When it comes to baby food, many parents will agree simple is best. With this in mind, Massey University PhD student and registered NZ Dietician, Jeanette Rapson has developed an innovative way to help new parents feed their infant vegetables without the hassle.

With help from freeze-drying company Fresh As, Rapson has kickstarted her business Early Habits, and is making freeze-dried 100% vegetable baby food.

The business venture has secured her a nomination in the Momentum Student Entrepreneur category of the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards for 2021.

The awards showcase the best research innovations from New Zealand universities and research organisations – that are having a commercial impact.

Through her work as a dietician, she listened to many parents who told her about their frustrations.

“They are busy, but they still want to feed their baby healthy baby food and more vegetables, but there’s not a lot of availability for that in supermarkets.”

Having identified a gap in the market, and after enjoying using freeze-dried food products herself, she put two and two together.

“I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could have freeze-dried baby food?’ Freeze-dried products are very easy to store, and they have great shelf life. They travel well and they keep all the nutrients and the integrity of the original vegetable.”

Rapson’s journey into entrepreneurship began with the 2020 Grand Ideas Competition at Massey University, securing second place for her Early Habits idea.

She then received funding and mentor support through Massey Ventures, taking the opportunity to develop her understanding of business, entrepreneurial networks and give back to the business community. She was also a finalist in Kiwi Innovate 2020, run by The Factory in Palmerston North – and secured a spot on Innovate’s ten-week accelerator programme.

Early Habit’s baby food powders contain only vegetables for example broccoli, spinach, beetroot, kūmara, green bean, potato, pumpkin). The sachets are travel/storage friendly with a long shelf-life. With the simple addition of water, the powders rehydrate to smooth baby purées.

Her understanding of the nutritional infant feeding guidelines stood her in good stead to know what is a good first food for babies.

Having recently submitted her PhD research on infant nutrition as a student at Massey University and the Riddet Institute; she says to be recognised is an “honour and a privilege”.

“There are so many amazing students and young entrepreneurs out there working hard and I was blown away that they chose me.

“From the feedback [received]they really liked my knowledge of my customers and my understanding of the product and the things I’ve been achieving. Not just coming up with the idea but also moving forward with it. I think they were impressed by that which was really encouraging for me.

“It means a lot just to be nominated and I know that through this I will be able to meet some really great people as well.”