2009 R&D Team Winner: Peas of Mind Cooks Up A Better Way to Feed Kids

The winners or our R&D Team of the year for the less than $100 million in sales category working together like peas and carrots.

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Health is of course a top priority because Peas of Mind creates food for kids. “The grocery store is loaded with plenty of food items with bright colors, cartoon characters and cute shapes that mean ‘this product is for kids,’ ” says Litwin. “However, most of the time, these products are made with ingredients that most adults can’t even pronounce. If we want to combat the growing children’s obesity problem and give kids a chance at leading healthy adult lives, we have to make feeding them not only easy, but actually healthy.”

Walsh adds that in addition to creating healthy products, they “strive to be innovative, ahead of the curve, exciting and fun. We are reinventing the wheel. If you work with old wheels, you’re just cleaning them off and adding bling.” That’s not innovation.

Having a niche is an excellent strategy. Since Peas of Mind is not a baby food company, it does not directly compete with Gerber or Beech Nut. “We feel that our competition is really the less healthy alternatives you see in the freezer section like frozen processed chicken nuggets, pizza rolls and nutritionally unbalanced frozen TV dinners,” remarks Walsh. “Peas of Mind is an option for parents looking for quick and easy food that also is well-balanced and nutritious…oh, and yummy…to feed their growing kids.”

There is no doubt they both take pride in their product line. “We are proud of all our products because we know they are made with the end consumer — kids -- in mind,” says Litwin. “We are definitely excited about the buzz around Veggie Wedgies. [A lot] of families struggling with food allergies and intolerances. Having a product that is gluten free, fat free, soy free, dairy free and vegan means hopefully everyone in the family can enjoy Veggie Wedgies, and this is especially satisfying for us to know as a company.”

“On a production level it can sometimes be difficult to scale our products to the masses while keeping the homemade experience and taste of the product,” says Walsh. “We decided early on that if this can’t be achieved, we go back to the test kitchens and either rework or dump the idea.”
A small company by industry standards, Peas of Mind does not pay slotting fees and relies on buyers to keep them abreast of sales and product preferences. “Moms drive our sales, and stay-at-home moms are a great audience, interacting on-line, which helps us stay on top of the trends,” says Litwin.

As for idea generation, they come from many outlets. “First and foremost, our customers help guide us,” says Litwin emphatically. “Customer feedback from www.peasofmind.com, in-store demonstrations and consumer events always makes its way back to us. Customers are wonderful about telling us what we are doing well, what we could do better, and what they need to make their lives easier. We then turn to the marketplace, constantly trolling the aisles of grocery stores asking questions like, ‘what’s missing?’ ”

Does Peas of Mind have a panel of kids testing their products? “We utilize different focus groups around the Bay Area that consist of children ranging in age from 1 year to about 13 years old,” says Litwin. “We have fun visiting them in their schools or home environments and presenting them with our new ideas. We are also grateful to be able to call on a select group of Peas of Mind enthusiasts scattered across that U.S. who are excited to try out and feed their kids anything new from Peas of Mind.”

What have they learned from those parents and kids? “Puffets are great for a child between 1 and 10 years old,” says Walsh. “Many parents toss a Puffet in the lunchbox along with some avocado and pretzels [for example]. Puffets are great as finger food and we know a lot of the kids love dipping Puffets into ketchup or Ranch dressing. The possibilities are endless,” she adds.

“Veggie Wedgies are a phenomenal product,” adds Litwin. “They are great for kids who are picky eaters or who may even be on a complete vegetable strike. Unlike regular frozen french fries, Veggie Wedgies are packed with vitamins and minerals that come from the real vegetables used to produce them. Plus, Veggie Wedgies are really fun; they can be dipped in ketchup, served along with a sandwich or hamburger, and kids gobble them up. And to top it off, Veggie Wedgies are gluten free, dairy free, soy free and vegan.”

They stay informed about food and industry trends, and this information has become increasingly more real-time with Internet tools such as Twitter and Facebook, which they use to generate feedback from moms. “We are continuously educating ourselves about children’s health and parenting trends and noting major shifts that occur as our economic environment shifts,” says Walsh. She adds they “are lucky to be headquartered San Francisco, a culinary mecca where exciting food innovations are encouraged and accepted, and where we can get our hands on freshly picked produce to work with.”

Asked if the company might expand to an adult line, Walsh responded, “We are asked that question all the time, so we never say never. But we prefer to continue on our mission to be the best brand for kids. That said, our products are real and taste great, and parents tell us they eat them, too. Weight Watchers designates our products at 3 points. And Puffets, which are high in protein, are a favorite of men after their gym workout. Perhaps we can get the whole family addicted,” she adds with a hearty laugh.

Along the learning curve, a few product names had to be changed, but the company has not had any product failures. “Originally our Black Bean Polenta Puffet was called Black Bean & Grits,” explains Walsh. “Jill’s dad is from Alabama and she grew up eating his famous grits. Unfortunately most people didn’t know what grits were, so we changed the name.”

One of the most innovative and helpful concepts from the company is the Peas of Mind Widget, which tracks recent food recalls announced by the FDA. It can be found on their website and is free to download and post on websites, blogs, or any other online community. It is the company’s goal to keep moms and dads current so that their children are safe.

Every person at Peas of Mind signs their e-mails and twitters with the closing, Peas (Jill). “Sometimes when consumers write back, they sign with a variation, such as Carrots (Jane) or Broccoli (Bill),” says Litwin with a smile.

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