Inspirational Woman: Cat Gazzoli | Founder, Piccolo

Cat GazzoliI am the founder of the UK’s biggest premium baby and toddler food brand, Piccolo.

I studied Political Science at the University of Berkeley, California before moving on to do an MBA and Masters in Rome, Italy. Before setting up Piccolo, I worked in the charitable sector of the food world. I began my career with the United Nations food agencies in Rome where my focus was campaigns and programmes to promote female parity and equal options alongside sustainable livelihoods for farmers. I then moved on to become CEO of Slow Food UK, the global campaigning organisation for fair food. From there, I went on to create Piccolo with creative genius and director, Kane O’Flaherty, and infant nutritionist, Alice Fotheringham, my wonderful co-founders. Piccolo launched in 2016 and was built on an ethos of responsibility to give back, as I wanted to build a business that was both commercially successful and impactful on the social side. We support local families with charitable activity for every purchase of any Piccolo product.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Watching my father’s work running a refugee agency within the United Nations made it clear that having a career with purpose, where helping people was at the core of my operations, would be essential no matter what! It was essentially a no brainer, but as my work progressed, I realized that planning can only get you so far. I did not factor in what it would be like when trying to find a more permanent location for my family in one or two countries. Also, when I started my journey with Piccolo and moved away from the charity sector into the world of business, there was a lot of uncharted territory for me, especially when compared to more established players in the game. This required a lot of learning through practice, and this is something I attribute to Piccolo’s success as an adaptable and proactive company.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

No matter what size a business is, I think every company has a duty to help. During my years in the charity sector, a lot of my focus was on food provenance, education, and sustainability. It was essential for me to mirror these values in Piccolo’s operations, but that was not without its challenges. An example would be the ongoing issue of the recyclability that has plagued the baby food category, as over 60 million non-recyclable pouches are sold every year. Finding materials that can duplicate the functionality of plastic and aluminium is no small feat. This took time, research, and dedication, but all the hard work paid off in the end. This April, Piccolo launched the UK’s first ever 100% recyclable baby food pouch! My time at Piccolo has shown me that working in a commercial sector can often have a larger impact when raising awareness and driving change. Being the change you want to see, rather than waiting for others to do so will always have a greater effect!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement is the help that I have been able to provide parents in need through Piccolo. This has always been at Piccolo’s core, but after the difficulties of 2020, we were even more motivated to make it our mission to support parents by providing them with health food for their children. At times like this, it has been more important than ever to use your platform and position to help those in needs. In February 2021, we launched our One For You, One For Mum Campaign. Working with various retail partners throughout the year, for every Piccolo pouch bought, we’ve matched it with a donation to new mums in need. Working with our charity partners, Little Village and City Harvest, we have continued to help families by providing much-needed donations and resources to families across the city who need it most. Piccolo has donated over 500,000 baby meals and continued to donate 10% of profits to charities and helping local families. I am extremely proud that my experience in the charity sector is so close to Piccolo’s core values, and that I can continue giving back in the food industry.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

To start with, I think my experience working in the charity sector bought a fresh perspective and something new to baby food market in the UK. As a growing business, actively listening to the needs and feedback from families has always been integral to our development and ability to navigate the ever-changing world. The company’s flexibility and creativity has been vital in taking Piccolo from one mum’s idea, to the UK’s biggest premium baby and toddler food company.

The way Piccolo has weathered the storm of the pandemic this past year has been a real sense of achievement for the team and me. In a time that has been devastating for many small businesses, we have ensured we consistently adapt our offering to parents in line with their needs. When the UK went into lockdown, Piccolo actively responded to the circumstances by setting up an online store in three days. This helped families struggling to find products when shops shelves were left empty after stockpiling hysteria. Our cooking range, designed specifically for babies and toddlers, also helped families during the pandemic. Since March 2020, we have helped parents make 4 million meals with our cooking range. The innovative cooking range is one of a kind in the category, and is packed full of organic, balanced ingredients with no added salt, sugar, or palm oil. The existing range features organic stock cubes and sachets, star, butterfly and tricoloured shell shaped baby pasta and smaller sauce pots. This month, we are continuing our offering to parents with the launch of seven additions including new stir-in sauce flavours and sizes to cater to different cooking occasions and easy-to-prepare risottos.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think mentorship is essential to both personal and professional development. It is extremely beneficial to learn from others who have more experience within different industries as it helps to inspire and evolve your own operations. As team, Piccolo has seen a huge growth spurt in the last year. One of my top priorities was to make sure each member had a mentor from outside the company. I think actively discussing their work life and development is crucial to have a capacity to learn. I have been fortunate enough to have Prue Leith as both a mentor and investor from the start of my journey with Piccolo. Not only do I find Prue extremely inspiring as both a working mum and entrepreneur, but her knowledge of the food industry and belief in my vision boosted my confidence to launch Piccolo. My other key mentor has been sustainability expert, Jonathon Porritt. His guidance has been vital to Piccolo’s consistent goal of improving our sustainability efforts. With his support, Piccolo launched the UK’S first ever 100% recyclable baby food pouch and pouches made of 80% plant derived materials. We also became the first carbon neutral baby food company in the UK.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

Companies need to elevate the women in their organisation. Celebrate their differences and support them in areas where they need more confidence! The business world can be very daunting and certainly isn’t for everyone but making sure the working environment considers the needs of female employees is crucial. Whether it be flexible working hours, work from home options, or paying for workshops and webinars, making sure your female employees feel valued has an intrinsic impact on their confidence. This helps their progression in the business sector and increases the likelihood of other women applying for jobs in areas that are male dominated. Companies need to lead by example which is something Piccolo has always strived for. Over half of our company is made up of dynamic and talented women, all of whom add some much value to Piccolo.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Don’t delay with starting Piccolo! The vision behind the brand speaks for itself, and that is more important than having years of experience in the industry you want to go into. It is not necessary to have a platform of experience to become an entrepreneur. Utilise the tools and knowledge you have and build a team that will support you in the areas you don’t. Another great way to get into is by reading the relevant trade magazines which will help you get the buzz and be inspired to join in on all the fun.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

A large part of what I hope Piccolo will achieve in the future is already in action. In the last 3 months, our company has increased from 12 to 26 employees. This is just the start for Piccolo as our growth goals means the team will continue to grow with lots of fresh and exciting new talent. 2021 has been the biggest year yet for Piccolo, but the long-term effects of the pandemic will be a continual lesson that we will navigate over the next few years. We are going to continue to develop our innovative NPD offering to parents in true pioneer fashion, as it is important to keep adapting to market trends and customer needs. I also hope to take our sustainability efforts even further as ensuring a greener future for our little ones is crucial.

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