It wasn’t until self-proclaimed “data nerd” Angela Sutherland became pregnant with her first child that her analytical brain zeroed in on baby food. After reading research stressing how vital nutrition is within a child’s first 1,000 days, she scanned the shelves of all of her local grocers for the healthiest products on the market. But she was disheartened to find that even for popular brands labeled “organic,” 50% of calories were derived from fructose.
Determined to find a healthier alternative for the more than 83 million families across the U.S., the Goldman Sachs alum mapped out a competitive analysis of the $71 billion market. With the help of longtime friend and journalist Evelyn Rusli, in 2017 she launched Yumi: a direct-to-consumer organic, plant-based food service whose meals are tailored to babies’ and toddlers’ stages of development. As part of the cofounders’ “food is pharma” mission, parents also receive educational materials based on research and clinical studies.
“We realized we could help parents connect the dots between what they were feeding their kids and their future health outcomes.”
“We realized we could help parents connect the dots between what they were feeding their kids and their future health outcomes,” Sutherland, who serves as CEO, tells Forbes exclusively. “At 6 months for instance, we point out that your child’s natural iron stores are depleted (children are born with a certain amount of iron which is depleted at [this age]) which is why we deliver meals with dark leafy greens, to help boost iron levels.”
But Sutherland says raising capital proved challenging. At a time when less than 2% of U.S. venture funding goes to all women-founded teams, she says she and Rusli were told “no” hundreds of times before they heard “yes.”
“Many investors were skeptical. They questioned just how deeply parents would care about the specific amounts of iron or folate in their children’s meals,” she says.
Much has changed since then, and on Tuesday Yumi announced a $67 million Series B led by San Francisco-based biotech fund Jazz Ventures Partners, AF Ventures and 23andme cofounder and CEO Anne Wojcicki, bringing the company’s total funding to $79 million. Previous investors include NEA and Brand Foundry, as well as the founders of Warby Parker, Harry’s, Sweetgreen and Uber, and celebrities like Gabrielle Union and Snoop Dogg, who calls the company a “game-changer.”
Since expanding nationwide in 2019, Sutherland says Los Angeles-based Yumi has seen 20x growth and now feeds 3% of all babies in the U.S. The cofounders expect nearly $100 million in sales next year.
Investors say part of Yumi’s draw is its use of proprietary algorithms to help customize subscription meal plans, something old-school competitors like Gerber have yet to attempt. “We were immediately drawn to Yumi’s innovation in this category,” says Andrew Firlik, managing partner of Jazz Venture Partners.
Anjula Acharia, founder and CEO of A-Series Investments and Management, who in addition to Yumi has backed billion-dollar startups such as ClassPass, says it comes down to science.
“It’s unacceptable that for years parents only had two choices: make their own baby food or feed their babies unhealthy products that sat on shelves for months or even years and, in many cases, contained dangerous heavy metals.”
“It’s unacceptable that for years parents only had two choices: make their own baby food or feed their babies unhealthy products that sat on shelves for months or even years and, in many cases, contained dangerous heavy metals,” she says, referencing a recent Congressional report on the prevalence of heavy metals in major baby food brands.
Such revelations, coupled with pandemic-fueled ecommerce and wellness trends—especially among Millennial parents, over 50% of whom say they’d pay more for high-quality, ready-made meals, according to research from YouGov America—has helped Yumi deliver 10 million meals since the crisis began.
“Both the retail and CPG landscapes have changed dramatically before our eyes,” says Neil Blumenthal, cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, who believes the company is in “a unique position to speak directly to a new generation of parents.”
With its newfound funding, Yumi is positioning itself for continued growth in the year ahead. The company has nearly doubled its team in the past year to include a slew of high-profile hires hailing from Nike, Airbnb and Beyond Meat and is now focused on expanding its product offerings (including its line of kids “Biteamin” supplements) and into omnichannel distribution.
“We know we are in a space dominated by massive incumbents,” says Sutherland. “But we are inspired by the science and the notion that success here could shape generations to come.”