Cat Gazzoli is the co-founder of Piccolo, the organic, Mediterranean-inspired baby food pouches. Before setting Piccolo up, Cat Gazzoli worked in the charitable sector of the food world. Cat began her career with the United Nations food agencies in Rome, where she created campaigns and programmes promoting sustainable livelihoods for farmers, as well as promoting female parity and equal opportunities. She then became the CEO of Slow Food UK, the global campaigning organisation for good, clean and fair food. During her career, Cat has launched programmes across the UK with the NCT and Piccolo’s sister charity, The Food Education Foundation, to help families consider the provenance and nutritional make-up of what they put on their plate. She is a founding member of Luke Johnson’s Centre of Entrepreneurs, was a finalist for Enterprise Nation’s Female Entrepreneur of the Year in late 2016 and has just been shortlisted for The Grocer’s Entrepreneur of the Year.
What inspired you to launch Piccolo?
Before Piccolo, my background was in the charity sector with the UN and Slow Food, with a focus on food provenance and food education. I have always been a passionate campaigner for good, healthy sustainable food, and I saw this missing from the baby food offering available at the time.
Since launch Piccolo has grown from 6 products in one supermarket to 40 plus products stocked across all the big grocery retailers. I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to achieve: we are the UK’s fastest growing organic baby food brand 2 years in a row! We’ve also been able to work with Tesco to reduce child hunger through our One for One campaign, donating pouches to families in need.
What do you love most about your job and what has been the highlight for you so far?
I love that at Piccolo we are able to make a difference – from making it that bit easier for families to pick up delicious and nutritious baby food, to our focus on ethical sourcing of ingredients, to our initiatives giving back to the community - via campaigns like One for One and our sister charity the Food Education Foundation.
What have been the challenges you have faced being a female entrepreneur?
Not specific to being female per se but in the early stages of the businesses it was challenging to find investors who both shared my social values and represented a range of ethnically diverse backgrounds. I was lucky to find Allbright’s Anna Jones who shared my vision, and as a mum herself understood how important health and education around first foods are. A shared mission between a business and it’s investors is key to the long term success of the investment partnership & the quality of support an investor can give.
More than a quarter of Piccolo’s funding comes from female investors. What were the challenges you faced during the funding process and what would you say to female founders seeking investment?
Only 1 in 10 UK investors is female so it’s challenging for brands to find female investment, but the value women can bring as investors is, in my view immense, and so I would urge all founders – male and female – to seek out female investment and mentorship. I’m thrilled to see more and more female founders achieving great things, particularly within the FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) space.
One of The Female Lead’s key themes is to ‘Find Strength in Setbacks’. Tell us about any particular obstacles or challenges that have affected your professional journey? How have you overcome these challenges?
Coming from the non-profit world, moving into very much the ‘for profit’ world of FMCG retail - up against very large food multi-nationals that do not always have social purpose at the core of their being as Piccolo does – was a challenge initially. We’re a small family business and our competitors here are big companies with big budgets and a lot of history behind them - meaning being a challenger brand can be tricky – however I overcame this by attending as many industry conferences as I could to network with retailers, doing lots of trade reading to make sure I was constantly communicating Piccolos point of difference.
What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
That there is nothing wrong with entering uncharted territory - in fact, your fresh perspective can often be an asset. When I entered the UK grocery scene from the charity sector, I didn’t have the same know-how – for example in dealing with buyers - as established players in the game. However the learning curve this set me on taught me a lot about adaptability, flexibility, and creativity.
You’ve said that your family have been a huge source of support and inspiration for you, are there any other particular role models or mentors who have supported or inspired you?
From a business as well as personal point of view there are two - Prue Leith, who was an early investor in Piccolo and has been a great source of advice and inspiration for me, and my mentor Craig Sams who supported me with indispensable advice on Piccolo’s first business plan – particularly the elements I was new to such as financial modelling. Both continue to be awesome sources of support and advice as the business grows.
What are your three top tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
1) Just start - do something, don’t worry about being perfect or wait for the ‘right’ time.
2)Hire a team who are great at the things you are not – know your strengths and let other people play to theirs.
3)Keep yourself informed - read every trade magazine and newspaper out there to make sure you’re on top of all the latest happenings - and jump in on them!
Asking for help is one of The Female Lead’s key themes. Does it come naturally to you?
Reaching out for help and advice is quite natural to me. I’m lucky to have a group of both male and female investors from diverse backgrounds who each have a unique skill set and experience - meaning they can advise the team and I on the various elements of the business, from sustainability to marketing to sales.
If I face a challenge that I feel an investor or mentor could help me with I don’t hesitate to ask.
What’s next for you?
2018 was our biggest ever year for Piccolo as we secured listings in Tesco and Sainsbury’s, making us available across the UK. For 2019 we have exciting developments in the pipeline for new products and new marketing campaigns to tell our customers what Piccolo stands for. We will of course continue to listen to parents and will work closely with our in-house nutritionist to produce new products that are balanced, tasty, fresh and lovingly prepared to share with friends and family.
In fact we recently launched our Mighty Squeeze range, which is an innovative snack range for toddlers. It comes in a handy on-the-go pouch, to help families feed their children balanced, nutritious and tasty snacks on the go. Each of the 3 recipes is supercharged with exciting ingredients and vitamins such as avocado, turmeric and pomegranate to help introduce a variety of tastes from a young age. The range is already flying off the shelves so we have high hopes to grow this part of the business over 2019!
To find out more information about Piccolo, visit the website here.