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Giving up working for Fortune 500 household brand names to sell cookies may not be a typical career path, but Denise Woodard, who founded Partake Foods in 2016, says she has never felt more fulfilled with her work.
The catalyst to developing the line of allergy-safe, kid-friendly snacks was Woodard's toddler daughter, Vivienne, who has celiac disease and life-threatening food allergies.
“Previously, I'd spent 15 years in corporate America. I'd had lots of experiences that I loved, but nothing beats working for yourself towards a mission you are passionate about," says Woodard, who is based out of Jersey City, New Jersey. “I've learned more and met more people in the past year working on Partake that I did in the previous 15."
1. Why did you start your business?
I started Partake Foods because of my 2-year-old daughter, Vivienne. She struggles with food allergies. I couldn't find anything that met her dietary restrictions, my nutritional standards, and still tasted good. I knew she wasn't alone in her struggle. I wanted to provide delicious, nutritious snacks that were safe for these kids, but tasted good to everyone. Because so many childhood events revolve around food, I wanted create an option so that my daughter, and other children with food allergies, would be able to eat safely and feel included.
—Denise Woodard, founder and CEO, Partake Foods
2. How has your business grown?
I had the idea for Partake in June 2016. We ran a Kickstarter campaign that raised $30,000 with 199 backers. We launched our products in July 2017 and are currently in 60 stores in New York, New Jersey [and] on Amazon. We've received very positive feedback from several national retailers and plan to expand our distribution significantly in 2018.
3. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
Finding a place to make the products was hard. Because we wanted to reduce the risk of cross contamination as much as possible, there were only a couple of places we could make our products. Convincing a large co-packer to work with a brand new company with no established revenue was definitely a challenge, but we were able to prove to them we were serious about growing our business.
4. What are some of the challenges in creating a food business?
It's a very hands on, feet on the street business. For the accounts that we are currently in, I literally walked door-to-door to sell our products. I then go back and demonstrate the product to make sure consumers have a chance to taste. I schlepped the cookies from store to store, serving as our own personal distributor. You have to really be willing to get your hands dirty in this business.
5. What has been your most memorable moment as a business owner?
I was shopping at a grocery store in Manhattan, and Vivienne ran down the aisle yelling, “Mommy's cookies." My hope for her is that if she comes across a problem in her life, rather than waiting for someone else to come along with a solution, she'll seize the opportunity to make a positive change for herself and others.