This week’s meet-a-mom is Teresa Purzner, the accomplished mom of three who recently launched Cerebelly, an amazing new baby food brand. When she couldn’t find a product that was both convenient and had the nutrition she was looking for, she developed her own, which you can now find in 480 Whole Foods stores nationwide, as well as online. But Teresa isn’t just a mom and entrepreneur—she also happens to be a Stanford-trained neurosurgeon, and that’s where this brand and story gets interesting. We spoke to Teresa about Cerebelly, baby nutrition, being a working mom and more.
What was the “aha” moment that lead to Cerebelly?
I had spent years studying the human brain, first in medical school, then as a neurosurgeon, and most recently while getting my PhD in Developmental Neurobiology at Stanford. It was while I was at Stanford that I had the first of my three amazing children. When it came time to transition my son to solids, my initial instinct was that buying pre-made baby food would be a great time-saver; as a busy working mom, buying food would allow me to spend more quality time with my son. So I went to my local grocery store armed with a list of 19 nutrients I knew I wanted to have to support brain growth… but was shocked to find that the vast majority of those nutrients were totally absent in pre-made foods. In fact, of the 19 essential nutrients – I couldn’t find more than 3 in any individual pack! That’s when I decided I had to do something.
Were you surprised by what you found in the grocery store?
I was surprised and very disappointed. I was lucky in that I knew I could solve the problem for myself – even if it meant having to wake up at 5am every day to make food. But that wasn’t helping other moms who I knew wanted to give their kids the very best too. There was solid science showing how important these 19 nutrients are to growing kids, and yet no one was taking advantage of it to improve nutrition.
Did you try to make your own food?
I did! I woke up really early many mornings so I could steam and puree vegetables, grind up squash seed, mash blueberries. Some nutrients required a lot of creativity and trips to specialty supermarkets to get in meaningful amounts and others, like DHA, were extremely difficult to get anywhere, at least in a form I wanted. It was next to impossible to do it, and highly unrealistic to assume that most parents would have the time – or the knowledge – to do what I was doing. It’s why my unique skill set came in handy here.
What was the path from that experience to getting a product out on the shelves?
It’s been a long road – we’ve been working on Cerebelly since I had my first baby, who is 5 now! I called my brother, our co-founder, and said we have to do this! So together we found the best pediatricians, nutritionists, and food scientists to help us come up with the right formulations that would taste delicious but wouldn’t compromise the nutritional integrity of what we were putting out there. Then we had to do a bunch of research to figure out a way to make food that was always veggie first. We sourced all our farms and tested their lead levels in their soil to make sure they met our standards. We really put so much thought and time into every aspect to make sure we were delivering the very best. It was something we couldn’t take lightly.
Do you have any tips for dealing with picky eaters?
Don’t give up!! It takes up to ten times of introducing a new food to your picky one till they have a change of heart. So keep trying! The payoff is worth it.
I still give pouches to my 2-year-old since he’s not a great veggie eater. Is this a smart idea or do you advise against this?
I think any way you can get your kid to eat veggies is great! Just make sure you read the back of your pouches and that there really ARE veggies in what you are buying. Cerebelly is the only pouch that always has vegetables as the main ingredient, so you know you are getting the most nutrient dense food for your kids.
Please tell me about the “quiz” on your website – is this customization something that separates you from other brands?
Different regions of the brain grow at different times, and during these times they require specific nutrients to support that development. There are different milestone markers that help us zero in on your child’s specific development so we can send the right combination of pouches with the right combination of nutrients. No one else has this because frankly, there hasn’t been a neurosurgeon/developmental neurobiologist that has decided to launch a food brand!
What are you most surprised with in terms of the brand’s success?
That people have been craving this! The number of messages we receive from mom’s all over the country thanking us for putting a healthy option out there for their kids that is accessible and attainable. It’s incredible.
What’s next for Cerebelly?
Our mission as a company and as individuals, is to change the way we nourish our kids. The standards we have in this country are simply not good enough, and we are going to push and fight hard to change that. Because we know we can. And it’s time.
You’re obviously a very busy working mom. How do you deal with stressful days, or mom guilt?
Every day it’s a challenge trying to figure out how to balance it all, and there are many days when I feel like I am disappointing everyone. Luckily, when you work on an important problem with sincerity and discipline, you start to find yourself surrounded by really competent, passionate and good people. I don’t mean good as in talented – I mean good as in good human beings. The people who have come on board with all my ventures are insanely overqualified, but they come on anyway because they believe it’s worth doing and were willing to give up job security and salary to do it. That takes a certain type of person. I’ve also been really fortunate to have surgical mentors who are unusually understanding and supportive – something that certainly hasn’t always been the case for women in surgery! And I can’t forget the most important people – my parents have been a life-line for me and my children, and I scored the world’s best nanny (thanks Sandra!). It’s only because of all these people that I can do what I do and still get home to my children. While I have many exciting aspects of life, nothing compares to the moments I’m with my husband and children. It’s bliss.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about Cerebelly?
We want what’s best for your kids. In all sincerity, it’s not about selling a certain number of pouches, it’s about giving the best nutrition to the most number of children. That is what inspires each and every one of us, every day, to put the best product out there. It’s why I decided to take this on when it was the last thing I thought I had time for. But I am super proud of what we have accomplished, and I can’t wait to keep pushing ahead and bringing more nutritious food to the table for everyone.
You can buy Cerebelly in 480 Whole Foods Markets nationwide and online at cerebelly.com. Use code LOCALMOMS for 15% off your first order!
This post is sponsored by Cerebelly.