Ready, Set, Food! recently announced that they raised $3.5 million in a funding round led by new investors, Edward-Elmhurst Health and Danone Manifesto Ventures. The investment will help Ready Set, Food! give every baby a chance to gain immunity against allergens by an early introduction system innovated by the company.
Ready, Set, Food! was launched in 2018 in Los Angeles to make it easier for all parents to introduce allergens to their babies at a young age. Since then, they have appeared on Shark Tank and have Mark Cuban as an investor, helped 20,000 families, and raised millions of dollars in funding to help grow the company.
Xtalks spoke with Daniel Zakowski, the CEO and co-founder of Ready, Set, Food! who is on a mission to help parents save their children from food allergies by providing them with a powder added to their milk bottles.
Zakowski started this company because his nephew developed several severe food allergies. “There can be 200,000 fewer babies every year that end up with food allergies like my nephew,” he says.
Zakowski found, through various studies, that introducing an infant to small amounts of allergenic foods starting at four months of age, regularly and on an ongoing basis, can help prevent 80 percent of food allergies from developing in the first place.
“It’s not guaranteed because it’s only 80 percent, but it’s very likely that if we’d been able to feed my nephew these allergenic foods regularly starting from a young age that he wouldn’t have all these food allergies he has now,” he adds.
He found that parents want to help prevent food allergies in children, but it can be time-consuming and difficult to ensure all allergens are introduced repeatedly and regularly.
“We made a powder of allergenic foods starting with peanut, egg and milk that dissolves in breast milk or formula. That way, you can feed it to your baby even before they are ready to reliably eat solids, to make sure that you have the best chance at preventing food allergies,” he says.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced that allergens should be introduced to children alongside other foods, which would be around four to six months of age.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that early and sustained peanut introduction reduced the risk of peanut allergies by 80 percent. This was in a study that evaluated over 600 infants that were at high risk of peanut allergies. They were randomly assigned to consume peanut protein in children as young as four months of age until five years of age.
“The real goal is that every parent needs to follow the new medical guidelines[introducing allergenic foods early], because if every parent did, there would be over 200,000 fewer babies every single year that develop severe food allergies in the US alone,” he continues.
The product is part of a three-step guidance system. There are nine allergens that parents should introduce to their children right from the start, but the team at Ready, Set, Food! noticed that all nine would not be able to dissolve in a bottle of breast milk or formula. Therefore, the company starts with three proteins which include peanut, egg and milk.
The doses start small and slowly increase as the baby gets older and can start to eat because then more allergens can be introduced by adding the powder to foods such as oatmeal and rice cereal that allow the product to dissolve.
“Stage one, is introducing the allergens [peanut, egg and milk] one at a time in a bottle. Stage two is keeping the allergens as part of your diet in a bottle. And then the third stage is growing the number of allergens [peanut, egg, milk, wheat, sesame and tree nuts] once you can mix it into food,” says Zakowski.
Additionally, the product is not FDA approved because the FDA does not regulate products like Ready, Set, Food! Zakowski says, “We’re a dietary supplement made of just food, so it’s not an FDA question one way or another.”
Additionally, the company sets its prices low to accommodate a wide range of parents. If they were to take the route to seek FDA approval, this would increase the cost of their product and those benefits do not outweigh their mission.
“Our product is 100 percent made with real food… The only thing we do special is make sure the particles are small enough that it doesn’t get stuck in the nipple of the baby bottle, which is not super easy in the case of peanuts, but it’s also still just the food you’d feed your baby,” he adds.
“It’s healthy, real, organic food and that’s why it’s not really necessary for it to be approved by the FDA. They would just add costs that we’d have to pass onto the end-user,” Zakowski continues.
Zakowski and his team at Ready, Set, Food! are certain of the importance and effectiveness of their products. Firstly, their mission is bolstered by the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and The American Academy of Allergens have helped educate and bring credibility to the idea of early allergy introduction.
Second, Mark Cuban is an investor. They received further awareness from their appearance on Shark Tank in January 2020, which has endorsed their company, expanding their product reach to a broad range of audiences.
“I think all of them working together is the key. I mean, Shark Tank has been awesome, and Mark has been really wonderful, but I think that combined with everything else [USDA and AAP] is what’s going to help give us the awareness that we need,” he emphasizes.
Ready, Set, Food! is looking to expand its product line to protect babies and toddlers from more allergens. It is crucial to regularly add allergens to baby food without too long of a gap that could make them more susceptible to developing allergies.
They believe “There are some exciting opportunities there [food allergy category] and we’ll hopefully have some products to launch by early next year to help parents have more options to keep allergenic foods as a part of their baby’s diet,” Zakowski concludes.