Co-founders of Ready, Set, Food!, Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, Dr. Andrew Leitner, and Daniel Zakowski, appear on season 11 episode 15 of ABC’s Shark Tank. The group was there seeking a shark as an investor in their company.
Ready, Set, Food! is a company founded by a group of physicians, scientists, parents, and entrepreneurs seeking to end the food allergy epidemic. Together, they’re on a mission to save approximately 200,000 babies per year from developing food allergies.
Ready, Set, Food! is a daily infant supplement. It dissolves easily in either breast milk or formula with the goal of making it simple for parents to give their babies the right doses of peanut, egg, and milk on a regular basis. The process starts as early as 4 months of age and goes for an average of six months, but can take less time if the child starts eating solid foods more quickly than that.
According to the company’s website, “This type of early and sustained food allergen introduction has been shown in landmark clinical trials to prevent up to 80 percent of common childhood food allergies.”
The co-founders pitched their business to Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Mark Cuban, and guest judge Rohan Oza.
Here’s what you need to know about Ready, Set, Food!:
1. The Idea Started on a Family Vacation
The idea for Ready, Set, Food! came to brother-in-laws Zakowski and Leitner on a family vacation. Leitner’s son, Abe, had an allergic reaction to peanut butter when he was seven months old.
Though Dr. Leitner knew about the studies about early and sustained introduction to allergens for babies, it was not possible to start the process at younger than seven months for Abe. Now, Abe suffers from food allergies because of it. Leitner is passionate about turning that experience and struggle into a mission to help prevent allergies before they have a chance to start.
After having the initial idea for Ready, Set, Food!, Leitner and Zakowski knew they needed to get an allergist involved. Luckily, they had a friend, Dr. Katie Marks-Cogan, who was an allergist and agreed to come on board. Marks-Cogan knew how much work it had been to introduce her son to allergenic foods early and often. She also knew a lot of leading allergists around the country, including Dr. Jonathan Spergel, who is the Chief of Allergy Section at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
So, together with Zakowski, Leitner, and a whole team of pediatricians, allergists, and food scientists, the company developed the formula to make early and sustained allergen introduction easy for every family.
2. Initial Product Development Happened in a Garage
The founders and medical team behind Ready, Set, Food! knew about the studies and the science, but they didn’t know at first how exactly to go about making the process easy for everyone. That’s where CEO and founder Zakowski came in. During research and development for the product, Zakowski said he spent hours in his garage, along with a food chemist friend, figuring out just how ground up the powder needed to be in order dissolve fully in both breastmilk and formula and also go through the nipple of a bottle. They also knew they needed to use the exact same ingredients and methods of preparation that were used in clinical trials.
“There are a lot of funny pictures of us in the garage working on the product,” Zakowski told Heavy. “Lots of bottle drinking was involved, and that’s milk bottles, not whiskey bottles.”
He said it was the only way to be sure the product worked with all kinds of bottle nipples since you can’t ask a baby why they stopped drinking. It could be from a stomachache or because the nipple got clogged.
3. They Went on Shark Tank to Bring Awareness and Gain Credibility
Going on Shark Tank wasn’t just about getting a deal for Ready, Set, Food!, or the added publicity, or the possibility of scoring a shark to join their team. Zakowski told us that it wasn’t just about awareness of the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines either.
For Ready, Set, Food!, going on Shark Tank was also about bringing a degree of credibility to the product. According to Zakowski, doctors just aren’t spending enough time educating people about the new guidelines.
“The shark’s credibility and the show’s credibility will help parents get over the worries,” Zakowski said. “By waiting and having your baby avoid allergens, that’s putting the baby at risk.”
4. The Product Development Was Based on New Guidelines
Ready, Set, Food! was developed based on new guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which were based on a review from all current evidence from clinical studies on food allergy prevention. The guidelines recommend introducing babies to allergenic foods as early as 4 to 6 months of age to reduce their risk of developing food allergies.
Research indicates that up to 80 percent of food allergies can be prevented through the early and frequent introduction of allergenic foods to infants; by using the new AAP guidelines, they can help prevent approximately 200,000 infants every year from developing those life-threatening food allergies.
When asked about what he would want parents to know about Ready, Set, Food!, Zakowski said that “the process is inherently safe.”
“I want people to do their own research,” he said. “But it’s not like we’re over here just doing our own thing, know that it’s a universally-agreed upon process.”
He added that Ready, Set, Food! is just there to make it easier for parents; there are different ways to introduce these allergens at early stages.
Ready, Set, Food! is available as a one-time purchase or subscription purchase if you order from their website. For a six-month supply, parents can pay $29 a month. They’ll receive 1 box every 30 days. A three-month supply is $39 a month, and a one-month supply is $49. All boxes come with free U.S. shipping and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
5. They Have an Exciting 2020 Planned
Ready, Set, Food! auditioned for Shark Tank in September. Since then, they’ve begun work on a partnership with Advocate Aurora Health, a major healthcare provider in the midwest, in order to get the product out to more people. The system sees more than 36,000 babies every year.
On top of the new partnership, they could have a new partner in their business in the form of a shark.
“We’re thrilled, excited, a little tired, and overcaffeinated,” Zakowski said on how they were feeling while preparing for their appearance on Shark Tank.
Tune in to Shark Tank on Sunday, January 19 at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT to see if Ready, Set, Food! will get a deal from one of the sharks.