In this episode of The Physical Product Movement, we’re joined by Emily Edwards, Founder and CEO of Emily’s Foods. First and foremost, Emily shares everything about her brand: Paradise Snacks, it’s focused on plant based, allergy friendly treats.
Emily’s journey started as a social worker and followed her passion for food and more specifically: tasty desserts.
Emily also uncovers why she steered away from launching a brick and mortar location and why she chose to launch a CPG product instead.
Furthermore, she also gives great advice about how to connect with other food entrepreneurs and the specific communities that have been very helpful to her on this journey.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here.
Ken: Welcome to the Physical Product Movement, a podcast by Fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most ambitious and exciting physical product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host, Ken Ojuka.
My guest today is Emily Edwards, Founder and CEO of Emily’s Foods. We talk about her brand Paradise Snacks. That’s focused on plant-based allergy friendly treats. She talks about her journey from being a social worker to following her passion for food and tasty desserts. She explains why she steered away from launching a restaurant or brick and mortar location, and why she chose to launch a CPG product.
Instead, uh, she also gives great advice about how to connect with other food entrepreneurs and other communities that have been very helpful to her in her journey. I hope you enjoy this episode. Hi, Emily, how are you doing?
Emily: Good. How are you?
Ken: Hey, pretty good. I appreciate you taking the time to jump on this call with me. And, um, I’m just very interested in digging into your business a little bit and hearing about your journey.
Emily: Looking forward to it. Thank you for having me.
Ken: All right. So to kick things off, we like to ask you about a quote, um, that, that you like to live by or something that’s been impactful to you
Emily: Stay the course, regardless of the problems that come up and trust the process.
Ken: Excellent. Thank you. Well, um, let’s hear just a little bit about your, your background. Um, in particular, I found it interesting that you, you were in social work before, is that right?
Emily: Yes. I’m a former social worker. I owned a private practice agency for about 15 years and then in 2018 was really burned out and wanted to do something different.
Not really sure what I wanted to do. Um, the one thing I was sure about is I knew that I still wanted to help people, but just not from a mental aspect. And so growing up in Mississippi, I was always playing around in the kitchen with my mom and my grandmothers. So that just kind of led me down the path of becoming a food entrepreneur.
Ken: Oh, that’s great. And so, um, you know, maybe you can give us just a little bit more color about, you know, you said that you were feeling burned out. Um, was there anything in particular about, um, you know, I think being a social worker would be very, very difficult, but was there anything in particular that kind of led you to, Hey, I really need to make a change here.
Emily: Just the overwhelming feeling of just really when you’re doing, when you’re doing therapy from a mental aspect, you’re basically, I call it walking through people’s minds all day. And after a period of time, that just takes its toll on you because to be effective, you really have to get to know people and you have to spend quite a bit of time with them to help them.
And so for me, I had just gotten to the point where. I still loved helping people, but not to the extent that it was just, I was seeing 12, 12, 13 clients a day and I had just become totally burned out. And so I knew that I still could help people because once I realized that people have an intimate relationship with food, I thought, Oh, this will be an easy transition to transition into food. Or so I thought.
Ken: Right, right. Okay. Well, um, we want to hear about this transition and the journey and, um, we know it can be very difficult, you know, these things aren’t, you know, have a way of not being so straightforward. Um, but first I just wanted to hear just a little bit more about growing up in Mississippi and, you know, being in the kitchen with, with your family. Are there any memories that stick out that you can tell us or any particular, you know, foods that you like to prepare?
Emily: Absolutely. You know, my grandmother, my maternal grandmother always made tea cakes, and it’s like, like a cookie, but it’s just sugar, butter, and flour, but it’s, you know, they were always so solved and they would just melt in your mouth.
And I just sort of, I can remember summers that she would make those. And with my mom, my mom baked a lot and she loves cooking. And she would experiment with recipes too. So I can remember as a kid sitting on the countertop and she’s baking a powder cake or whatever kind of cake, and like, I literally love licking the spoon and the bowl.
So that was kind of like the highlight for me to sit on the countertop. And as I got older, just to be in the kitchen, and as soon as she got to mixing everything to get the ball and to just take my fingers and lick the. The, um, batter from the bowls. So that’s, that’s just a memory that’s ingrained in my mind from childhood.
