I call it the bubble. It’s that time when you are on an imaginary island with your newborn. Everyone’s experience in that bubble is different—and some find their time is short because of pressures to return to work or care for other family members.
For me, it was a time when I found my mompreneurial spirit. I was on maternity leave from an advertising agency in Sydney, Australia, and suddenly found myself at home with my newborn baby girl looking at the world through a very different lens.
And I know I’m not alone. I believe many of the best baby products around the world have been created by moms in that first year of having their child.
Bubs Australia: Born in a bubble
The concept of food being medicine always made a lot of sense to me. So when it came time to nourish my daughter with solids, it was clear that the biggest gift I could give her, after cuddles and joy, was clean, nutrient-rich, organic foods.
But as I walked down the grocery store aisle, I realized the options for clean, organic nutrition were simply not available on store shelves. Keep in mind, this was 17 years ago and a lot has changed since. So I got to work in my kitchen and created my first recipe with organic sweetcorn, pumpkin and chia, which ultimately led to the first line of organic baby superfood pouches in Australia. I named the company Bubs, an Australian term of endearment for babies.
Bubs’ second product category was once again inspired by my first daughter. She had developed sensitivities to cow’s milk, so my pediatrician recommended a goat milk formula. The switch to goat milk when she was 6 months old not only brought relief to my daughter but our entire family. I think that was when we all slept through the night for the very first time.
And because it was life-changing for our family, I wanted to share it with others. I started on the path of developing a fortified Australian goat milk formula and then an organic grass-fed cow milk formula.
The complexities involved in infant formulas were far beyond the scope of our team at the time. These product lines required the expertise of registered dietitians who specialized in infants and toddlers, scientists, regulators, and of course, the best goat and dairy farmers on this side of the globe.
As we expanded across Australia into 10 other markets and became publicly traded on the Australian stock exchange, I always stayed true to what inspired me in my kitchen as a new mom. Clean nutrition—no added sugars, corn syrup, GMOs, growth hormones or other nasties—and traceability of ingredients. To this day, Bubs owns the entire manufacturing process, which starts at our farm gates in Australia and New Zealand.
As a female founder, it was also important from the very beginning to surround myself with strong women who could inspire and guide me as we collectively built a global, clean nutrition company.
Today, Bubs Australia is one of the few publicly traded companies with a female CEO and CFO. Our board is also 50% women.
The formula shortage & Operation Maverick
Bubs Australia launched our U.S. label, Aussie Bubs, in 2021 through partnerships with top retailers, including Walmart, Amazon and Thrive Market. We started with our Aussie Bubs Goat Milk and 365-Day Grass-Fed Cow Milk Toddler Formulas and planned to eventually introduce our infant products.
But in the spring of 2022, our U.S. team—along with our chairman, who was in the states mapping out our growth strategy—started to see the formula crisis unfold first hand. Suddenly, our plans changed—almost overnight.
Initially, there wasn’t a clear path to helping with the formula shortage from overseas, so we started by sending letters to lawmakers and the FDA. At this point, we had safely fed more than 1 million babies for 17 years without incident. Our three infant formulas all met the nutrient requirements of the US Infant Formula Act and were all recipients of the Clean Label Purity Award (which means they were third-party tested for 400 contaminants and toxins). And as one of only three countries recognized by the U.S. as having comparable food-safety standards, we knew we had the products and the capabilities to help bring relief.
In a matter of days, the FDA announced they would be accepting applications from international infant formula manufacturers. We launched Operation Maverick, because at the time, it felt like Mission Impossible. We set up a war room with mats for short naps and guaranteed our team a continuous stream of food deliveries. Inside that war room, Bubs was the first brand in the world to submit an application to the FDA. It was nearly 300 pages. From the moment it was received, we were on the fast track to helping the infant formula crisis in the U.S.
The days began to blend together. Between daily calls with the White House task force, we were answering long lists of follow-up questions and doing interviews with the media.
When all was said and done, we had committed to importing 1.25 million tins of infant formula to the U.S. through Operation Fly Formula. All six of our infant formula products, including our newest Bubs Supreme with A2 Beta Casein, were given the green light.
Next came a logistical whirlwind. We needed to sort out how each 747 plane (sans seats) would be loaded—so that every available inch was filled with formula. At the same time, we were collaborating with top U.S. retailers and the U.S. government on a plan to safely yet quickly get product on store shelves.
4 a.m., 40 degrees and President Biden
In mid-June, I found myself in our warehouse in Victoria—the dairy capital of Australia. It was 4 a.m., 40 degrees Fahrenheit inside the facility, and I was preparing for an interview with CNN—the prelude to a virtual roundtable with President Biden.
It was cold. I was sleep deprived. But I was running on adrenaline. The White House had invited five formula manufacturers to join the roundtable on the crisis. I was the only female founder at the table.
I remember thinking about what I was going to wear. My hair and makeup. I knew those thoughts were far from the minds of my male counterparts gearing up to speak to POTUS. But nonetheless, I had this self-imposed pressure to impress on every level.
As a publicly traded company, I’ve had my fair share of high-pressure presentations and interviews. But this was unique and I knew the stakes were high.
Related: Actually, motherhood is political
Once the roundtable kicked off, I remember wavering between self-doubt and utmost confidence. I know many women can relate. Someone recently explained this self doubt as imposter syndrome. Something even the most successful celebrities admit to experiencing. It’s that feeling that you are a fraud and one day someone will find out.
But as I sat there—patiently waiting for my turn to speak—I thought about my truths. I thought of my personal successes as a mom of three beautiful daughters. And my professional milestones. What we had accomplished in just two weeks was no small feat. I belonged at that roundtable. All I needed to do was stay true to myself. My confidante and Chairman, Dennis Lin, later revealed that he had tears in his eyes as I began to speak.
In a matter of weeks, we were invited to the White House to have face-to-face discussions about Operation Fly Formula. And I’m not ashamed to say Dennis and I took a few dozen selfies that day.
Gaining the trust of American families
So far, we’ve completed three Operation Fly Formula flights and there are several more in the works. From the moment we received the FDA’s enforcement discretion to import our formulas—to the time our products hit the first store shelf—was 24 days. In normal times, that process would take three to six months.
I know American families are eager to see more product on store shelves, and we are, too. But we are all committed to moving at the speed of safety.
As a mom who breastfed but also supplemented with formula, my heart goes out to parents and caregivers during this national crisis. For many babies, infant formula is their sole source of nutrition. There are no substitutes.
Over the coming weeks, Bubs Australia’s Aussie Bubs infant formulas will be filling store shelves across the country. And while I hope we can bring much-needed relief, I also understand we are an unfamiliar brand to American families.
I started with a mission to create clean, organic, nutrient-rich foods and formulas for my daughter. And while Bubs has grown significantly over the last 17 years, our DNA will never change.