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Denise Woodard of Partake Foods never had any intention of letting her daughter Vivienne’s food allergies get in the way of offering quality snacks that tasted great and met her healthy eating standards. However, when she saw the allergy-friendly products currently on the shelves, she knew she had to take matters into her own hands. Denise set out to create a positive solution to her very real problem with a nutritious snack that was both delicious and safe for just about everyone to enjoy.
Just like each and every batch of cookies that come out of Partake Foods kitchen, Denise has created a brand that has been built with purpose and passion to change the way we snack. Driven by her goal to bring people together, Denise has created a product that allows everyone to share snacks and experiences. This mission has fueled her through long days, sleepless nights, and the many challenges that come with building a brand from the ground up - especially a CPG brand. Today, Denise is giving us a closer look at what it takes to launch a business, balancing her role as a mom, her vision for Partake Foods in the future, and more! So sit back, grab a Partake cookie snack, and let’s let Denise take it away!
Partake Foods uses high-quality, healthy ingredients in all of the products. Have you always been passionate about health and nutrition?
I always say that Vivienne’s food allergies are not all negative because they did force our family to pay more attention to what we’re eating. I thought that I was health conscious previously, but now between learning the best ways to alter Vivienne’s diet (she limits dairy and gluten, although not allergic) to manage conditions like eczema and making sure everything she eats is safe for her, our family definitely eats a much healthier diet.
So many people have an idea for a business but are scared to take the leap. What was the moment that you made the decision to go for it and launch Partake Foods? Was there a pivotal moment that made this idea a reality?
I had the idea for Partake and entered a pitch competition called the Start Something Challenge. Originally, I didn’t even have a name and our original LLC was called Vivi’s Life because it was all about making Vivi’s Life easier and safer. However, we actually won (!!) which came with a $10,000 prize and local press. I had to tell my employer, and while they were supportive because I was previously in CPG, having my own CPG company would have been a conflict of interest. I knew that I would be forced to leave once I had a product to sell, so that was a kick in the butt (that I needed) to take the leap.
At the onset of building Partake Foods, what were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome? What motivated you to keep on going?
Finding a safe place to make the products. As a food allergy mom, I understand that using safe ingredients isn’t enough - you need to validate your entire supply chain and manufacturing facility. There is a very limited number of top 8 allergen-free facilities in the country and most don’t work with small startups, so I had to beg and plead my case to find a manufacturing facility to work with us.
I think my pride was one of the things that kept me going - I told all of my friends and family of my plans and wanted to turn that idea into something I could be proud of. Additionally, my daily frustration in finding products for Vivienne that were healthy, safe, and tasty kept me motivated as well.
What advice do you have for mothers with a desire to launch a business? And what advice do you have for the moms out there who are balancing a full-time work schedule and their role as a mom?
From the wise words of Dory in “Finding Nemo” - just keep swimming! Some days will be awesome, some days will be exhausting and nearly everything will go wrong, but if you’re passionate about what you are doing, surround yourself with people who believe in you and your vision and keep going. I’d say you have to prioritize - there are definitely things that have fallen through the cracks (goodbye, elaborate dinners and spotless house) but for me, having a happy/thriving family and growing the business is what’s most important to me right now, so that’s where I focus my energy. Every day looks different - the last week of school meant lots of 4 am wakeups to work because I didn’t want to miss the end of year picnics and breakfasts and school functions. Then the first week of summer meant overtime for my nanny because I was on the road like crazy for Partake.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own company? And what has been the hardest part? What do you think Partake Foods greatest achievement has been to date?
The most rewarding part has been seeing Vivi’s entrepreneurial spirit come out. This girl literally pretend sells leaves and twigs to her friends at the park. That, and having her recognize “Mommy’s cookies” in grocery stores and (hopefully) learning that if you have a problem, you don’t sit around and complain about it or wallow in your sorrows. Instead, you can do something positive that will impact you & others.
The hardest part has been the isolation. I don’t think that anyone outside of a fellow founder understands the pressure and all consuming-ness of having a startup. I miss so many fun events with friends, and our family had to cut back a lot to fund the business - I literally sold my engagement ring.
The greatest achievement I’d say was securing our initial round of funding. Of the $130 billion of venture capital funding, only .2% goes to women of color. I feel so grateful that we found a group of investors that believe in Partake and our vision.
With so many amazing cookie flavors that use some pretty innovative ingredients (like carrot, sweet potato, and millet), did you ever experiment with a recipe that was just a miss?
Yes, I learned that if you try to incorporate blueberries into a cookie, you’re going to end up with a green mess :)
As Partake Foods continues to grow, where do you see the brand in the next 5-10 years? Do you have any goals that stand out in particular?
I’d love to have lots of meal and snack options that can be enjoyed at any time of day and that all meet the criterion of being delicious, nutritious, and allergy-friendly. And I’d like them to be in thousands of stores across the country (& hopefully globally)!
Besides Vivi of course, who has been a source of inspiration to you on your entrepreneurial journey?
My dad. He didn’t go to college and joined the Army, where he served 10 years. After that, he became an over the road truck driver. He would be gone for weeks at a time and literally would have to sleep in his truck. But eventually, he purchased his own truck and started a small trucking company that he still runs today.
Partake Foods focuses on sharing and inclusivity. What does this message mean to you in the big picture? What are you trying to accomplish with the Partake community?
Initially, I was focused on people with dietary restrictions being able to be partake, but as we’ve grown, and our message has been amplified, my vision is to create a brand that is focused on sharing, inclusivity, and bringing people together, because, at the end of the day, we’re not all that different.
What advice do you have for someone looking to build a business from the ground up? Is there anything you wish you would have known?
Research, research, research - and talk to as many people as possible. I found that talking friend’s who’ve had companies that have not survived has been really helpful for me. I’ve been fine learning as I go. Growing Partake has been a real life MBA and I think I’ve learned more and met more people than I had in my previous 10 years!
Do you believe in work/life balance or is it hustle 24/7 to make it happen? If so, what is your secret formula for work/life balance? Do you have any self-care musts to get through the day?
I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s 24/7 - I literally can’t turn it off - I’m hoping that once we start to build out the team, I’ll be able to breathe a little. I knew it was bad when our nanny told Vivi to relax, and she said “my mommy never relaxes”. So while I’m proud of my work ethic, I also want my daughter to understand it’s important to take care of yourself and have fun - so I’m working on implementing more self-care. One of my absolute necessities is acupuncture. I’m also working on spending more time with friends and working out.
Final question, and it’s an important one...Favorite Partake Foods cookie flavor?
Give me all the chocolate! Double Chocolate Chip for sure.