Jackie Kwitko is a former CBC producer with a mission: she wants new parents to feed their babies and small children in a way that will set the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating. Her new company Fressy Bessie was inspired by her tween daughter, Alexandra whose open-minded approach to eating Kwitko attributes to an ealry foundation of “mum cooked food”. I caught up with the baby and toddler food maker as she set up for the Davisville Village Farmers’ Market, where her ice lollies are big hit with the stroller set.
This interview has been edited for clarity and style.
Good Food Revolution: How long has Fressy Bessie been in business?
Jackie Kwitko: I celebrated my first year anniversary in April.
GFR: So you’re pretty young.
JK: Like the people I am trying to get to!
GFR: And what did you do before you started making baby food?
JK: I was a producer at CBC Television.
GFR: Uh oh. So you know a thing or two about interviews. I better watch it! And get into some deeper questions. What’s the philosophy behind your company?
JK: What I really thought was that the baby food in grocery stores wasn’t great. First of all, it was highly processed. Second, a lot of it is in pouches. When my daughter was small, there were no pouches, you had to use a spoon. I didn’t like the idea of a pouch because…
GFR: Sorry! Hang on. What? Do you just squirt the food into the poor baby’s mouth? Seriously?
JK: Yeah, the kid just slurps it down, sitting in their stroller. And I thought, how many games do you play with your kids when you’re feeding them? Like, ‘Here Comes The Train’? There’s a lot of quality time that comes from that process.
GFR: Absolutely, that’s a big part of being a parent with a little kid. And also they get to flick it at you and make a mess.
JK: That too! So, I wanted to produce a product that was as good as what would come out of a mother’s kitchen. And, following the philosophy that I used when my daughter was a baby, I felt strongly that the jar should only contain one vegetable. You have to let your child learn to love broccoli. Commercially available baby foods are nearly always a mix, so that broccoli comes with pear, for example.
GFR: Sweet stuff.
JK: Yeah, so you could say that your child is eating broccoli, but they’re not really learning to love broccoli because broccoli is not sweet. Now, there are studies that are coming out that say that when you mix fruits with vegetables you end up with a picky eater. I want to introduce an opportunity to parents to do something different. So, I started with Fressy Bessie baby food, that’s my main product line, and I tell parents they can mix their vegetables with fruit, but I don’t. You know, if you want your child to be a healthy eater for their whole life, you need to start them from the time they open their mouths.
GFR: And you make other things.
JK: Yes. Parents would say I need something else for when their child grows out of baby food. So, I make things like ratatouille…
GFR: Oh man, I wish you were around when my kids were smaller. They refuse to eat ratatouille, and my wife makes the best! It drives us nuts.
JK: [Laughs.] I am sure you’re not alone! Anyway, I also have a little mac’n’cheese ‘cake’, that’s a complete meal (it has broccoli).
GFR: It’s almost like a little frozen puck. Let’s talk ingredients: is it pretty much what you see is what you get? Do you need or use preservatives?
JK: No, I sell everything frozen. And I have had everything lab tested, so they’ll last between two and five weeks, because it’s all vegetables.
GFR: And what about these ice lollies that seem to be this year’s hit?
JK: Aha. The original plan was to sell Fressy Bessie baby food at farmers markets fresh, not frozen, but I would come home with all the baby food I hadn’t sold, because I was a new company and it takes a while. So, I took the fruit purée, put it in these little bags I bought at the dollar store, stuck a stick in them, put them in the freezer and started selling them for a dollar each. And they sold really well.
GFR: Sure, I guess you would do well on a hot day.
JK: Right, and especially when you tell parents that it’s all fruit, there’s no preservatives, no sugar, no juice, no water: nothing. It’s just fruit on a stick. My new one, that’s debuting today, is for cherry season: sour cherries mixed with pear.
GFR: So, you’re here [at Davisville Farmers Market] and at Wychwood Barns on Saturdays, and you’re also starting to sell in stores?
GFR: Bring the mums and dads with the strollers into the store, then sell them a steak! Great idea.
GFR: And what’s the plan for Fressy Bessie? What’s going to happen next?
JK: This summer I’d like to get my lollies into as many stores as I can, so that can be an entrée to getting my baby food and other lines into them. I see it at the markets. Parents will buy an ice lolly from me, and then half an hour later, they will come back and buy baby food. Once they’ve tried one product that they like and they trust, they’ll move onto another one.