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8/26/2004

Taters for tots

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Jennifer Howie stood at a shiny, polished aluminum table cutting up fresh organic pears she bought at the Boulder Farmers Market this week.

She meticulously cut out the cores and any blemishes in the skin before placing the fruit in a bucket of water.

When she finished slicing and cleaning the pears, she cooked them in a high-pressure cooker and then pureed them.

The end result will soon stock the shelves at the Boulder Co-op Market. Under the name Little Potatoes, Howie is marketing her product as freshly prepared, 100 percent natural baby food.

Howie, who devised most of her baby food recipes feeding her 13-month-old son, Grable, decided after talking to her girlfriends that there was a market for fresh, organic baby foods that aren’t made with sugar, salt or preservatives.

“I started on a whim,” Howie said.

The 26-year-old, who majored in history at the University of Northern Colorado, had no business experience. She tapped the expertise of her brothers, who both have master’s degrees in business administration.

Little Potatoes has been in the works since February, but Howie was only able recently to find liability insurance she could afford and a kitchen space to rent that wouldn’t break the bank.

She is renting kitchen space at the Burrito Kitchens’ building for $300 a month and in the past three weeks has stocked two large freezers full of brightly colored pureed fruits and vegetables.

The carrots are bright orange. The peas are a deep, lustrous green — unlike the baby food sold at supermarkets.

Greg Benson, owner of Burrito Kitchens, said he thinks Little Potatoes food is “awesome. I eat it myself when I feed the baby.”

Benson and his wife have a 9-month-old girl who “seems to like it,” said Benson. “We’re into organic stuff anyway so it makes us feel better she’s getting fresh food and organic,” he said.

Howie researched the best cooking methods for each type of produce. She steams, boils and bakes her fruits and vegetables, depending on which method retains the highest amount of nutrients. She then purees them, leaving the skin intact, before putting them in 4-ounce containers and placing them in the freezer.

“I’ve never been a recipe follower,” Howie said.

When she first started, Howie thought Little Potatoes would be a home delivery business. And while she does sell to a lot of individuals, she has been talking to the Boulder and Longmont food co-op markets.

She’s also had interest from Boulder County day-care centers.

“My goal is to have a good product that is preservative-free, only of the best quality, and I want it to be convenient,” said Howie.

The 4-ounce containers of baby food sell for between $1 and $1.10 apiece, except for the soy bean puree, which sells for $1.50.

Little Potatoes also offers a line of toddler foods, but those will only be available through home delivery and to day-care centers, she said.

With the help of her mother and mother-in-law, Howie makes apples, pears and peaches, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, winter squash and soy bean purees.

She also makes combinations of cherry and apple, blueberry and peach, plum and apple, carrot and apple and winter squash and corn purees.

Howie nearly gave up on her dream of owning her own business because she was having so much trouble finding reasonable insurance, kitchen space to rent and the right packaging.

Her brother inspired her to keep going.

He told her “if it were easy, someone else would have done it,” she said.

Little Potatoes is small enough right now that Howie can do it alone, with the help of her extended family.

In the short-term, she hopes to sell Little Potatoes products in stores across Colorado. Her five-year goal is to be in stores across the country.

“I wanted to do a more extensive menu, but it takes time to make it,” she said.

For toddlers, she makes chicken, noodles and veggies; beef, potato and veggies and pasta with homemade tomato sauce.

It would be too difficult for her to make these items for the grocery stores, she said. Eventually, when she does have employees, it might be possible, she added.

Howie doesn’t have a lot of money to market her business, but she recently partnered with Moxie Moms, a parenting group out of Boulder that teams up with area businesses to “help them promote their business and offer discounts to our members,” said Susan Lavelle, one of the founders of the group.

Howie was invited to bring baby food samples to the Moxie Moms picnic last weekend and “it looked really good. I was so busy with the picnic I didn’t get a chance to try it, but everybody was ranting and raving about it,” Lavelle said.

Moxie Moms “is a perfect mix for (Howie) because she is just starting out and it is a great way to tap into our market,” Lavelle said.

Moxie Moms has 450 members in Boulder County.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.