Frequently, kids’ brands tempt little ones with super-sweet products in colorful packaging. Such products can be full of empty calories, and all the sugar in such tasty treats can turn even the tamest toddler into a hyperactive hellion.
To counter the overabundance of sugared-up kids’ snacks, Saskia Sorrosa left her high-level job with the NBA and founded Fresh Bellies. Instead of sweet, highly processed snacks, the snack brand seeks to fuel the smallest set of consumers with healthy ingredients and bold flavors, including a selection of savory items. Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery reached out to Sorrosa to learn more about the Latina-founded, Ecuadorian-inspired snack items.
Jenni Spinner: Could you please share a little bit about the Fresh Bellies origin story?
Saskia Sorrosa: Fresh Bellies launched in 2016 after the births of my daughters made me hyper-aware of the bland, high-sugar, high-sodium snacks permeating grocery shelves. I grew up on my family farm in Ecuador pulling fruits and veggies off of the vine and I wanted my daughters to have the same access, and love, for fruits and vegetables without high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors. I left my corporate career of 16 years and took the leap into entrepreneurship to make snacks that encourage kids to eat adventurously and share the flavors I grew up eating in Ecuador.
Fresh Bellies started at farmer's markets and four months later we were working with a manufacturer. Farmer’s Markets were incredibly valuable because we were able to get immediate feedback from our consumers and see the love people had for our product. We turned our chef-curated recipes into toddler snacks with freeze-dried fruits and vegetables seasoned with herbs and spices commonly found in Latin American kitchens. Simple as it seems, we serve “veggies as veggies and fruits as fruits.” In 2022 we took snacking to the next level and launched Groovies, a line of sorghum-based puff snacks that are naturally gluten-free, good for the environment, and seasoned with the herbs and spices commonly found in Latin American kitchens.
JS: What distinguishes Fresh Bellies from other, typical kid snacks on shelves?
SS: Many other brands use fruits and veggies in their ingredients, but they get hidden with additives and sugar, which teaches children at an early age to have a preference for sweets– a habit that’s harder to reverse as they get older. Fresh Bellies believes in clean ingredients, plant-based products, and uniquely delicious flavors. All chef-curated recipes are influenced by typical meals I had as a child. Our flavor profiles distinguish us! You will never find a ranch or plain cheddar flavor here.
JS: Could you please share some details about the products and flavors in the Fresh Bellies line?
SS: Our two main product lines are our toddler freeze-dried snacks and our sorghum-based Groovies. Pineapple con chile de árbol recently launched in honor of Hispanic heritage month in 2022 and the chile-spiced fruit is quickly becoming one of our best sellers. Kids love spice! Introducing children to bold flavors is part of our mission to develop curious eaters and adventurous palates. Our Turn-Up-The-Beet Groovies are another family favorite with the beet-dusted sorghum puffs seasoned with onion and paprika! Sorghum is an ancient grain that is also drought resistant and serves as one of the most sustainable grains due to its water-sipping qualities and carbon sequestration.
JS: As you pointed out, there are not many Latina-founded brands in the snack space, particularly products aimed at the littlest consumers. Could you please talk about why what Latina representation means, and what unique things someone from that background can bring to the table (figuratively and literally)?
SS: Representation is important in every aspect of our lives, especially for our younger generations. In order for children to dream and believe that anything is possible, they need to see people who look like them represented in different industries and career paths. As the only Latina in the kid snacking space, and with less than .5% of venture capital going to Latina founders, I know my role in driving change and paving the way for future entrepreneurs is critical. I want my daughters, and Latinas everywhere, to know this is possible, and that who we are, our culture, and our lived experiences, allow us to have a unique perspective that we can use as our competitive advantage in anything we do.
JS: Please share some detail about how Fresh Bellies grew from a startup to selling in thousands of stores. How did you grow your distribution and secure funding to make it all possible?
SS: When I decided to start this business, I took money out of my savings and 401k to get it started. We started selling our very first version of the product at Farmer’s Markets and as demand grew for our line, we expanded into regional stores. That’s when I knew we needed outside funding to capitalize the business and I began to raise capital with outside investors. In 2019, after raising our first round, we launched our toddler snack line to market and that’s the product that put us on the retail map nationally! We grew from a few hundred stores to 2,500 by the end of that year. Today, we’re in over 4,500 stores nationwide including Whole Foods, Target, Kroger, Sprouts, Meijer, Giant, and several others.
JS: What do you have planned for the future—any news about new products, further expansion plans, or other news you can share?
SS: We plan to continue to innovate the snacking space with unique, sustainable products never before seen in the snack aisle. We’ll also be expanding our retail footprint this year, starting with the launch of our toddler snacks in 700 Walmart stores this month! Stay tuned as we share more news throughout the year.
JS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SS: The most recent summary from the American Academy of Pediatrics explained childhood and adolescent obesity as a “common, complex, and often persistent chronic disease associated with serious health and social consequences if not treated.” Yet, our current snack options are high in sugar, salt, and fat. I’m proud that Fresh Bellies provides an alternative. Our mission of palates in training is to develop healthy and adventurous palates with our authentically flavorful and uniquely delicious snacks!