Chatting with Jo Leontiades: The Heart and Science Behind Grumpy Bums

In our latest conversation, Jo Leontiades, founder of Grumpy Bums, shares her unique story. From childhood days in a family bakery to her evolution into a food scientist and eventually creating Grumpy Bums, Jo’s path is as rich as it is inspiring. 

She talks about the challenges and triumphs of making kid-friendly, healthy snacks and her aspirations for reshaping children’s snacking habits. Jo’s story is a blend of passion, science, and the joys of motherhood, all culminating in the creation of a brand that’s as much about nutrition as it is about family values.

Hi Jo, your journey from a childhood spent in a bakery to becoming a food scientist and now the founder of Grumpy Bums is quite fascinating. Can you tell us more about how these experiences influenced your approach to creating healthy snacks for children?

From a very young age I had spent time with my parents in the family bakery. As a child, I would enjoy visiting the bakery in the evening with my dad and spending time with him. I was always interested in how a simple ‘starter culture’ became a loaf of bread.

I guess you could say I’ve always been surrounded by baking and cooking, so it became a passion from very early on. My mum always ensured we ate well, mostly cooking food from scratch, rather than serving us a lot of processed foods. From this foundation, it was only natural that I went on and had a career in food.

Then, when my son started preschool, it was important for me that he had good, wholesome food in his lunch box, but I struggled with all the food preparation and baking as I was working full-time. I found that there was a gap in the market for convenient, healthy products for kids, so I knew I had to pursue the opportunity to create something. 

What was the defining moment that led you to create Grumpy Bums, and how did your personal experiences as a mother shape the vision for your brand?

When my son started preschool – I found it difficult to choose food that was wholesome, with clean ingredients and most importantly, no sugar. Throughout my career I had been developing products for different companies, and so I combined that experience with the daily problem of packing my son’s lunchbox, and found a solution with Grumpy Bums. 

Grumpy Bums emphasises the use of real, natural ingredients without added sugars or sweeteners. How challenging was it to develop recipes that are both healthy and appealing to children’s taste preferences?

Very challenging. I knew the sweetness would be difficult, but the overall eating experience was more of a challenge. Cake-style products such as muffins and cookies generally have soft, moist textures due to high amounts of fat and sugar, so it was important that I found an appealing mouthfeel without using these harmful ingredients.

For more than seven months I spent days and nights working on the muffins and cookies, experimenting with different fruit blends, powders and ingredients. I ended up leaning into flavours that kids were familiar with already, and then tested the products extensively with a group of kids and parents. 

Could you share some insights into the science behind using freeze-dried fruit in your products and how it helps maintain the nutritional value and flavour?

In comparison to fruit syrups, concentrates or dried fruit, freeze dried fruit maintains most of its nutritional value (up to 95%) and 100% of the product’s fibre, throughout the freeze-drying process. Once rehydrated, it has a very similar nutritional value to its original fresh state.

This is in contrast to dehydrated food, which retains only 50-60% of its original nutrients. Freeze drying essentially uses less heat to ensure the fruit’s flavour, shape and colour stays as close as possible to that of the fresh product. All our freeze-dried fruit is grown locally in QLD and Victoria. 

With your Greek and Latvian heritage, how have your cultural influences played a role in the development of Grumpy Bums’ products?

My family is very passionate about food, and as a result, it has become a big part of my life. In particular, my family’s passion for baking has instilled some important qualities – such as using fresh and simple ingredients wherever possible, and following simple, handed down processes.

My late grandmother and mum would always bake cakes and sweets, and they always used garden-fresh ingredients, such as the lemons from my grandparents’ tree for a delicious semolina cake.

When I was younger, I would always want to help my mum or grandmother, and when I bake now, my son is also very involved in the process. When I developed the Grumpy Bums bake mixes, I wanted to bring families together through baking, in the same way I experienced it with my family. 

Looking at the future of Grumpy Bums, what are your aspirations for the brand, and are there any new products or initiatives we can look forward to?

My aspiration is to change the way kids snack, giving everyone access to minimally processed foods that contain no added sugars or sugar substitutes. To fully realise this vision, the brand needs to venture into other food categories. I can’t give away all my secrets, but there is more to come very soon!

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.