Veronica Rives wanted to start her 3-month-old daughter, Gabrielle, on solid food, but didn’t like the choices available at the supermarket.
“It was organic, but it wasn’t fresh. Everything on the shelf had preservatives,” said the Palmetto Bay mom. “I just didn’t want store bought baby food, I wanted to make it myself.”
Rives, who had suffered with food allergies and asthma as a child, said she wanted to minimize Gabrielle’s risk of a food reaction. So she started steaming and pureeing organic vegetables and fruits in her own kitchen.
Now, two years later, Rives runs Petit Cuisine, a delivery service of fresh organic meals for babies and toddlers. Here’s how she did it:
The big idea
Petit Cuisine serves parents who want to serve their babies healthy meals, but don’t have time to prepare them. The company offers organic meal delivery service in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Stage One meals are single-ingredient dishes for 3- to 6-month-olds. Stage Two includes proteins and veggies for 6- to 8-month-olds and Stage Three includes family favorites such as meatloaf and macaroni and cheese for 18-month-olds to school-age children.
Costs range from $59 for a three-day plan to $95 for a seven-day plan.
Rives, a real estate attorney, had taken a six-month leave after Gabrielle, who is now 2½, was born. She began making Gabrielle’s food at home, pureeing veggies and fruits in her kitchen. Then she started making bigger batches, and giving food to friends with babies. When friends of friends started contacting her, she decided to form a business.
“I saw a show on E! News about how much celebrities spend on organic food for their babies, and I thought, 'Hey, that’s what I’m doing,' ” she said. “That’s when I knew I could make it into a business.”
“It’s one thing to do a favor for friends. It’s another thing to charge for it,” Rives said. “I knew I could no longer do it from home.”
Rives researched the legal and state licensing requirements for preparing and selling food. With no funds to buy a commercial kitchen, she subleased a kitchen from Hearts of Palm, a Miami caterer, and hired two of its workers to cook part time. Using her own recipes and some developed by her grandmother, Rives unrolled about a year ago with a half-dozen customers.
The initial investment
Rives said she spent about $5,000 in startup costs to buy BPA-free plastic and bamboo food containers and to develop a FDA-approved food label with nutritional content. She cut costs by putting the nutritional content on her website, www.petitcuisine.com, instead of printing labels, and by trading home-cooked meals to get her website designed.
The target market
Rives targets working moms interested in serving their kids organic food, but who have no time to cook.
“Now moms are reading up on organics, and realizing the extra dollar or two they spend on organics is worth it,” she said.
Petit Cuisine currently serves one- to two dozen families a week.
Rives relies on word-of-mouth, the website and Facebook to generate customer. She also offers samples of the food at South Florida events.
The work/family balance
Rives, whose second daughter, Sophia, was born in November, said she and her husband, attorney Ignacio Zulueta, juggle duties. While Gabrielle attends preschool from 9 a.m. to noon, Rives visits the kitchen, checks the delivery schedule and shops for produce and meats. Sometimes Rives’ mom or grandparents will pick up Gabrielle or watch the kids in the afternoon if Rives has business to conduct.
Rives, who still practices law, said she fits real estate closings into her day as needed.
“But I try to finish up by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, because I want to be able to be with the kids,” she said.
Zulueta gets home about 6 or 6:30 p.m., and takes over kid duty, so that Rives can process orders or work on the computer.
The biggest challenge
“Trying to keep costs down and still spread the word,” Rives said. “I would really love to pour a lot of money into advertising, but I want to keep prices low.”
The next step
Rives wants an influx of cash to advertise and grow her business, and is considering a business loan.
She and her husband also are looking at starting an organic lunch delivery service for private and charter schools.
Advice for other mom businesses?
“Just do it. Sometimes you just have to take the first step, and the rest will appear,” Rives said. “Forget negativity and people who say it can’t be done, because you can.”