Camille Hunt is taking a bite out of baby food
Hunt dishes on the origin of her new consumer packaged goods company, First Course Foods, which aims to make mealtime easier for working parents and tastier for babies.
Camille Hunt’s son, Julian, is a picky eater, but not in the way you may think. He’s got a more—let’s say—adult palette, and his taste buds favour a piece of chicken over a bowl of applesauce. (I can’t say I blame Julian. I’m certainly more excited about wing Wednesday than a jar of Gerber). Hunt is leaning into her experience with Julian to launch a new company, First Course Foods. By crafting ready-to-eat meals for those littlest family members, First Course Foods hopes to make mealtimes easier for parents, and tastier and healthier for babies.
Given her background, her new focus on motherhood and baby food isn’t exactly tailormade. Hunt was born to Nepalese parents and grew up in New Zealand. She details that this Asian upbringing was what initially pushed her down the healthcare track—Hunt’s initial job was physiotherapist—and she arrived in Vancouver to gain a more “worldly perspective,” she tells Vancouver Tech Journal. Hunt originally moved to Australia where she first met her husband (a local engineer). But, she found it mirrored her New Zealand home. Hunt’s takeaway? The two Oceanic countries are both very small and isolated. She and her husband picked B.C. since their respective fields operate similarly here as they did in Australia. Hunt found an immediate difference when it came to Vancouver’s vibe, though.
“It's quite different,” she notes of her new home across the Pacific. “But that's the beauty of moving to a different place, right? You get to experience different opportunities. Also, we’d been living in a very small mining town in Australia. So coming to the big city was a really nice breath of fresh air. In general, I found Vancouver very welcoming. New Zealand and Australia are very, very white. I don't know how else to describe it,” she says, noting that it was a small, rural community she was living in—this changes demographics not just in Australia but worldwide, after all.
“I feel very comfortable in Vancouver. I was definitely seen as an outlier [in New Zealand], but here it doesn't necessarily feel like that.”
Hunt describes this life stage as “adult-focused.” She was career-driven. She enjoyed living in the biggest city she had experienced in her life, peering out over downtown Vancouver from her Coal Harbour apartment. Adults were really all she’d ever known. “I'm an only child. So, I had no exposure to other kids growing up: no siblings, no real cousins. So I didn't really know a lot about kids. I wasn't really interested. I was reluctant, but I'd been married for a long time. This is our seventh year. I couldn't get away from it. Still, I knew that I did want kids but it was very theoretical. ‘Oh, it'd be nice to have a child at some point,’” Hunt explains.
Around this time, another existential thought raced across her mind. This time, it was vocational. She wondered if physiotherapy was the right path, and realized she could probably do something more. Did she want to reset dislocated fingers and prep braces for the rest of her life? (Considering this isn't the Vancouver Physiotherapy Journal, you likely know where this is headed.) Hunt went back to school, completed an MBA, and got involved with innovation and entrepreneurship.
This refocus also put her in the sphere of Valhalla, a private capital firm. Hunt was working an internship at UBC at the time, and expressed a lot of interest in getting into venture capital and angel investing. Hunt and her husband had some capital of their own and wanted to break into the investment world. The pair were connected with Valhalla and hit it off immediately, with the firm calling Hunt to ask if she would join the team. She would go on to set up Valhalla’s Vancouver chapter. “They really took a risk on me. And I'm glad that it's paid off—definitely for me, and I hope for them, too.”
Hunt had her own medical-device startup back then, so First Course Foods is her second foray into founding. “It is really hard starting off,” she concedes. “But the second time around—you’ve had a couple of war wounds. You start to understand, ‘okay, these are the paths that I don't want to go down. Or, these are the ones that I am interested more in.’” But Hunt also reflects fondly on her experiences with Valhalla and the important role it’s played for her.
“I was on the investor side, right? It’s so easy [as an investor] to be like, ‘why did you do this?’ or ‘why didn’t you do that?’ Now that I’m in it, I’m realizing that being an entrepreneur is so hard,” Hunt says with a wry smile. “But all the skills I’ve learnt from Valhalla, from being an investor, really helped me in this whole journey. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t have the confidence to pursue something like this.”
Julian, Hunt’s son, was born in November 2020. Those early concerns for her came to pass. “I found it really hard to be a mom,” Hunt confesses. “I just didn't have any exposure to kids. I didn't know what to expect. I ended up having so many challenges with feeding, especially breastfeeding and formula feeding. It was really tough. It wasn't as smooth going as I would have hoped. Still, I’m one of those people who’s wildly optimistic. I told Randy [Valhalla’s chairman and CEO], ‘oh, I’ll be back within, like, two months. No problem. How hard can this parenting thing be?’ I was so off about that.”
