Read on to discover how this Latina went from one dream job to another.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.
LM: Saskia! Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you began your business and what inspired you.
SS: Prior to starting Fresh Bellies, I worked at the NBA, where I was VP of Marketing, in charge of creating, managing, and executing the league’s muti-platform campaigns targeted to its priority fan bases including Hispanics, African-Americans, women, and kids.
Working at the NBA was my dream job, but then I had children and my priorities changed! When my girls were little and I turned to the grocery aisles for help, I didn’t like what I saw on the shelves. The products were bland, made with artificial ingredients and had high sugar and sodium content - none of which I wanted to feed my family. I couldn’t find anything that was healthy, flavorful or savory. So I took some inspiration from my Ecuadorian upbringing around a variety of foods and flavors, and I started Fresh Bellies.
We use combinations like mushrooms with sage and garlic, snap peas with cumin, and mangos with basil - all unheard of in the snack space! As my kids grew older, and I realized the available options got worse, I decided to create a brand that made healthy eating more flavorful and joyful for kids and adults of all ages, so that the whole family could snack together.
LM: Tell us more about your products and where you source your materials and ingredients from.
Fresh Bellies Products
Photo courtesy of Saskia Sorrosa
SS: We were the first-ever savory kid brand that didn't hide veggies with fruit juice or sugars and instead celebrated bold, savory flavors from the get-go. As our toddler snack line grew and we looked at the rest of the market, we realized that as children got older their options got worse. We also noticed that the adult snacks market offered limited variety and was saturated with run-of-the mill flavors that weren’t all that exciting to me or my family.
A lot of these products that were marketed as ‘healthy’ were also full of junk. Given the success of our toddler snack line and the need we identified in the market beyond toddlers, we decided to extend our snack lines to include pre-schoolers and adults. Our products are vegan and, as a result, better for the environment. We never use artificial junk or preservatives and are mindful about the ingredients we use, sourcing and using only non-GMO verified and Kosher certified items.
We’re also intentional about our partners across the supply chain. As we’ve scaled, we’ve continued to focus on elements that help our products be both good for the environment and the customers who eat them. Most importantly, they’re culturally inspired, delicious and filling pantries everywhere with an explosion of flavors!
We’ve grown our distribution to 5,000 stores nationwide including Sprouts, Target, Whole Foods, Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Wegman’s and more. We are now ranked a top 5 brand in natural toddler snacks in the entire country, even above some of the world’s largest food brands.
LM: Fresh Bellies was featured on an episode of Shark Tank. Share with us what that was like.
SS: We didn’t get a shark to bite during our Shark Tank experience, but those few minutes on TV taught us a lot about ourselves and our business. It also gave us mass exposure nationwide, allowing us to reach millions of viewers with our story. Being a part of Shark Tank is surreal and a rollercoaster ride you’ll never be ready for – no matter how many times you’ve pitched your company before.
You have to be OK with unpredictability, as there are a lot of unanswered questions as you navigate the selection process. Then, if you make it through, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’ll be completely exposed when you walk in the tank. You, your numbers and your story will be out there for the sharks to pick apart and ultimately, for others to witness on national TV - while not knowing the outcome.
All that to say, even though we didn’t lock down a shark as an investor and it was nerve-racking, we gained a lot with this experience. Our website saw a huge boost in traffic and purchases after our appearance and the momentum hasn’t dwindled since. Every time our episode reruns, we see a boost in online purchase orders, inbound email, and social media engagement. Customers recognize us from Shark Tank and as a result, seek our product. The ROI on marketing dollars and brand awareness is invaluable and was well worth the time and effort.
LM: What is some advice you can offer aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter your industry?
SS: Know what you’re capable of, what you bring to the table, use insights from your own background as a competitive advantage, and think strategically about what you need to be successful and how to position yourself to achieve your goals. It takes relentless perseverance to get to where you’re going and the path is not always linear. Be ready for some twists, peaks and valleys, and always believe in yourself along the way, so others can believe in you too.
There’s also a quote by Simon Sinek that I love: “Too many people ignore opportunities because they only see danger. Entrepreneurs ignore danger because they only see opportunities.”
To me, it means that as an entrepreneur, you’re willing to take the risk because the upside and opportunity far outweigh the fear, or the risks. If you’re willing to push past your comfort zone, you’ll start to see the world through an entirely new lens, and if something doesn’t work out, you can always try again. Opportunities aren’t one and done - they are there for the taking and for those who are willing to do the work.
LM: What are some challenges you faced that you didn’t expect as an entrepreneur? What are some challenges you did expect?
SS: Raising capital takes so much mental, physical, and emotional stamina. It’s actually a lot like dating. You need to meet a lot of people and do some soul searching before finding the ‘right one’ for you. To top it off, the stats for women of color, and for founders who are moms, are significantly lagging behind other demographic groups, particularly men. I look forward to the day when there’s equality in venture capital for future generations, like my daughters’, so that they can step into equitable opportunities to live out their dreams.