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The NZ entrepreneur who wants to make baby food better

Business / news
The NZ entrepreneur who wants to make baby food better
Nutritionist Gina Urlich is the founder of NZ baby food company Norish.
Gina Urlich has created a baby food business that is making powdered, freeze-fried product.

Cracking Australia. It’s often a long-held dream for New Zealand businesses.

But for one Hawke’s Bay natural baby food startup, Norish, selling across the Tasman has always been in the plan - and less than two years after it was founded, about 15% of sales come from Australia.

Norish was founded in April 2021 by nutritionist and former nurse Gina Urlich.

The New Zealand mother-of-four took $200,000 of family funds and used that to bootstrap the research and development needed to create a line of natural, freeze-dried and nutritional baby products that at first glance might appear to have more in common with the food served to astronauts.

Norish baby food comes as a powder, with parents adding water to the mix to turn it back into “whole food form”.

Because the products are freeze-dried powders, they are shelf stable and retain and even concentrate the nutrients from the ingredients, Urlich says.

Urlich says some mainstream baby foods such as the popular pouches of pureed baby food you see in the supermarket go through “extreme heating” to make sure they are sterile and safe, but this process destroys water-soluble vitamins and essential nutrients, which are then put back into the product as additives.

A typical Norish blend might contain quinoa powder, carrot, cauliflower or another vegetable blend, grass fed beef bone broth and other dense foods like spirulina or kelp.

“When I started developing the recipes, I really leant into those foods with concentrated nutrients, and then also bioavailable nutrients - ones that are really easy for a baby to digest. These are quite different from the kind of conventional food that we see in the baby food market. Things like liver and bone broth quinoa, and all those fruits and vegetables as well. But pairing them together to enhance that bioavailability and absorption of those nutrients as well.”

Urlich says the freeze drying of the ingredients in the Norish products is a critical part of its manufacturing process and what makes the baby food nutrient dense.

“We knew when we were launching the product it was going to be legitimising that new concept of a baby food. It was really kind of testing the waters, but it's been so well received. The convenience of people taking [the baby food powder] on an aeroplane, and everyone travelling, it's just been so popular for holidays, or those kind of long haul flights or if they're going camping.”

From founding the firm in April 2021, Urlich had a product to market a year later.

The startup is using an Auckland manufacturing facility but the firm is based in Hawke’s Bay where Urlich lives.

Urlich says getting the business up and running has “been a bit of a whirlwind”, but change in the baby food market has been slow.

“I think in the 15 years since having my first child nothing's really changed. Probably the most innovative change that we've seen in baby food has been like the pouch and baby sucking it out of the pouch, more than the food or the ingredients. So it was long overdue for something to come on the market and, and really offer some nutrients at the same time.”

The firm is focusing on e-commerce, selling primarily through its website and selected health stores like Health Post. Urlich says it’s already selling well in New Zealand and Australia, with about 15% of sales coming from Australia.

Every month Urlich says the company has to increase the size of their product run, and believes there is an opportunity for Norish to supply products in other markets as well.

“We’re constantly blown away by how much product we are going through.”

Urlich’s existing business, and social media profile, also played a part in boosting Norish.

Urlich has had a successful nutrition business that focuses on women's health and infant nutrition, and she has more than 33,000 followers on Instagram.

Thanks to a star appearance at startup accelerator Innovate Hawke’s Bay, the company attracted investment in 2022 from Fingermark technology firm founder Luke Irving and one of the sons of the Ezibuy-founding Gillespie family, Tim Gillespie.

“The investors that have come on board with us offer the opportunity for us to open up to new markets like Australia, but then also their experience and their advice around strategy and in growing as well has been hugely beneficial. Sometimes as a startup and an entrepreneur, it can feel quite lonely and quite isolating. So for me, it's been just such a relief to have an advisory board and a team of experienced people to lean on when we need to make decisions or ask a question or even celebrate the wins.”

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This is a fantastic story  , thanks Rebecca : its heartening to see the spirit of innovation & entrepreneurship is burning brightly in Zealandia ... 

... we are more than milk powder  & logs .... NZ has the ability to value add to exports  ...