Ken: Yeah, I’ve got a few kids myself and, uh, and they definitely love that bowl and spoon and sometimes they like to fight over who gets to lick the spoon. So I totally understand that. All right. So, so tell us just a little bit about your journey, uh, you know, on your blog and on your profile. You talk a little bit about your weight loss journey and how that led you to healthy foods.
And, um, yeah, I just kind of want to hear a little bit more about that story.
Emily: Well, in 2015 is when I started the weight loss journey. I had gone through a divorce. I was overweight and depressed and, um, really started the weight loss journey from BS. I went to the gym, got a trainer and really started looking at food and calories, macronutrients and all of that, or thought I lost about 60 pounds.
Well, good job. Then I’ve gained it back. The disadvantage of becoming a food entrepreneur. So razor focused on getting your product out and getting it to marketing, branding that other things start to lack. So mine was exercising, not really doing the things that I should do, but anyway, I started working with weight protein in 2015 during that time, because I needed a snack that didn’t have a lot of sugar and a lot of calories. So I started doing 100 calories or less muffins, protein muffins. And then in, um, 2017, I went through a business incubator class. And at that time I thought I wanted to do a brick and mortar restaurant. Well, after completing that. Class. I thought, no, I don’t want to do that.
So I thought I really want some kind of topping or I think, or something to go on my muffins. So I started researching plant protein powders and, um, one of the things about plant protein powders is the grain is the off notes. And just really, they’re not the easiest thing to work with. And so I must have done about 30 or 40 different formulas in my kids are all nobody’s going to eat this because it literally tastes like dirt. So I got a workable recipe in my kitchen. And then from there, this was 2018. And then from there I spent a year and a half-down at Purdue food science lab and product and research and development and walked away with paralyzed.
Ken: Okay. Yeah. Can you tell us just a little bit more about, um, this relationship with what, what was it? Purdue,
Emily: Purdue food science lab.
Ken: Yeah. How did that come about?
Emily: From the program that I had taken the culinary business incubator, I took that. And the lady that was managing that actually connected me with Purdue food science, because when I decided I wanted to do a topping or icing, I realized that I needed someone to help me formulate it.
I needed a food scientist. And so she reached out to the science department and I got invited down. And then from there. Once a month, sometimes twice a month, I would go down and spend the whole day down there and we would, um, Um, make the product, test it and just go from there. So it was a lot, it was all a lot of fun.
I really felt like I was in school again, because you start, you start to learn how ingredients work together. You start to learn about, you know, the safety of food and you know, is it shelf stable? Does it have to be refrigerated? You know what you can and what you can’t put in there. And when it does, when we mix these two together, so you start to learn about all of, you know, when you feel the product and the story is the finished product.
So you don’t think about it, but when you’re actually developing a product, you start at the bank. Okay. I can do this. I can do that. And being that I think about consumers. So it was just really bringing all of that together and understanding. You know how products work, how ingredients work together and what ingredient is going to work best, what ingredient and why you should use that one as opposed to enough, for sure.
Ken: Sure. And I’m sure that informed you, um, and kind of steered you towards plant-based, um, uh, products. How did you come to, to that, um, sort of specialty with your icing?
Emily: At the time when I started developing the eyesight, I realized that plant-based products were trending. And that was, I think you had beyond meat and you had a couple of other companies that were on the market and, and you started to hear a lot about the plant protein.
And, um, I thought, well, let me try this because I wanted something healthy. I wanted something that was going to be natural. I didn’t want a lot of additives or preservatives. And so that was really the catalyst that pushed me toward plant-based.
Ken: Right. And you also on your website, you talk about, here’s a quote, it says a sweet plant-based protein, I think dips that are gluten-free dairy nuts and soy and allergen-free and, um, are allergens, you know, something that you personally have experienced with or, or, you know, and how did you, uh, include that, um, in the description and it wasn’t intentional.
