Cat, you have a really interesting food background – tell us about yourself.
My love of food started in my family’s grocery shop in the mountains of Italy and this led to an early career in food, which kicked off at the tender age of 21. I worked at they United Nations food agencies in Rome where I created campaigns and programmes promoting sustainable livelihoods for farmers. For here I moved to take on the role as CEO of Slow Food UK, the global campaigning organisation for good, clean and fair food.
Where does your passion for food come from?
My family has a small grocery shop in a small town in the mountains of Northern Italy of where we make our own pasta, pesto and lots of other specialities of the region. It started from there really and then I went into food from day one working with farmers and small producers with the part of the UN that takes care of food policy and farmers – the story behind our food, the producers and their ingredients I am very passionate about.
You launched in April 2016, tell us about the lead up to launch.
The brand was two years in the making before we finally launched exclusively in Waitrose. We are a founding team of a splendid creative and a very gifted infant nutritional therapist so the lead up to our launch was basically a lot of time in my kitchen and very, very late nights – with my daughter often toddling around in diapers. Alice, Piccolo’s nutrition expert and head of recipe development, and I ensure that all the recipes are balanced and delicious, and Kane, Piccolo’s head creative, and I make sure everything about the look and feel of Piccolo is on point. We got through a big climb from choosing our investors and launching Piccolo by eating well always and making Kane's favourite dish a slow cooked rabbit casserole the national dish of Malta where he is from. I think the best was when we had pallets of stock arriving to my hallway and we wrecked the walls and had cases of product lined all over the house – by then we really knew an office was sorely needed, but we miss those days. Now we are fast out-growing our new office.
You’re stocked in Waitrose, Ocado and Whole Foods to name a few, how difficult has it been to grow your stocklist?
We have a great product which has proven popular with parents that we are incredibly proud and it's the product that is first and foremost. With that said, the six years I had leading the Slow Food organisation in the UK was a great learning ground in which I got to know all kinds of great persons in the retail trade and lots of other founders of successful food brands. It’s a great industry, buzzing, fiercely competitive, and exciting — I am grateful to be experiencing it in my own small way. It was a big change from the non-profit world and the environment of the United Nations and Slow Food where the ‘KPIs’ are really all about making a difference and tracking how you have helped people be it a family eat more nutritiously or improve a farmer’s sustainable livelihood.
What advice would you give to any entrepreneurs who have a passion for food?
I am all about team. It’s very hard to have all the skills and even persona type to be able to do it all yourself effectively, and critically while remaining sane. Also just more fun with a few like-minded spirits sharing the twists and turns!
Piccolo is big on charitable giving which is amazing. How did your collaboration with the National Childbirth Trust come about?
My relationship with the NCT began over 6 years ago now, so it started before I became a mother as I have always been passionate about infant health, feeding and well-being. Breastfeeding and first foods are a big part of a long term health of a child, so when then when I had my daughter Juliet the interest and emotional tie to these issues only grew.
You’re what we call a “mumpreneur” – entrepreneur who is also a mother; how do you juggle raising a young child and running such a rapidly expanding business?
It’s definitely not easy having a young child and a young business, both which demand a lot of attention! I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of support from grandparents who are at the core of our family life. I won’t have been able to have all these balls juggling without them really. When my dad isn’t chasing Juliet around, he is doing handy work in our office or just welcoming guests up to Casa Piccolo. He ran some very large budgets and is an ace himself as a former auditor which is helpful for Piccolo.
What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Keep to deadlines to get off the ground and launch no matter how steep the climb.
How do you deal with obstacles you encounter?
Honestly if it’s a big obstacle, I will consult our directors as I chose them precisely because I believe obstacles are best handled by those who might have jumped that kind of obstacle before. There hasn’t been a time they have not been there for the team and me.
What are your top tips for tuning out and relaxing?
I don’t know about tuning out, more of an always-on-type, but I really enjoy cooking and baking. Quite into baking banana bread with a hefty dose of vanilla, and a good pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. I’ll come in to the office armed with a heap of baked goods…the team have gained a few kilos between all the cooking & baking that Alice and I do. We have a puppy in the office most days so he helps me and the whole team keep our cool and have a laugh – maybe even relax at the end of the day!
What does the next year look like for Piccolo?
We have lots of really exciting plans for the next year with new flavours coming out and some amazing distribution so more families can discover Piccolo’s Mediterranean Goodness!
To find out more about Cat and Piccolo, click here.