The new Gerber Baby was revealed on TODAY, and winner Madison Mendoza is a smiley baby who comes from a proud military family.
“She’s very adventurous,” mom Crystal Mendoza told TODAY, as Maddie cooed happily in her lap and gazed at the cameras.
While her sweet smile won over the Gerber judges, her parents also want people to know she has a strong spirit and a mind of her own. When she was born, she had trouble breathing and needed supplemental oxygen. After a few nights, she apparently decided she’d had enough oxygen, tore off her tubes and breathed just fine.
“She was able to tell us when she was ready to go home,” dad Jun Mendoza told TODAY in an interview before the broadcast from his office in Colorado Springs. “That kind of aligned with her adventurous, independent spirit.”
Befitting her new role as an official taste-tester, 10-month-old Maddie has an adventurous palate, her parents say: She’s tried everything from sea urchin to kimchi (not a big fan).
Jun and Crystal, who both have dads who are Navy veterans, say it means a lot to them to have Maddie representing military children, whose sacrifices often go unseen.
“We are supporting them and there for them, and acknowledge what they go through,” Jun said.
Gerber President and CEO Tarun Malkani apologized for getting a little choked up when he got to break the happy news to the Mendoza family.
“This is truly the best part of my job,” Malkani said. “All babies are perfect, we know that, but I think Maddie really captured our hearts. We’re super proud to have her represent us.”
In addition to being the Gerber Baby for 2023, Maddie wins the title of “Chief Growing Officer,” a new wardrobe from Gerber’s clothing line, a year’s supply of Gerber products and a $25,000 prize. Gerber is also donating $25,000 to the March of Dimes’ maternal and infant health programs, as well as $5,000 to Operation Homefront, which supports military families.
This year’s contest included a twist: Parents were invited to send in their own baby pictures as well.
Maddie looks so much like her mom Crystal as a baby that even Crystal’s own mother was fooled when she saw their photos side by side.
“She was like, ‘Oh, you used to have a dress like that!’” Crystal recalled her mother’s reaction to seeing a 1987 photo of her, and thinking it was a new photo of Maddie.
“I was like, ‘Mom, that’s me,” Crystal said.
Both Crystal and Jun are first generation Americans, whose parents grew up in the Philippines. Crystal is a dentist who is preparing to return to work after her maternity leave with Maddie, and Jun, an allergist and immunologist, has served in the U.S. military for 16 years. The two were high school sweethearts.
Maddie is a “rainbow baby,” meaning she was born after a pregnancy loss.
Watching their daughter win the Gerber Baby contest feels like “winning the lottery for babies,” Crystal said.
The original “Gerber Baby” was Ann Turner Cook in 1928: A charcoal sketch of her face at 5 months old became the company’s iconic image. Cook went on to become a teacher and a novelist, and died last year at the age of 95.
Her legacy lives on in the annual Gerber Baby Photo contest, which has crowned a new winner every year since 2010. Lucas Warren was the first Gerber baby with Down syndrome when he was selected in 2018. Last year, Isa Slish, the first Gerber spokesbaby with a limb difference, was chosen for the honor.