Emily: It was intentional. I had, um, because I was targeting kids and I had worked as a social worker. I had worked with some kids that had food allergies. And when I did some research on that, I realized the number of kids, not just kids, but adults that have food allergies. And so I wanted something knowing everybody loves something sweet, but a lot of times you get deprived with that because of food allergies.
So that was definitely intentional. I wanted him to have something sweet, nutritious. Delicious, but minus and, and be able to enjoy it. Not worrying about it, am I going to be allergic to this?
Ken: Sure. Yeah. And we have some, some allergies and my family ended up, you know, the thing that’s opened, my eyes is just the number of people that, that suffer, um, without knowing that there’s an allergy problem, you know, whether it be, you know, dairy or gluten.
And so, yeah, I think it’s, it’s something that, uh, you know, as a community, we’re just becoming a little bit more cognizant about, but I think it’s something that’s still needs a lot more focus.
Emily: Yes, definitely.
Ken: So, um, one of the things that you mentioned is that you went to, I can’t remember what you said, it’s a program or something, but they, it convinced you that you actually didn’t want to open a restaurant then.
So I just want to kind of understand a little bit of your thinking, um, through that process.
Emily: The culinary incubator that was offered by a company called food hero, H E period R O and the two guys are Juan and Javier, and really, really great guys still have a relationship with them. Understanding the restaurant business and, you know, front and back in and what all goes into it.
And so once you start to understand the process of something, then you can make a rational decision and say, you know, this is not what I want to do, but I knew I wanted to be in food. That’s that was my catalyst for taking that. I knew I wanted to be in food, but after coming, completing that course, no, I don’t want to do a brick and mortar restaurant.
But I can do a consumer package to a CPG product. Right.
Ken: Right. And, um, how did you land on icing? You know, was that something that you were thinking about before or, uh, how did you come to, okay. Icing is, is a good place for me to start.
Emily: When I decided I wanted to do some type of icing frosting for my muffins that I was doing at the time.
Ken: Okay. And so did you actually launch with muffins then? Was that your first product or no.
Emily: No. I was just doing those for fun and decided I wanted to do something to top it with, and then realize in the process of doing that, that the product could be versatile. You can not only use it as an icing, but as a Deere, as a creamer for your coffee. So it had all of these unique features to it.
Ken: Okay, understood. And so paradise, um, snacks, um, was born out of that and it looks like you’ve got a number of, of, uh, flavors like caramel, sea salt, all these things that are making my mouth water by the way they all sound great.
Emily: Yeah. We have soup flavors, caramel, sea, salt, vanilla, and chocolate. And we are working on strawberry and hopefully some other flavors, but right now we just have the two flavors.
Ken: Okay. And what’s your thinking around when you initially launched, you know, that you wanted to go with with, uh, caramel, sea, salt, vanilla, and chocolate. How did you think about, you know, which, which flavors to launch with.
Emily: Well, chocolate is kind of a common flavor. Everybody loves something chocolate. Most people love caramel. The most people love vanilla. So we just decided we would merge the caramel sea salt, vanilla together. And the chocolate is by itself. When you start looking at it, like if you look at frosting, typically you see a chocolate, vanilla, strawberry.
So you see those and most kids love chocolate. That’s just hands down. So that’s how we came up with that. We did research on flavors, flavor profiles, and did research on that. And so
Ken: You do sell it as a debt, but then it looks like you also sell the pretzels as well. Is that right? Or do you, do you sell it in a, in a snack pack with the dip and the pretzels? Is that how you, you, you package it. And the dip on the other side. Okay. And then you also have the, the eight ounce jar, you know, that we can just purchase. Okay. Okay. And so, um, you know, one of the things that’s difficult for food entrepreneurs is, is just figuring out the number of skews to launch with, um, to include obviously the more, more skews that you have. It’s more to manage. It’s more difficult and it ends up costing a lot of money. How did you think about it? And, and, uh, you know, is the goal to, to keep kind of a tight, um, You know, a few number of skews. Are you going to expand, you know, what are some of your thoughts about that?
Emily: Well, we want to continue to focus here in the Northwest Indiana Chicago land area, and we want to get to. If we basically want to, you want to get to six different flavors for the icing, but we want to do it at a slow pace. We don’t want it to take on too much at one time. And so, um, like right now we have four schemes and that’s manageable. And so we want to increase the skews as we grow, but we don’t want to have so many skews at one time that they become unmanageable.
