Tom Redwood is the founder and CEO of Babease, the baby food company that places an emphasis on a desire to understand more about what we feed our children. Tom wanted support mums, dads and little ones as they took their first exciting steps into the world of real food. We talked to him about how he started in the food business.
I wasn’t that great at school. Being dyslexic, from a family of five, my brothers and sisters are all incredibly academic and I just wasn’t that into so basically straight from school aged 16 I went straight into restaurants and started the good old fashioned NVQ system. And my first real chef’s job when I was 17, after working in a few hotels, was in a vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre and that’s when I was in hotels, it was a job, you came in, you did you job and it didn’t really fill me with any sort of passion or enthusiasm to learn more. My first day at Terre a Terre, the herb section was bigger than the freezer; rows and rows of fresh herbs and the smell was amazing. Even though I came from quite a foodie family, I’d never seen chervil or dill. My mum and dad are fantastic cooks, so in the garden when I was growing up there were bushes of sage and rosemary but not the more exotic herbs. That was really the first time my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of food and I became a foodie – the more I was exposed to it, the more I learned how beautiful it was to create something so simple and yet so tasty. And so, it went from there.
I then became a private chef, working at first in villas and chalets and then for a stint working in the music business, working for people like Jim Kerr and Craig David and then I worked for families in London and it was then that I got to the stage where friends of mine were starting to have kids and when I saw them feeding their little one a pouch, I was curious and said, “what’s that?” They said it was the food they gave their little one and I said, “do you mind if I taste it?” They were shocked that I would want to and when I did, it was disgusting. When I said to them, “have you tasted it, it’s disgusting,” they said, “yes we know – it’s baby food.”
And the fact that it was a justification, it was as if they had accepted that baby food tasted disgusting. So, I started helping them make food and it started off quite light heartedly. You know, what’s in the fridge? Some carrots and broccoli, steam it for five minutes, take it out, mash it – give it to the baby and the baby loved it. But when I saw them out and about, they’d have the pouches in their handbag and would be apologetic about it. They made a joke that even if I were to make factory food, it would still taste better than what’s out there, so that got me thinking. Over a period, the idea started to develop as I was really into healthy eating and living well and I started thinking, it’s important what we feed ourselves. When I was about 19 or 20, I got obsessive about fussy eaters and couldn’t understand why one person would love broccoli and someone else hated it. Why one person would salivate over a thousand-year-old egg and the other one would feel like throwing up. But then I started considering the reasons why. Psychology plays a part again and again and a few times it was to do with their experience of food as a child. So, fast forward to the thought that the food we’re feeding our kids isn’t very nice. So is there an association between the food that we feed them not being nice and fussy eaters. I thought I could do something better and found that the only way I could trial it was to find a small factory where they made me a small batch – I thought it was big at the time. I went through the process and it was OK – not amazing but OK. So, I thought, do you know what, I think there’s something here so I learned about the industry and processing and eventually came up with recipes that were better than OK that were delicious. And that’s when my wife said in April 2015 “if you’re going to do it, you have to do it.” It’s quite a scary leap and you must jump in the dep end. Within three weeks of going full time, having given up my security, we got our first listing in Ocado and within six weeks we got Boots. I think it was because what were offering was a very simple solution. We weren’t trying to re-create the wheel, we were creating healthy, tasty food for babies. The fact that no one was doing it, I found bizarre. For me, I didn’t worry so much about preservatives, as they are getting better as the food industry has become more health conscious. It was more about when you hide fruit in a product or water and use it as a filler – there’s nothing wrong with eating fruit, it’s fantastic and we all have to learn to love fruit but it should be a part of a diet. Bee Wilson has written a great book called First Bites and she talks about a thing called the flavour window – it’s the age between four and seven months you are the most receptive to flavours that you’ll ever be.
The thing I find frustrating is that there are so many mixed messages out there of when to wean and it’s not really black and white. We are very much of the school, of thought that your baby is ready when they’re ready, at around six months and there are things to look out for – is the baby sitting upright and holding their head up well? Are they engaging with the food, showing interest and wanting to eat? I think the problem is that we have used the word weaning for too long. Some think that when you start to wean, you stop feeding and that’s not the case. That’s why I like the term ‘complementary feeding.’ That’s exactly what it is and we have some text about that on the back of the packet and advice that mums consult their Health Visitor. The first food you introduce to your little one are about the journey of introducing taste and texture, something different to milk. It’s not about a line.
There are so many different factors that it’s difficult to see it as a blank canvas. One of the main things is that we thought there was too much fruit in the baby aisle, so we worked on lowering the fruit. We had two 100% vegetable Stage One, three veg with a bit of fruit, and then a couple of just fruit and five Stage Twos, which were all about introducing real flavours and textures. So, I took inspiration from when I was traveling, so there’s a Keralan curry in there and because we wanted to have honesty and transparency about it we decided not to give them a name but to list the ingredients on the front of the pack, to make it easier for parents to see exactly what they were feeding their baby.
We started working with a really good dietician Judy Moore and we decided that now is the time to strip out the fruit, so we re-created two Stage Ones and all the Stage Twos and luckily the supermarket buyers were so excited that we decide to re-vamp the Stage Two recipes because although industry guidelines are at one place, nutritionists and dieticians will say that it’s not good enough. So, we’re now the only baby food brand that tries to match the calorie intake as breastmilk in Stage Two and beyond, which is 65 calories per 100. Most have 48, which is a lot less than breastmilk, so the baby will not be full. We have set that as an internal policy and we then thought about whether we would introduce meats and I am a responsible meat eaters. I never eat it for the sake of it and I think we all need to eat more vegetables grains and pulses and be a bit more responsible about how we eat. There is a mood towards being more vegetarians, so I wanted to lean the brands towards that or even vegan but we should see eating meat as a treat. We found a free range, outdoor-reared, organic chicken farm and we spoke to a dietician who said if you’re going to have meat protein, it has to be 20%. Protein in the vegetarian meals is from grains, seeds and pulses – seed being quinoa, which is high in protein. Mind you, it’s an unethical crop because the West is depriving south America from a major source of protein, so we started to look for ethical quinoa. There are some traders who ensure their farmers get a fair deal but we absolutely lucked-out by finding this farmer in the UK who grows it, so we built an amazing relationship with them and started using British quinoa. So we’re finding solutions to be local and ethical whenever we can to get – we think – as good a product as it’s possible to create.
We want to carry on being the bad boy of the industry and shaking it up a bit. Less hidden fruit, more protein -we want the whole industry to lean towards making better quality food. I’d love to be a part of a movement making a difference to the industry as a whole. We have lots of new flavours coming out in the summer and have other things in development. We have loads of ideas –it’s now about exciting it. We have new offices where we’re going to have a kitchen so parents can come to cooking classes and we have lots of great ideas.
Read more about Babease on their website and see Tom’s tips on weaning in our Summer issue