FOOD FOR KIDS: Mikey’s allergen-friendly pockets balance children’s nutritional, emotional needs

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food for kids, Gluten-free, Allergen, Snacks

The challenges of feeding healthy food to children who are notoriously picky eaters often are compounded when an allergy is added into the mix – which is why when the founder of the gluten-free baked goods brand Mikey’s introduced a line of stuffed pockets he did so with an eye towards both the nutritional and emotional needs of kids.

Michael Tierney, who founded Mikey’s in 2015, explained that historically many parents and food manufacturers may have sacrificed nutrition for flavor to convince children to eat. But parents of children with allergies don’t always have this luxury, which means their kids often cannot eat the same food as their friends – an experience that can feel isolating and unfulfilling.

“We all know that adults are willing to compromise on taste for nutritional profile … but for kids … if it doesn’t taste good, you are not even on the radar,”​ Tierney said.

While many manufacturers may be turned off by this paradigm, Tierney said he saw it as a “a fun challenge of being able to leverage my background in food and fine dining to say, okay, let’s make taste the first and foremost thing. I want every kid to be able to enjoy this whether you are gluten-free or celiac or you are not. Let’s bridge the gap for the kids who have allergy restrictions to feel like they are part of the bigger crowd,”​ he said. But, he added, he wanted to do so in a way that still offers “the nutritional density that we are seeing happen in other spaces across the store.”

From these parameters, Mikey’s line of stuffed pockets was created.

“We are in the bread and bakery business. We should be able to make a crust that is gluten-free, that is grain-free, that is delicious and that gives people from five to 50 that either new experience of ‘Oh, my God, I love pizza and how convenient is this after school,’ to ‘I remember eating those 30 years ago. I wouldn’t touch them now, but here is a great solution that I am comfortable eating.’”

While Mikey’s offers traditional cheese and pepperoni pizza pockets, the company recently took flavor – and occasion – to the next level with the introduction of buffalo style chicken pockets and cauliflower & broccoli cheddar cheese style pockets.

The launch, which was originally slated for Natural Products Expo West before the show was cancelled in response to coronavirus concerns, follows that of a line of breakfast pockets six months ago – helping to round out the eating occasions and flavors available.

Empowering kids and parents

In addition to checking boxes for safety, nutrition and taste, Tierney says Mikey’s pockets are convenient and empowering for parents and kids alike.

“We are talking to moms who are looking at ways to give their kids who may have dietary restrictions something convenient, something that tastes great, something they can do on their own,”​ he said.

With that in mind, he recalled how much he loved cooking as a child but noted that many kids face restrictions in the kitchen, such as not being allowed to use the oven, stove or knives.

“But, you can use the microwave. So, you come home from school, you are empowered to grab a Mikey’s pocket from the freezer, heat it up and you can make yourself food for the first time,”​ he said. “Having that relationship with consumers is really a special point in their lives to be introduced to us.”

To further empower children in the kitchen, Tierney said that Mikey’s doesn’t talk to them any differently than it does adults – a trick that he says he hopes will expand the appeal of the products beyond kids to all age groups.

“Kids don’t want to feel like kids. They don’t want to be told this is only for kids,”​ he said. Plus, he added, that approach creates “short cycles”​ for consumers.

By positioning Mikey’s as a food for everybody, that also happens to be very child-friendly, the company has expanded who can enjoy the brand and for how long.

“You may now enjoy it for the next 15-20 years of life, and then have your kids enjoy it because of the convenience and great taste,”​ he said, adding, “I don’t think we are interested in segmenting ourselves one way or the other. We realize that kids and moms and dads and sisters and everyone can enjoy this type of food and we are open to talking to all of them."

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