Ken: Sure. Sure. Yeah. And, and, you know, one of the, and mistakes as launching with, you know, like 10 or 12 flavors, you know, and, and people quickly run into trouble, um, just in terms of manufacturing costs and inventory costs. Um, and so, yeah, I think it’s, it’s your approach. Um, just take it, take it a day at a time, take it slowly and expand as you grow.
I think that makes a lot of sense. Yes. So, uh, just curious, which of your flavors is your favorite
Emily: Caramel sea salt, vanilla.
Ken: I think I’d lean that way too. Um, that sounds wonderful. All right. So how do you, um, let, let’s switch gears a little bit, um, marketing, uh, your, your product. Um, you guys have a website, obviously, are you in an Amazon as well? Um, gimme retail, um, partnerships, um, that you distribute your product
Emily: Through as well. We’re not on Amazon yet. Um, we’re in GTF vegan, we’re on fare wholesale abound. And, um, we’re in on market wagon with the farmer’s market locally here in Northwest Indiana and Chicago land area. And then we are actually in discussion with some, um, big box retailers in the area to hopefully carry our product.
Ken: Oh, that’s great. And, um, you know, for, for those that are looking to get into, uh, some of these, these big box retailers, um, what, what’s your approach been? How have you been able to, to, I guess, first of all, get in front of the right person to be able to pitch, how have you guys handled that? A lot of emails, a lot of phone calls, cause you can’t drop out stuff now because of a pandemic, but a lot of emails or the phone calls, I always say you have to be patiently persistent.
Yeah, that’s good advice. Um, and then, uh, have you guys done any trade shows? Um, at all, I know we’re in pandemic now, but you know, with, with COVID numbers, hopefully moving in the right direction and trade shows, um, starting up again soon, or is that something that you guys have done and is it something that you’re planning on doing?
Emily: We’re planning on doing some? We have not done any as a vehicle. We are planning on doing some.
Ken: Okay. And are there any, uh, particular shows that you’re looking at?
Emily: Um, maybe expo West. I think that’s coming up in September. So we’ve talked about that, but we’re not sure yet. Um, we may do a sweets snacks cause that’s going to be in Indianapolis this year in June. So we’re considering that one.
Ken: Right. Um, and are there any shows there and like, um, You’re close to Chicago, right? Yes. I seem to remember there. There’s a couple, there’s a private label show. That’s pretty big. That would probably be good for you guys. Um, I don’t know if you’ve considered a private label. Have you, have you looked?
Emily: We haven’t, as of yet, we’ve just been focusing on really trying to grow the brand as the is. And so we’re making some changes coming up this summer. And so that’s where we are just really just wanting to focus in on that. Okay.
Ken: Um, and, and, uh, just, uh, digging into a little bit about, you had this idea for icing.
Um, it looks like you attended a couple of programs that taught you a little bit more about the business and you start learning about the business. How did you approach, uh, manufacturing? Is that something that you guys, you know, did, did in-house maybe rented a kitchen, you know, I’ve seen that approach or did you find a, a co-packer, um, uh, manufacturing partner that you could use?
Emily: We do have a co-packer manufacturing partner, but right now it’s still in-house.
Ken: Okay. And do you have, uh, plans to continue to do that? You know, I’m just, I’m just interested in some of your thinking.
Emily: No, as we start to grow, then we will transfer everything over to our co-packers. Yeah.
Ken: And you know, it’s actually a pretty good approach.
A lot of people find that that early on, you know, especially if your product is still evolving and you’re still, um, you know, tweaking here and there. Um, it’s nice to have that control early on, and then once you need to scale, then maybe that’s the better time to kick it out to a co-packer. Um, is that how you guys are looking at it? As well
Emily: As, like I said, we do have wine. But as we start to scale up and get more stores and it becomes too much for us to keep it in house, then we’ll switch over to our call pack.
Ken: As people find to be pretty difficult. And, you know, as a food entrepreneur is to find a good co-packer. How did your relationship with your current co-packer?
