, she decided to get through by leaning on the community around her, reaching out to people and asking them if they knew of anybody who could help. It was through her networking that she managed to find a manufacturer who'd been making coconut yoghurt since the 80s, and was happy to come on board. The lesson learned? To not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Jess: 'The startup community is so helpful. It's such a supportive community which is amazing.'
Her networking skills also paid off when it came to launching into the supermarket and finding a suitable cofounder. Reaching out to people on LinkedIn, and making new connections, she just happened to stumble across one important person who would help propel the business forward.
Jess: 'The networking that I had been doing really started to pay off in that moment.'
And when asked what it was like going from being a sole founder, to working in a partnership with somebody else?
Jess: 'It's amazing.'
Jess: 'You're sharing the challenges, you're sharing the successes with someone.'
New cofounder Lucy Orton also had previous experience in the free-from section with her business Pudology, providing insight for Jess into what launching into a large retailer is truly like.
Jess: 'The launch into ASDA has been amazing. But it's also really tough if you've never launched into such a major retailer before. They talk in a different language, there's different forms they want you to fill out and they don't tell you until the day before and you feel like you don't even know what you're doing! If I didn't have Lucy, who had done it all before, I'm not sure where I'd be - probably in a bit of a mess.'
The pair are incredibly excited for their future ahead, with plans to set up a direct-to-consumer channel as well as going into other products that will make life easier for families and ensure kids don't miss out.
If you'd like to stay updated with their journey, then make sure to head to their website www.hungrylittlebandits.com or you can follow them on Instagram @hungrylittlebandits. Otherwise, have a great day and don't forget to #biteforwhatsright!