It’s no secret that consumers are increasingly seeking out nutritionally superior foods, and Etobicoke, Ontario-based PuraVida Foods is going one step further by offering them nutrition-packed frozen vegetable-and-grain blends that CEO Lauren Watkins hopes will ultimately help them lead a healthier lifestyle. Here, Watkins talks to Progressive Grocer about developing her company, the hurdles she’s faced entering the marketplace and being a Millennial woman in the food business.
Progressive Grocer: When you first began developing the idea for PuraVida, did you imagine yourself as a female running the company?
Lauren Watkins: I never really envisioned myself in that specific lens — it was more so just developing a brand that people could resonate with, and really help people lead a better life. I never saw myself specifically as a female leader running a company, but that is what it happens to be. I’m thrilled to be in this position and work with like-minded people who share the same passion and enthusiasm that I do.
PG: As a relatively young company, what are some of the hurdles you’ve faced getting to market?
LW: With any new brand, there are always hurdles that you face. You’re trying to get into the marketplace, and you’re trying to get brand recognition. I would say one of our biggest hurdles has been reaching out to buyers and bridging that gap between our brand and getting it into the marketplace. We’ve been really lucky that we found some buyers that share the same enthusiasm and passion that we do for healthy food and clean-label products. It was really just finding that initial buyer to take a leap with us, since we’re a new brand and we were still working on getting our message and recognition in the marketplace. Now that we have some buyers reaching out to us and lots of people are sharing that same message, we’re really overcoming that and working toward bringing our products to people who need them.
PG: Do you see the grocery industry as one heavily dominated by men? If so, why do you think that is?
LW: There have been many industries that were heavily dominated by men, and traditionally when we think back to traditional gender roles, things just kind of happened that way. As women have become more career-focused and are working with their families and partners together in the home space, as well as being supported to develop their careers, I think so many industries now are being flooded with women. I think that it really opens the door for different perspectives, and it’s really exciting, because it’s not only our industry that now has people from all different walks of life sharing their ideas and their messages. We can really work collectively to shed light on some of the things that have been challenging or stagnant.
PuraVida Foods, which offers nutrition-packed frozen vegetable-and-grain blends, is now entering the children's market with PuraVida Kids Life.
PG: As a Millennial and a woman, do these two factors ever cloud peoples’ perception of you or your company?
LW: The biggest hurdle regarding the whole package that I am is being more so a Millennial and being young. When we have meetings or we have interactions with people who have been in the industry for a very long time, sometimes there’s a little bit of a sense that people don’t necessarily think that I know what I’m talking about. I wouldn’t say that it clouds the perception of me and my company. I think we’re all working and learning together, so it’s exciting because people are resonating with our brand because of those two things — being a Millennial and a woman — and I’m offering that perspective.
PG: What is something you are most proud of with the development of PuraVida?
LW: Our team is fantastic. I can’t wait to go to work every day with our team. We’re an open-concept office, so often people are yelling out their questions and bouncing ideas and comments off one another all day. It’s really great to have a team that you’re excited to work with every day.
Not only that, but it’s also the excitement that our consumers are sharing about our products and what we’re doing.
PG: You’re about to launch the Kids Life program. What made you want to enter the children’s market?
LW: I’m very focused on setting children up for lifelong success. I grew up in a family of health care professionals, and we constantly talked about establishing good habits early on in life. That includes not only diet, but also exercise. Children ask a million and one questions, and it’s really about supporting them to understand how our world works and why it works the way it does.
With PuraVida Kids Life, we’re focusing on that and helping foster questions and family time where parents can work with their kids to help them get involved in their nutrition and in their health from day one. It’s really about tailoring the message to help in a way that children of all ages can understand.
PG: What is one piece of advice you’d give younger women just starting their careers in the food industry?
LW: Use every day as a learning opportunity. Every single day is different, and you can really use it to learn something new or ask a question, and not be afraid to ask those questions. You don’t know what you don’t know, and more often than not, you’d be pleasantly surprised that someone is willing to sit down with you and explain something. Along the way, you might find a mentor or someone who is willing to take you under their wing and help you take those risks and navigate through the complex industry that we work in.
PG: What does your vision for the growth of PuraVida look like?
LW: I think it’s twofold. I really want to continue our internal growth with our team and really work on developing our team members and make sure they’re doing something that they’re passionate about every day. We talk about passion on a daily basis here in our office, and I really want to make sure people have found a company they can grow with and someone that they trust in.
On the other end of that, with the growth of PuraVida, I would love to see us in all types of retailers across the country and really helping people lead a better life. Whether that’s with one product they find that they love, knowing that they can get a certain percentage of their veggie intake for a day, getting more fiber or helping someone feel better about their food choice, that’s my vision.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part 2 of the Q&A series with PuraVida Foods' Watkins. To read part 1, click here.