How did, how did that develop? How did you find them?
Emily: Just went through. Really, I went through the yellow pages and started calling co-packers. I looked for co-packers that could handle the type of application that I had and co-packers, that would work with small emerging brands.
Ken: Okay. And, um, any tips for other people that might be looking, um, for a good manufacturer.
So for instance, um, uh, you know, you may have come across, uh, several of them. How did you know that you’d found somebody that that would be a good partner for, for your business?
Emily: After I met with them and looked at the facility and looked at the capabilities and then I knew which one would go with. But I would say if you’re looking for that, I would say you need to look on LinkedIn.
I would also say join different food groups. Like I’m in a group called food bevy, and it’s designed to have entrepreneurs after I’m just dissipating in retail. Ready? That’s through Alison ball through Betty’s Jordan Buckner. And so I’ve gone to different seminar. I’ve been on a lot of zoom meetings. And so you just start asking, once you get around other food entrepreneurs, you just start asking and you get like a list of things that you need, whether it’s cold pack or distribution, packaging branding.
And so once you start getting into those community, them familiarize yourself with everything. Then you start to get information that you need. Okay.
Ken: That’s actually really good advice. Um, so you mentioned the food bevy, and then, um, you talked about food hero and what are, what are some of the other, you know, communities or programs, um, that you’re plugged into
Emily: Retail? Ready?
Ken: What do they do?
Emily: They actually prepare youth. It’s very similar, but they get you ready to get your product on shelf space. They help you with developing your sales sheet, this a group. They do Wednesday Facebook groups, um, and you get homework assignments. They have been recording that you can go back and listen to.
So for me, it’s been very helpful. As far as just really crafting the letter to send to buyers, you know what you should say, what you should focus on. It’s also been helpful to be in a group with other like-minded people that have some of the same struggles or some of the same feelings that I have.
Emily: Very helpful.
Ken: Right. Um, and, and food bevy, um, what’s your experience been with them?
Emily: The very similar, very similar experience. Um, It’s a subscription. And so what you do is they have a list of buyers that come in, buyers that are on there and get information to the grocery stores and the places like Target and Walmart, that information is in there.
They have, um, They bring in guest speakers to talk about different issues that we have. Like I said, packaging, distribution, labeling, um, all of that comes into play when you think about it. And so we get to hear those, um, um, webinars. Let me see. They opportunities that have come up. Like a lot of companies will come on board with food bevy and you get a discount from there.
If you want to use their services, like food photography, um, Help with your social media, for those kinds of things are beneficial. And most people don’t even know about them until you get into the CPG or food business. And things started to realize, I need to do A, B, C, and D, but how do I do that?
Ken: Sure, sure. Well, yeah, those are, those are some fantastic resources, you know, any, any advice for, for. Um, food entrepreneurs that are grinding it out, you know, and, um, you know, I’m thinking specifically, you know, about this pandemic and, and just the toll it’s taken on, on everybody, you know, any pieces of advice that you could give them.
Uh, uh, you know, one of the, one of the things, you know, that I’m kind of getting out a little bit is as you seem to, you know, found a way to connect, uh, to, to other people in the space, And other people that are, you know, maybe going through some of this, uh, the same challenges and, and that seems, you know, very important, especially at this time.
Um, so any, any pieces of advice that you would give to other entrepreneurs that are currently in the struggle?
Emily: Definitely. You gotta keep your focus and I think you can’t be afraid to meet people to share your story. Um, To express your emotions because all of us in this food business, we have those periods of highs and lows, and we experienced loneliness and we get all the nos.
No, no, no, but we were all on this journey together. And so my journey really started with the incubator that I took. With a food hero. When I went through that with them, uh, I met them and one of the guys in their wine, he’s a foodie. And so from them, I started to meet other people because I would attend different events in Chicago.
I would go to events over here. And then I also, um, started through Purdue. They have a. Location here. The commercial commercialization center is not too far from my house. And so I met some people over there. And really started to make different connections through there, but you gotta be able, you know, when you get advice or information or you have information, you need to be able to share it too.
