Sprout Baby – Love Your Baby, Love the Planet
Sprout Baby sells organic and natural products for babies and moms. When Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) interviewed founder Jody Sherman by phone, we learned about the process the company uses to vet products for sale on their site. We also learned that the story behind this baby products company has an unusual — and heart-tugging — twist.
We think you’ll love Sprout Baby’s products — as well as its generous referral program. This is Part Two of two parts. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Do any of the staff at Sprout Baby have babies of their own?
SHERMAN: One of my partners is a mom named Emily. Emily used to be a teacher, but after she had a baby, she decided she wanted to spend more time with her daughter. Emily basically looked like our customer base. She was 26 years old at the time, really focused on having a healthy environment for her baby.
She opened a store in Venice, California, that just sold eco-conscious products and slightly used recycled products. She got involved with Sprout Baby, and she does deep research on products. She represents the customer really well because she is the customer.
My other partners either had a baby or were trying, and since then, in the year we’ve been in business, we’ve had three newborns.
BPGL: So you have a lot of market research capability right in your own staff. Having their own little ones using the organic baby products must be a great motivator for working at Sprout Baby. Is that what gets all of you going to work each morning?
SHERMAN: I don’t have any kids, but I have two young nephews — five and six. I’ve known them, obviously, since they were born. And I think they’re the reason why we’re doing this — for me, anyway. The rest of my team will tell you they’re doing it for their own kids.
There was one other thing that influenced me getting involved in this business that I’ve only talked about recently. In 1988, somebody left a brand-new baby on my front porch. An eight-minute-old infant. Torn umbilical cord. On my porch. Wrapped in a sweatshirt. It was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had in my life.
At the time, it kind of put the hooks in me. I did what you’re supposed to do. I called the paramedics, and I did what the paramedics said, and the baby’s fine. But it really affected me, because I thought, Wow, this kid started out life being dealt the worst deck ever. He was dropped off on the porch of a bachelor who was never home — and just happened to be home on that day. Had I not been home, that baby would have died.
BPGL: That is an amazing story. I’ve never actually heard of that happening to anyone in real life. How did it affect your thinking about starting Sprout Baby?
SHERMAN: I just found myself thinking, My parents did such a good job raising me and my brother, even though, if you were to use the same information they had then to make many consumer choices now, you really wouldn’t be a great parent. The information they had then was state of the art, and now that information has been updated by better and more relevant information, in many cases.
For example, you don’t want to leave the kid in the car with the air conditioner running because it’s cooler than bringing them in the store; it’s unsafe for the baby and bad for the environment. You don’t want to feed them white carbs all the time. And you don’t want to put lotions on their skin that contain harmful or extraneous chemicals. You don’t want to paint your house with VOC-laden paints.
They didn’t know these things, but we do. And I feel like, if my company can help move the needle even a little, in teaching people to be conscious consumers — that right choices don’t have to be more expensive, harder choices — we can really have a long-lasting impact.
BPGL: You have an ad for the Sprout Baby Referral Program prominently displayed on your website. Is it connected with finding an adoptive home for your baby, if you don’t want to raise it?
SHERMAN: Absolutely not. No. Our referral program is about word of mouth, or “Word of Mom,” as we like to call it. It’s the reason I got into this business, when I learned how parents were making decisions based on the advice of other parents.
Early on, when we would get a new customer, I would oftentimes get an email from someone saying, “I just was told about this by customer XYZ, and I have a couple questions.” So we did some testing. I went out and started talking to customers. — I still call ten customers every single day, by the way, just to ask them how they’re doing with us as a company if there’s anything they’d like. — And it gave me an opportunity to pick their brains.
I asked them if they would be comfortable sharing what they know about us with other people, if we’d done a good job for them. And overwhelmingly, the answer was, “Yes!” So, I started talking with them about what would incentivize them to do that. Because, as much as I’d like them to be advocating for me, they’ve got other things to do, like raising a family and paying the bills and working at their job. We created this referral program based on those discussions.
When you become a customer, as soon as you get your first order, you get a card that has your referral code on it. You also get an email with your referral code. You can give that code to any of your friends, or anyone you know, and they will get 15 percent off their first order. And if it’s a new customer for us, we send you $10. There’s no limit to the number of customers you can refer to us.
We’re still running that program, and it’s been quite successful. Our customer acquisition cost has not gone up. What we’re paying as a referral fee is in line with allowing us to build our company in a way where we can responsibly grow and be around long term. Most moms know 10 people. If you tell 10 people, you can make $100, and you can do that fairly often. We send checks every week.
BPGL: What are some of the other products that you sell, besides baby food?
SHERMAN: We just launched diapers, and we did very extensive research on a lot of different diapering companies in order to pick a variety of diapers that met with our standards and our promise to Sprout Baby customers.
One of the brands we offer, Nature Baby Care, is even disposable — a choice a lot of parents make for convenience.
