Bambino’s Baby Food is Alaska Grown from Farm to Freezer
Manufacturing start-up expands production, plans dedicated facility
Dr. William Campbell watched Zoi Maroudas growing up working in her family’s Anchorage restaurant. These days, he’s watching with interest as she creates her own business out of giving baby food a nutritious and delicious makeover.
As a psychiatrist, he says he’s fascinated by Maroudas’ effort to introduce tasty food that is good for babies early in life.
“The fact that this baby food tastes really good is a huge step,” Campbell says.
Bambino’s Baby Food line—including Yummy Yams, Googly Carrots, Hungry Munchkin, Salmon Basket, and Happy Peas—is formulated to be nutritionally balanced and to introduce babies to a variety of vegetables, grains, fish, and peanuts during their first year of life, Maroudas says.
But beyond its nutritional benefits, Campbell says there also is a real benefit to families in reducing the food-related struggles between parents and children.
“I’ve actually eaten it myself and it tastes really good,” he says.
Bambino’s Baby Food CEO and founder Zoi Maroudas with her mom and daughter in the kitchen at Pizza Olympia in Anchorage. (COURTESY OF PETER LUCHSINGER/PAL PHOTOGRAPHY)
Campbell and his wife are godparents to Maroudas’ daughter. He says he was surprised to learn the hors d’oeuvres served at the child’s christening in January was actually Hali Halibut—an item from Maroudas’ line of frozen baby foods.
Hali Halibut tasted very much like a seafood bisque he’d spent hours making a few weeks prior, Campbell says.
The Alaska salmon and halibut in the meals also provide natural omega-3s, which are important to brain development and social interactions, he says.
Anchorage allergist Dr. Teresa A. Neeno says when researchers began looking at the science about ten years ago, they discovered the advice pediatricians had given parents for decades to delay feeding certain foods to children was wrong.
“We used to take whatever what was on the plate, chew it up, and feed it to the baby,” Neeno says. “In this case, the grandmas were right.”
Founder and CEO of Bambino’s Baby Food and Zoi Food For Life, Maroudas was four when she moved from Greece to Alaska with her family. The food in both of her product lines reflects the Mediterranean diet that continues to nourish generations of her family in Greece, Italy, and the United States, she says.
Although Maroudas grew up in the kitchen, it was an internship in geriatrics after graduating pre-med from Baylor University that led her to carefully consider the importance of nutritious diet in personal health.
When her plans to continue training at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, were truncated, Maroudas returned home to Alaska and refocused her energy on helping the people in her own state.
Bambino’s Baby Food’s Salmon Basket is made with sockeye salmon from Alaska. (COURTESY OF ZOI MAROUDAS)
For the last three years, Maroudas has used Pizza Olympia’s kitchen from Midnight to 10 a.m. to develop and certify her line of nutritionally balanced baby food with the Food and Drug Administration and US Department of Agriculture.
In season, fresh picked vegetables are transported from certified organic Alaska farms to the Spenard kitchen where the ingredients are added to the cook pot at precise intervals during the process to retain maximum nutrients and vitamins, Maroudas says.
Then the food is placed in star-shaped molds and flash frozen, which results in meals with seven to ten times the nutrients of typical grocery store baby food, she says.
“Both of my babies are Bambino’s fed,” Maroudas says of her children Constantine, six, and Athina, one.
The day before her daughter was born, Neeno sent her a copy of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine investigating peanut allergies in children.
A few weeks later, Maroudas had created her special Peanut Mani Cookies as a way to introduce kids to peanuts.
Neeno says it’s an easy way to introduce children to peanuts in a controlled way and reduce their likelihood of developing the allergy.
Pediatricians now advise parents to start feeding babies small amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs, milk, fish, and peanut protein as soon as infants are developmentally ready—can sit up straight, respond to the spoon, etc., she says.
“There is a significant difference in peanut allergy in kids who were eating peanuts regularly,” Neeno says.
Bambino’s Baby Food’s Happy Peas are nutritionally balanced for babies four months and older. (COURTESY OF ZOI MAROUDAS)
Dedicated Production Facility to Open
Bambino’s Baby Food sells three thousand to four thousand units per month through its websitebambinosbabyfood.com and at New Sagaya grocery stores in Anchorage, and, in the summer, at Anchorage’s Southside Market and at Shell gas stations in Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski, and Homer.
The company offers three-, six-, and twelve-month subscriptions for gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, combo, and pescatarian diets.
Each resealable pouch has fourteen shaped cubes, equivalent to four or five standard baby food jars. To serve, remove the desired amount of food and warm the frozen stars.
Maroudas says production has nearly reached capacity at Pizza Olympia. To take her business to the next level, she has invested in equipment to prepare, shape, and flash freeze the food at a new dedicated production facility set to open mid-summer. She says the Anchorage facility will include a retail store with an observation window so visitors can see the preparation process.
The expansion is partly in response to interest in the product line from Albertsons, the second largest supermarket chain in North America, Maroudas says.
Building the Bambino’s Baby Food brand while caring for her two young children has added to the challenges of starting a business, but it also means she knows firsthand a mother’s struggle to feed her kids a nutritious diet on a businesswoman’s harried schedule.
“Any person who starts their company starts small, and it can be challenging,” Maroudas says. “I often had found the hours intolerable,” she says. “I would create product all night and continue the day with meetings, calls, and daily business day tasks to help grow the company.”
When she feels overwhelmed by the pressures of motherhood and business, Maroudas says she reminds herself of the goal: “How are you going to help the community?”
She sees potential to grow Bambino’s Baby Food into a national baby food brand created, locally sourced, and produced in Alaska.
It’s not about the profit, Maroudas says. The real reward is seeing children and families enjoy her products. Plus, proper nutrition is a good investment in personal health for families, states, and for the nation, she says, adding: “It’s a feel good product with a good return.”
HEATHER A. RESZ LIVES IN WASILLA. SHE’S TOLD ALASKA’S STORIES FOR NEARLY TWENTY YEARS.
Bambino’s Baby Food Wins Alaska Symphony of Seafood Awards
When Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation unveiled the winners of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood during the Awards Ceremony on Friday, February 19, Bambino's Baby Food emerged as the winner of several contests.
First place in Retail, the Juneau People’s Choice, and the Grand Prize all went to Bambino’s Baby Food’s Hali Halibut.
The Symphony is an annual contest for new products made from Alaska seafood. The goal of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood is to increase the value of Alaska’s seafood resource by encouraging value-added manufacturing.
“I am beyond words and truly grateful for the overwhelming support from all the voters of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood. I look forward to scaling up our business, helping the Alaskan economy, and helping grow healthy, active generations to come,” said Zoi Maroudos, owner and president of Bambino’s Baby Food at the event.
The first place winners from each category and the grand prize winner will receive booth space at the distinguished Seafood Expo North America in March, as well as airfare to and from the show provided by sponsor Alaska Airlines.
The Alaska Symphony of Seafood kicked off on February 10 in Seattle. The competition enlists chefs and industry experts to pick the best new seafood products each year. In Seattle, the judges tasted, deliberated, and selected their favorite products. Evaluations were based on the products’ packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price, and potential for commercial success.
SOURCE: ALASKA FISHERIES DEVELOPMENT FOUNDATION
This article first appeared in the April 2016 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly.