The pandemic has caused health-and-wellness trends to accelerate across the grocery industry, and consumers are taking a second look at their foods. Specifically, plant-based, organic and holistic foods that heal are red-hot. Shoppers are demanding high-quality ingredients that are ethically sourced and packed with vitamins and nutrients. Food entrepreneur Lauren Watkins explains how her company, Etobicoke, Ontario-based PuraVida Foods, is stepping up to meet the expectations of grocery shoppers looking for nutritionally superior food.
Progressive Grocer: Lauren, why did you decide to become a food entrepreneur?
Lauren Watkins: Well, my background is actually in psychology, but the job that I ended up getting right out of school was selling food, selling ingredients. And I didn’t necessarily love sales initially, but as the role grew and as I grew, I realized that I was really passionate about selling high-quality ingredients that helped customers build better meals. I grew up in a household of medical professionals. Both of my parents worked at a hospital for sick children in Toronto, and pretty much every night, we would talk about health and the importance of not only eating nutritious food, but also being proactive with healthy choices. So when I started working in the food industry, I really opened my eyes to the quality of ingredients that manufacturers use.
PG: You started reading labels more carefully?
LW: Yes, I started looking at ingredient decks, nutrition fact panels, and seeing what the food I was eating on a daily basis was made of. And a lot of the things that I thought were healthy were packed full of preservatives and things with really complicated names that I wouldn’t even try to pronounce. These were foods that I thought were healthy that were labeled as being healthy and good for me, but were not. So that is really what sparked the idea of PuraVida.
PG: How did you come up with the name “PuraVida”?
LW: A lot of work went into designing the brand, and I wanted it to be something that people really connected with. I am not only passionate about health, but also passionate about our planet and being connected to the whole process. I love being outside, which is kind of where the little leaf on the logo came from. We wanted our logo to speak to what we do and that we’re connected to the ingredients that we source. We’re connected to the vendors that we work with. And a lot goes into our packaging. We look at how we can differentiate ourselves with our formulations. We make many revisions to make sure that sodium levels, carb levels and the ingredients that we use do something good for the body.
PG: What would you say is the most challenging part of what you’re doing now?
LW: Well, the feedback that we get from our customers has been great. I would say retail’s very different from what I used to do before. I’m very used to someone reaching out to me and saying, “I need 80,000 pounds of black beans tomorrow,” and I would quickly plug it in. But in retail, people plan the freezer case months in advance. There’s a lot that goes into the buyer planning, and obviously, everyone wants to feel connected to what products they put on the shelf. So that’s very different from what I used to do before, because it was very fast-paced.
PG: I know that part of your mission is to educate consumers on “the power of food.” What does that statement mean?
LW: Food can send different signals to our bodies, and can tell us to make muscle, and can tell us to feed our brains, and can help us combat and prevent disease. But on the flip side of it, food can also send negative signals to our bodies, and can tell us to not repair or be as efficient with bodily functions [as] we would expect. And so those things can appear in different ways. We can feel sluggish, we can be bloated, we can lack the energy or the enthusiasm that we would normally have. And so it’s about helping people not necessarily drastically change their diets, because that’s not sustainable in the long term, but helping people eat more vegetables or try something new that’s maybe presented in a different way.