Women Who Lead: Augustina Valenza, CEO of Fragola, is Providing Free Baby Food for Families in Need
Augustina Valenza, Founder of baby and toddler food company, Fragola, has launched a program to deliver free food to families in need across Canada.
Arguably the most important job of a parent is to provide. When Augustina Valenza learned that parents across Canada were having difficulty providing basic needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic she knew she had to help.
With one million jobs lost in March alone, Canadians are continuing to face unemployment with no climax yet in sight. As harsh realities set in and cases have yet to decline, disallowing businesses to re-open, Canadian families are relying more heavily on food banks and meal services. It was from this overwhelming demand that Valenza started an online program for families in need.
“It came to me at 3am that I would offer to send free baby food boxes out to families in need during this time. There was no plan of attack or pen and paper, it was literally just a no brainer, I can help, let me help,” said Valenza, “I posted this message on social media also encouraging other larger brands to step up too and within hours I had hundreds of messages from mothers in need.”
Fragola, is now sending free boxes of baby and toddler food around the country. What began as just an initiative from the company itself turned into a community support system. “It quickly spiralled into our customers asking us if they could donate, which hadn’t even occurred to me. From there the rest is history… it’s still going, and we have helped thousands of parents.” said Valenza.
After being matched with community members willing to donate gift cards or cover the cost of a box of food, families in need receive baby food and supplies directly to their home. Within the first week alone, Fragola sent out over 6,500 donated containers of baby food.
This week in our Women Who Lead series we spoke with Augustina Valenza about using resources to provide for your community in times of need and leading with authenticity.
How have you been navigating and re-examining your business in the wake of COVID-19? What advice would you give to other women navigating their companies during this time?
It’s interesting because before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fragola being an e-commerce food business, started to see a significant increase in sales. In this current situation, my business is considered essential, and it is. I have had to shift production solutions to be able to keep up with demand, as well as bring on more team members. We weren’t prepared for this overnight crazy spike so I have had to get super creative super-fast. Fragola is a small company so I have the advantage of being able to make on the spot decisions whereas with larger companies it takes a lot more time to make changes.
For companies who aren’t deemed as essential, I’d say, you better start to get really creative. Not only will we be on lockdown for a while, but things won’t be back to everyday life for even longer. Don’t turn and look at what other people are doing, turn inward and think about what would be helpful for you as a consumer in this situation. Break the ground with a new way to do things. Put it this way, before Fragola, there was no baby food delivery in Canada, and everyone told me it wouldn’t work. Well, well, well… think about that for a hot minute.
Looking at your career, is there a moment that defined the person who you are today or where you are today?
I am an elementary school dropout who had a very far from “normal” life. I spent a lot of years trying to live up to something or fit in with the crowd, which was a huge waste of my time. I think realizing that my past doesn’t define me was an important moment for me. Once I realized that, it really changed me as a person.
What do you believe sets your company apart from other brands in the market?
Besides being freshly made, preservatives free, being direct to consumers and all the other great things about our food. I put an insanely strong emphasis on incredible customer service. I truly believe that having customer service that cares can work as a sales tool. I want my customer service team to have the power to keep customers and generate new ones, I think we accomplish that, and that is what sets us apart.
What do you think is the role of local business or community leaders in a time of crisis?
To me I think their role is to listen. Listen to their community, listen to the needs of the people you serve. If you have a business that is deemed essential or can help, you have to help, you just have to. I have seen quite a few companies out there that are just looking like brochures on social media. At a time like this, it’s just so disingenuous. Customers, people, we can sense what’s genuine and what’s not, remember that.
For the businesses looking for financial support from their community. Think of a way where people can feel good about chipping in instead of just asking for money on a GoFundMe page. You have to set yourself apart because everyone is doing the same thing, think about how.
How do you define your success and how does that influence the way you run Fragola?
I believe in Fragola and I’m really proud of the product I’ve created and what it means to all my customers. So, in that respect I do feel successful, but I won’t stop there. As an e-commerce business, Fragola provides me with the flexibility to work from anywhere, create my own schedule and really find the right mix of work life balance which is so important to me.
What experiences in your career gave you confidence to stand up for your ideas and how would you like this lesson to impact fellow women who lead?
I’ve always been a tough cookie since I surfaced on this planet. I’ve never had to learn how to stand up, but rather to stand down. There’s just as much power in standing down at the right time as there is to stand up at the right time.
When you are self-aware about the core of who you are by nature, that’s when you can work on what needs work. That may be learning to stand up for your ideas, or it may be more like me, which is learning when to tone it down. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be yourself, you should be, always. It means that not everybody is different, and you need to be self-aware enough and confident enough to know how to handle all the different personalities. When you master that, you’ve got an advantage, because not a lot of people can do that!
What piece of advice would you give all women in business?
As women we feel a lot of pressure to have all areas in life figured out. Business, relationships, beauty, style, fitness, domestic, maybe children. You aren’t other people, not in business or in life. Your path is yours, not anyone else’s. It might look like someone is further than you, but you really never know what goes on behind closed doors or what’s in their heads. What’s good enough for another woman might not be good enough for you and vice versa. It’s all relative.
Also, don’t be afraid to look stupid. Put yourself out there, it’s the only way for real growth.
How can others get involved in the initiative?
By donating a box to a mother in need on our website www.shopfragola.com
From there we will pair that gift card directly with a mother and babe in need and it will get shipped right to their door. Also, spreading the word is helpful too!