After doing massive amounts of research on every brand of disposable that was out there, including all of the “eco brands,” we liked Nature BabyCare because there is no polyurethane anywhere near this product. Urethane is one of the chemicals that we’ve sworn off.
Another thing is that it completely biodegrades. You can take this diaper when it’s done and throw it in the garbage. And when it goes into a landfill, it completely breaks down, back into nothing. And that’s the only diaper we’ve found that does that. Diapers take 500 years to disintegrate if they have plastic in them. It could be even be longer than that. Just think about that for a minute.
For cloth diapers, we’ve brought in Kissaluvs, Baby Bee Hinds and Play All Day. They’re wool, hemp, and cotton blends. The reason we went with them was that they are made of all-natural fibers from renewable resources.
We really like wool because not only is it a water repellent, but it stays dry, and it’s naturally cleaning. For example, when it gets wet, you can air dry it, and wool cleans itself. Every once in a while, you just re-lanolize it by putting lanolizing formula on it, and the wool diaper cover cleans itself again. It’s much, much lower impact on the environment.
BPGL: Have you noticed any issues with children being allergic to the wool in the diaper coverings?
SHERMAN: The wool is an outer cover for these diapers. We haven’t had any issues with that at all so far. The inner parts of the diapers are all either organic cotton or cotton hemp.
BPGL: What are some of the products you have for moms?
SHERMAN: We’ve just brought on a bunch of great lines of skincare products. There’s one in particular that we just introduced. It’s the line by Episencial. It’s a spinoff from Epicuren, which is an amazing high-end skincare line. Epicuren is an extremely well-regarded, boutique-only line that is super, super high quality. No bad ingredients. Everything is natural.
Kim Walls, the woman whose family started Epicuren, worked there for 15 years before starting her own company. Episencial is an all-new skincare line: sunscreens, lotions, etc., that are fruit-based, all-natural, and very reasonably priced.
BPGL: Have you vetted those skincare products on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database?
SHERMAN: Yes we do. We check every single product that we evaluate. We also have a partnership with Healthy Child Healthy World — in fact, we give 1 percent of all of our sales to Healthy Child Healthy World to help support their organization. Anything anybody buys from us helps support them. When we look at products, one of the first things we do is look at it against their criteria. That is our minimum screen for how we would consider whether or not a product works for us.
If it meets Healthy Child’s criteria, we then look at all of the ingredients and everything else on our own. We look at the product’s ingredients against the ingredient list Healthy Child says to avoid, and then we go a step deeper and use Skin Deep to check the toxicity in the ingredients.
Once a product passes those criteria, whether it’s a skin product or a feeding item, or whatever, we then start looking at it from the perspective of usability, practicality, and cost. Because, for us, that balance has got to be there. If a product costs the same as its non-eco counterpart, but it’s hard to live with, that’s not a good product.
We want to bring products to the market that are effective in doing what they’re supposed to, that don’t have any harmful ingredients of any kind, that are comparable in cost to their non-eco counterpart, and that are easy to use. We use them all ourselves. We’ve got enough babies and toddlers around the company where we can test everything.
BPGL: Do you typically warehouse everything and send it out yourselves?
SHERMAN: I sit in a room full of baby food and other products every day.
BPGL: So, if you get hungry, you have something good to snack on.
SHERMAN: I actually do. [He laughs.] In fact, yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch, so I opened a package of roasted bananas and brown rice. It’s like dessert!
BPGL: I assume you avoid ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
SHERMAN: There’s nothing like that in Sprout Foods. In fact, if you were to look at the ingredients in something like Summer Squash, Yukon Gold Potatoes, and Parmesan, the ingredients in it are summer squash, Yukon gold potatoes, and parmesan. They don’t put anything that doesn’t belong in the food in it.
Sprout Foods is an amazing line of food. It tastes really good. When you open the package, the smell that you get from this food versus the smell that you get from other brands that are popular — it’s like night and day. The texture is better. It doesn’t have any of that watery consistency that you see with most bottled brands.
And besides being convenient, the pouches are shelf stable, so you don’t have to refrigerate them before opening. You tear off the top, and if you don’t use the whole package, you can reseal it with the built-in zip lock. And if you’re away from home, you can just throw the packages in your diaper bag or purse.
Basically, we’ve taken the same approach with our entire product assortment. Every product is easy to live with. Also, for every single product we sell, you’ll see a manufacturer’s description and our own description of why we like it, which is the real-world reasons why we chose this product.
BPGL: I wish Sprout Baby had been around when my children were born.
SHERMAN: When I was doing the initial research with moms, that was what I heard over and over again: Where were you a year ago? Where were you five years ago? I wish I’d had you when I had my babies.
End of Part Two
Sprout Baby has provided Blue Planet Green Living readers the following discount code for 15% off your first order: BPGL15 The code is good through JANUARY 15, 2010.
Follow Sprout Baby
Part One: Sprout Baby – Spreading by “Word of Mom”
Part Two: Sprout Baby – Love Your Baby, Love the Planet (Top of Page)