And so just networking, it comes down to networking and just really. Expressing what your needs are and being willing to listen. This was brand new for me. And so I didn’t have a clue of some of the technologies, some of the language. So now when people say stuff to me, I understand, I can tell you what they’re saying.
And I don’t feel like I’m in a room that I’m the only person in the room that doesn’t know what somebody is saying. And so I would just say definitely, uh, focusing on your late Dean is a great tool. Um, some interesting people over on clubhouse and just drop it in some of the rooms. And a lot of times they’ll link down when there’s something going on Bay wall.
Say, Hey, this is where I’m going to be at five o’clock this evening, if you want to invite. And so those are things that I would say, just really building you a good network and building good relationships with the people in this space. Find people that that can be your mentor. Um, Cause, you know, I bootstrapped everything, so I don’t have a lot of money, so I’m always seeking for information, but I don’t just, wait.
I go and I read, I research any article that comes across my desk or email to me, if I’m just reading, I’m doing the research all the time. So I’m not just sitting, waiting for people to give me information. I am proactive as well.
Ken: That’s great. Thanks, Emily. What about, um, you know, what’s next for you guys, um, you know, throughout this year and you know, so what are you, what are you excited about?
What’s what’s next for your business?
Emily: Well, we are doing some rebranding and repackaging science. We’re excited about that. We’re going to be updating our website and then working on a new flavors and hopefully launching in some of these stores, some of these big box stores in the summer.
Ken: Excellent. Now that that is pretty exciting.
Well, let’s, let’s switch gears. Let’s jump into the quickfire round. I’ve got four questions for you. And just tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Uh, name one tool or resource that you feel has really helped you with your current position. Okay. You mentioned LinkedIn as well. You gave us actually a bunch of resources, but, but food bevy, how come
Emily: There are people on there that just like me they’re in the food space. They had some of the same struggles I have, and it’s easy to talk to them and I can say something or, you know, if you just have, in one of those moments, you just need to call somebody and talk to them. That is a space. For you to just go and say, let me just exhale for a moment. In addition to the resources that it brings to the table, that is so beneficial, particularly when you’re working on a limited budget, those are just great resources and it’s a great tool.
So kudos to Jordan, Jordan Butner for doing that for us.
Ken: And, uh, what’s one book that has helped you the most in your career. Okay. That’s all right. We can, we can skip that one. Okay. And, uh, what about one piece of advice that you would give to your 21 year old self?
Emily: Don’t be afraid to fail early, fail fast, get up and move home.
Ken: And who is a one person, um, in your field of work, uh, that you would love to have lunch with?
Emily: I don’t know who that would be like that.
Ken: Yeah, he’s pretty cool. Yeah. That’d be a fun lunch actually. All right. Well, Emily, um, I think that, uh, you’ve been a fantastic guest and, um, given us some, some really good nuggets of wisdom.
Um, I especially think it’s, it’s helpful what you’ve said about, you know, uh, networking and connecting with other people that are in the, in the same space. Are there any sort of parting words of advice that you could give other entrepreneurs?
Emily: Hi, one product focused on one product. Don’t try to consume three and four skews at one time. Find that one product. Perfect it. Get your customers to fall in love with that one product and then build around that product.
Ken: Okay, excellent. And, um, w if somebody wanted to reach out to you, what’s the best way to do that?
Emily: For me for my website, paradise, P a R a D I S E snacks, S N a x.com. We’re also on Instagram, Emily, E M I L Y S underscore foods, F O O D S.
And we’re on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn, under my name as well as under Emily. My name is Emily D. Edwards and the LinkedIn on Facebook is Emily suits. And so any one of those would be set up as a message. We try to respond in a timely manner. And so I’m just, I’m happy to be here. And if anyone has any questions, please buy it.
Please go to our website and order it and please write a feedback once you buy it.
Ken: Okay, excellent. And paradise snacks is the best place to buy your product paradise snacks.com and that’s a snacks with an X and a we’ll make sure to include these links in the show notes. Well, Emily, I appreciate you taking the time and, uh, you know, sharing with us, uh, you know, a little bit about your journey.
I think this has been a fantastic interview. Thank you. Well,
Emily: Thank you so much for having me
Ken: All right. You take care. Bye-bye.
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