SM chats to… Mark Salter, Founder of for aisha

Not only are for aisha’s halal baby food pouches loved by over two million tiny tummies but also (sssh – top tip) they make wonderful seasoning for grown-up dishes too! They recently launched their Stage 3 meals (for 10+ months) and we caught up with Founder and Recipe Developer Mark Salter to find out what makes the brand so special.

Was there a ‘lightbulb moment’ when you came up with the brand concept?

MS: Yes. I have over 20 years experience of working in the UK food and drinks industry for larger companies and managing the UK supermarket chains. I love exotic food and travel so when I was interviewed for a position with Plum Baby Food, I realised that there was a need to add some flair into the baby foods that were on offer. Many brands were doing the same thing; offering pasta and fish dishes that could be easily cooked by parents themselves. So I set about creating recipes that were more complex, time-consuming and ultimately more expensive for parents to make. Thereby offering a healthy wide variety of exotic ingredients in a convenient pouch format.

The ‘research’ sounds like the best adventure holiday ever! Was there a favourite place you visited to source recipe ideas?

MS: Well, there were several trips over several years. We just visited France last month and took some inspiration for our new Lamb Ragout. My favourite destination was certainly Cambodia because it was our honeymoon – our new Cambodian Fish & Coconut Curry launches in early 2018. We’ve been testing it all year! It’s the best.

What was the first for aisha recipe created?

MS: The first recipe that we decided to take to production was Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Mango. We were tasting some early ideas at our local nursery schools and noticed that the next day on their menu was a Jerk Chicken. I was surprised that nurseries were cooking such exotic dishes and that little one’s loved them. It was mainly tapioca puddings when we were younger! The Jerk Chicken is one of our best selling pouch meals now.

Was it difficult to find a meat supplier that complied with your brand values?

MS: It took some time as we wanted the best we are proud to say all our meat is Red Tractor and from leading British farms. Baby food production is very closely monitored and highly regulated (and rightly so) from start to finish.

Which are your best selling products?

MS: We’ve already sold 2 million meals in the UK and Chicken & Sweet Potato Curry is the clear leader. It’s an Indian inspired recipe with red lentils and a wide range of herbs specially created for little tummies. Ingredients such as sweet potato and turmeric are becoming more relevant for parents because of their proven health benefits and it’s lovely to know that we’re pioneering that development.

And which is your ‘post paddle boarding fave’ snack?

MS: We did always take the pouches with us on the paddle boards but since we brought out the new Stage3 Date & Apricot Tagine with Lamb, I eat those from the tray. It’s my personal favourite and so we’ve decided to taste them with parents at the Baby Show Olympia later this month. We’ll have a few thousand samples for parents to try which is really exciting – parents should always try the food first in my opinion.

What considerations went into developing the Stage 3 range?

MS: We’d been asked to create bigger meals for some time with more texture and ‘chunks’ for bigger infants. It’s important part of the weaning process to aid the development of chewing and swallowing and chewing is even thought to help with speech development. The meals were designed to be different from all others on the market so I wanted to work with exotic ingredients such as dates, quinoa, fenugreek and cumin. The dishes are always mild for little ones but they are so certainly different, exotic and exciting, still offering the ‘world of variety’ and adventure that is at the heart of the for aisha range.

It must be a wonderful achievement to supply Great Ormond St… How did this partnership come about?

MS: The head dietitian of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children wrote to us and said that she loved our recipes. We get lovely letters from parents but it was exceptional to receive such high praise that day. We now supply their wards and also their shops with our healthy natural for aisha pouches.

Any advice for a parent who might be worried that the for aisha range might be ‘too adventurous’ for their child’s palate?

MS: Try a little for yourselves and you’ll see that they are very mild. It’s all about introducing a wide variety of tastes. We don’t use ingredients like chilli so they’re not hot at all. With 2 million meals sold, lots of food awards and lovely reviews from bloggers and parents, you can be well assured that they’re just right for little ones. Our full range is dairy free, low in salt, dietitian-approved and many recipes are also gluten free which is why parents, as well as hospitals, love them.

And finally…We could spend hours looking at Nargisse’s Instagram feed… Are there any plans to create meals (or preserved lemons!) for grown-ups?

MS: I love Nargisse’s grown up recipes. She’s an amazing chef. At for aisha, we love making recipes especially for little ones to take them on a ‘taste adventure’ during their early years. We have many more recipes planned and introducing fun grown-up tastes are a big part of that.

Find your nearest for aisha stockist here.