Serving baby food with Alaska Native values

Her family heritage may be rooted in Greece, but Zoi Maroudas has found a strong binding tie to Alaska Native people in their common practice of introducing children early to the taste and nutritional values of wild-caught seafood.“We are all in this together,” said Maroudas, whose Bambino’s Baby Food entrees include salmon filets, salmon strips and salmon bisques, as well as halibut, chicken, vegetable stew and filet mignon. “We share a common mission honoring our families.”

Sitting on the couch in Bambino’s boutique in midtown Anchorage, she speaks with a passion about training the palate from infancy to enjoy a healthy, balanced diet, including wild Alaska salmon and halibut.

On Fridays and Saturdays every week Maroudas welcomes parents and their youngsters into the shop to discuss the importance of early childhood nutrition and explain why and how she include specific seafood and other proteins, vegetables and fruits in her products.  “We are the only baby food company that welcomes parents into the production facility,” she said.
“They can see the ingredients. We are an extension of their home.”

The mother of two young children herself, she also offers Bristol Bay salmon fillets, breads and other products to keep parents healthy too, plus olive oil from a family olive orchard back in Greece.

Maroudas, who has an extensive background in medicine and nutrition, said she introduced the Hali Halibut entree into the company’s offerings first because of its mild, more delicate flavor, and then Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. It was her halibut entree, presented as a bisque, that won the grand prize in 2017 in Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition.

“I wanted the flavor to be the focus, not the baby food,” she said.  

And then she added sockeye salmon to the company’s offerings, which are now sold in her shop, Carrs-Safeway supermarkets nationwide and in Canada, United Kingdom and China.  The packages, all frozen, organic and kosher, can be served as star-shaped popsicles for teething or warmed to be spoon fed.

In early August, Bambino’s, Bristol Bay Native Corp. and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association announced a new partnership to promote the Bristol Bay wild salmon baby and toddler foods to families around the world.

“Salmon is a fundamental part of our cultures and our values, from protecting the waters they spawn in to ensuring our shareholders are able to fill their freezers every year,” said Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of BBNC. “We’re looking forward to partnering with Bambino’s and BBRSDA to share the stories of why salmon is so crucial to our region and our shareholders.”

“We want to ensure that people everywhere and of all ages not only reap the nutritional benefits of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon but are also aware of the origin and sustainability of the Bristol Bay region,” said Lilani Dunn, marketing director of BBRSDA.

To Maroudas, whose family heritage emphasizes the Mediterranean diet, the importance of giving young children a firm foundation in good nutrition early on is key. The company’s baby foods also offer an abundance of healthy omega-3 fatty acids essential to brain development.

Maroudas is also working with the office of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, on legislation to eliminate what she contends are unnecessary rules that limit the types of foods parents can purchase for their babies under the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program. The 2021 Infant Act, introduced by Young, would allow WIC recipients to be offered fresh, frozen and natural alternatives to shelf-stable options, she said.  Bambino’s has been working with Young’s office on the legislation since 2019, but the onslaught of COVID-19 put the legislation on hold, she said.

Under current regulations, WIC also does not allow for fresh frozen organic products, or for certain package sizes.  Maroudas contends that with passage of the Infant Act that children fed through the WIC program will have better nutrition options.