The founder of organic baby food company Piccolo has attributed its booming growth into a multi-million pound brand to its roots in social enterprise — and the former UN and charity leader offers advice to brands keen on adopting a philanthropic bent.
Speaking to The Drum, Piccolo founder and chief executive Cat Gazzoli revealed that it was 15 years of experience working for good causes that gave her an authentic edge in the world of social enterprise and she urges brands entering the space to “do their homework” before getting involved.
Gazzoli worked for the UN for almost a decade after the turn of the millennium, working with farmers and women on sustainability livelihood and development projects, among other issues. Subsequently, she headed up Slow Food, an organisation intent on improving nutrition in children. Across these two roles she has brought to the fore 15 years of working in the charity and food sectors, experiences that have given Piccolo a firm grounding as a responsible registered social enterprise.
As an independent player in a market dominated by food giants, the company has found life since it launched in earnest in 2016. It has built a following providing babies with the ‘Mediterranean diet’, drawn from the founder’s Italian/American upbringing. Into the mix is the promise that the food is 100% organic.
The latest marketing and social drive from Piccolo is the One-for-One campaign, based on the commercial giveaways led by Toms shoes in the US. A purchase of its shoes would also provide a pair of shoes for the disadvantaged. Gazzoli said: “I have been in the American environment where there is a strong social purpose, brands that have a real purpose, I am very inspired by Toms.”
Piccolo is claiming to be one of the first brands to champion a One-for-One scheme in a UK retail setting at scale, and it now boasts the likes of Waitrose, ASDA, Boots and Morrisons among its partners. This month it is set to donate at least 100,000 pouches of baby food to vulnerable families in partnership with foodbanks, all part of its commitment to drive 10% of its profits to charity. Many of these pouches will be routed through the Trussell Trust food banks.
On this Gazzoli says: “The second largest group of people using foodbanks are young mothers. They are typically going hungry to feed their children.” She adds. “I want to do this every year. We will run it for as long as we can afford to give away one-for-one — I would love to be able to [continue the program].”
On the comms side, Gazzoli wants to get one point across, that this activity is not just a half-hearted stunt, something other brands could be accused of partaking in. Piccolo works with groups like BuggyFit, Hartbeeps, Trussel Trust and the UK parenting charity, the NCT, to build advocates, a customer base and help people.
“It is important for us that parents know this isn’t something we do every once in a while," Gazzoli says. "We have the impetus within the company to do this. We have to fund the NCT’s charitable objectives, we do campaigns and have our own charity called the food education foundation.”
Do your homework
Any organisation endeavouring to pursue a charitable approach, according to Gazzoli, requires education.
“Do your homework," she advises. "My background is 15 years in charity and non-profit and the UN. I know that world very well, [and] it is a very big responsibility [to undertake].”
One must work closely with these initiatives to keep them running too. “If you fund or support a charity that does important work then you should know what the charity and the funding is doing with your support," she explains. "I have a very close relationship with the Trussell Trust, I know those pouches are reaching parents, I have seen them there and I know they are getting them because they are writing to me. Furthermore, we work together and give information leaflets to food banks across the company explaining it is important to give mums vegetable and grains, not just the one type of food. Babies need different nutrition.”
Gazzoli admits that the efforts can be taxing. “These things take time and resource and staff," she says. "Doing a collaboration with a charity needs to be done properly. I personally spend time with directors of Trussell Trust and directors and volunteers at NCT. These are very time consuming relationships, but that is because we doing very important initiatives together."
She concludes: “I hope that Piccolo is an inspiration for others in the food business thinking about becoming a social enterprise. Society needs companies that can fulfill roles larger than that of being commercial or a product.”