Despite the challenges for Hunt, Julian started developing quite an appetite. So much so that within about five months, he began showing signs of a readiness to start eating. Enter the applesauce and baby food. “That’s just what you do, right? You have a baby and they eat baby food,” Hunt remembers thinking.
She wanted to start making some of the food herself, but Julian’s face would distort in disgust when presented with mashed peas or sweet potatoes. Hunt went back to the drawing board and came across the new-to-her philosophy of baby-led weaning, which, as the name suggests, puts the mealtime decision-making in the baby’s hands. The key principle of the philosophy is that parents should modify the adult food they are eating to feed their child, rather than preparing baby-specific food.
Let’s say you’re a working parent and you don’t have the time to make these modifications. Or you’re not meal-prepping consistently for yourself but want to ensure your baby has food at the ready—the scenario that Hunt experienced. That two-month maternity leave she thought would suffice had swelled to seven months, but Hunt was excited to get the Valhalla Summit off the ground. To ease the load at work, Hunt zeroed in on a few recipes that she and Julian could agree upon; meals that achieved both nutrition and taste. She stored those meals in the freezer and when Julian was ready to eat—signalled less-than-subtly by screaming—Hunt would pop those in the microwave. Within seconds, he would be eating. She had finally found the solution. And she also found she had a market.
Hunt recalls wondering if other parents were having the same issue. Sure enough, they too were trying to hit time, nutrition, and taste goals, especially because convenience foods aren’t exactly ideal fuel for a developing child. Chicken nuggets are a key bad example, she tells me. They’re loaded with sodium, preservatives and sugar. (I nodded back in approval with the hope of masking that I devoured hundreds of them as a child—an affinity that has continued into my adult life, too, unfortunately.)
“I really hope that I can help parents. That's my main mission behind the company. It’s hard being a parent and I’ve experienced that journey firsthand,” Hunt highlights.
When she considers the inspiration for the First Course Foods menu, she of course thinks first of Julian. But other aspects of Hunt’s past shine through. First, she worked as a line cook in high school. And Hunt’s Nepalese heritage, the one that pushed her in the direction of healthcare, also instilled in her an appreciation of flavours and spices. When Hunt became a mother, she thought cooking would become too time-consuming, however. That was until the First Course Foods eureka moment.
“I can actually use my skills to create really tasty food for babies, toddlers, and even adults,” Hunt says. “All the adults that have tried my food have been like, this is delicious—a far departure from an adult’s reaction to baby food. I don't know if you've ever tasted baby food, but it's disgusting.”
First Course Foods is far from that negative report card. So much so that it will feature prominently in the upcoming summer’s circuit of local farmers markets. In the near future, Hunt will cross off her to-do list both a first hire—a marketing role—and first placements at farmers markets—UBC and New Westminster. I was curious how Hunt was managing her busy schedule.
“Yeah, it's been actually really good,” she answers. “We’re into the swing of things. Julian is at daycare full-time and is very social; he loves hanging out with other babies and other kids. So I know that he's in a really good place. Then I'm able to work my day job and on First Course Foods in the evenings when he goes to sleep. It's been pretty long days, though—having a couple of jobs and just balancing everything.”
This emphasis on a need for balance invites questions into the gender disparity in the tech industry. When I ask Hunt about her experience, it’s clear she has thought about it. “I realized that we will have to share our opinions about this even though it is really hard,” Hunt responds. The gender gap is a reality that’s present at all levels of tech: when I first met Hunt, she was the only woman of roughly 15 attendees at our publication’s Vancouver Tech Morning Coffee meetup—a reflection of the industry at large, and one that needs to change.
Hunt continues by saying it was tough to develop balance in the investment community, too. “I do notice that certain circles are very skewed, right? My investor circle, for example, is very male-dominated. One of my goals with Valhalla was to introduce more women of colour, more diverse people. But it's very difficult to find these folks.” Hunt shares some questions to help the tech community not just find those who aren’t at the forefront, but to lift them up. “How do we activate these people? And how do we also make these people more visible to the rest of the community? Because I feel sometimes it's the same handful of people that we all know and love.”
While I chew on her suggestions, I ask Hunt what else is coming up for her and First Course Foods. Hunt details that after the farmers markets, she and the budding team will explore what plays in ecommerce and retail are possible for the company. When it comes to the actual product, Hunt jokes that Julian is the company’s R&D lead. He will be getting some help in that department–Hunt and her husband are expecting their second child this summer. Let’s hope this one is a picky eater, too.
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