In the last decade a huge trend has emerged in the entrepreneurial world involving businesses building a company with a focus on charitable giving. More and more, companies are now structuring charitable donations, directly into their business plan, instead of leaving the giving as an after thought once profitable. Foodlyn is one of those companies. Nancy Brown and Stephanie Browner founded their online marketplace for small batch food Producers, Foodlyn, with the mission of donating 25% of their profits to charities fighting to eradicate hunger in the U.S. As their success has grown, and they move closer to making their first donation, we sat down with Brown to discuss her company, it’s mission, and her commitment to making the world a better place.
Nancy thank you for sitting down with us today! Let’s jump right in. How did you both come up with the idea for Foodlyn?
One of my (Nancy) many corporate relocations took me to Connecticut, where I met Stephanie. I was entranced by her skills and experience in the culinary world. She was a pastry cook at a great restaurant in Manhattan, a test kitchen director at Vegetarian Times magazine, a recipe developer at TimeLife, and a recipe tester at Eating Well magazine. She also has done freelance food styling, baking, and catering work.
As I developed the concept of Foodlyn, I immediately thought of her! Stephanie’s passion for food and her experience in the culinary world allows her to evaluate products, quality of ingredients and all things related to food production that result in choosing the great products for customers of Foodlyn. She has always been an activist and a socially-aware person, so the mission of “Purchase with a Purpose™” resonated with her immediately. She is the right business partner in this venture, and we are committed to having the Foodlyn brand do great things for our customers, foodmakers and the community.
We love your mission! Right now, there is such a huge push for more socially aware brands, what aided in the decision to make Foodlyn donate such a large portion of it’s profits to charity?
Stephanie and I believe people will be more willing to try great new products if the profits from the sale benefit society in some meaningful way. People work hard for their money and want to support companies with a true commitment to social good rather than a singular focus on profitability.
Today people want to know more about the food they buy and consume. Who makes the food? What ingredients are in the product? Where do the ingredients originate? Are the ingredients organic and sustainable? What is the story behind the foodmaker? Consumers prefer quality products, and quality extends beyond the ingredients. Quality includes the foodmaking process; business ethic; use of authentic, rather than artificial, ingredients and a healthful nutritional profile.
Your mission was so well planned out from the very beginning. As a new Company with such big goals, where did you find the initial surge of participation from food producers who were, at that time, unfamiliar with your brand?
At Foodlyn, we focus on foodmakers and artisans with outstanding products that have not yet achieved nationwide distribution. To find our first food producers, we attended food shows, visited farmer’s markets, researched incubator kitchens and talked to friends and family. Stephanie is particularly good at finding unique foods and small-batch foodmakers through her excellent network of culinary connections across the country.
With 25% of your profits on the line, and thousands of food based charities throughout the world, how do you decide what charities are the most important to become involved with?
We are focused on community-based charities working to eradicate hunger in the United States. Since our business focus is entirely based in the U.S., we feel that we should use the donations in our communities. We do our own research and solicit input from our customers to find worthy organizations. Not every hardworking organization receives funding from the government or secures big corporate sponsors. And even if they do, the funding simply is not enough to help everyone in need in our local communities.
We will be announcing the first two organizations to receive donations from Foodlyn (one on each coast) in the next few weeks. We continue to seek nominations from the public about worthy community-based organizations through our email link: firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope our commitment to charitable giving will inspire others to step up in the same way and Purchase with a Purpose™.
It’s so exciting that you’re about to make your first donation! What has the public’s response been like toward the Foodlyn Brand?
People understand our mission. The feedback and support have been overwhelmingly positive from both consumers and foodmakers. Sometimes consumers are driven to buy based simply on the desire to try new things. People love to share a small-batch mustard, gluten-free cookies, or organic kimchi that no one else has discovered.
Our customers appreciate that new food brands will be added to Foodlyn on a regular basis. They also know that as our initial foodmakers gain exposure and success, they may secure a deal for nationwide product distribution and leave Foodlyn! Stephanie and I will celebrate those success stories. The net is that customers should buy these great products while the supplies are available on Foodlyn.
Our customers love the food, and although we only recently launched the site, we already have repeat buyers!
We recently spoke with an amazing non-profit organization working to cultivate and empower women entrepreneurs. They train, mentor and support immigrant, refugee and low-income women in the United States to turn their abilities and skills into successful businesses. Several artisans and foodmakers are in the program. The organization is coaching them to prepare their products for sale locally and on Foodlyn. Stephanie and I had the chance to speak to one of the foodmakers in the program recently, and frankly, the conversation brought tears to my eyes. It is rewarding to provide visibility across the country to someone with an outstanding product. And in the end, the customers win by having access to incredibly delicious food to eat or give as gifts!
There is nothing we love more on this site than savvy and innovative women changing the way the business landscape looks to the rest of the world. How do you feel your unique point of view as women in the largely male dominated business community has affected your brand and its growth?
At the time I was coming up in the business world, there was a lot of pressure for women to achieve success in corporate America. The entrepreneurial world is different. Entrepreneurs come in every shape, size, color, religion, age, gender and ethnicity, and we have found that community to be extremely supportive of Foodlyn. Our foodmakers are pretty evenly split between male- and female-led businesses. I strongly believe that if you have passion and conviction you can succeed. It helps to have a supportive family, and Stephanie and I both are fortunate in that area.
Let’s get personal! We know that you love all of your food producers equally, but what is your favorite product that is currently available on your site?
We do love them all equally! The foodmakers and artisans who joined the Foodlyn site at the launch of the business took a leap of faith with us. During the time of our first introduction we did not even have a basic Foodlyn website template or track record of success to show them! They believed in us and we believe in them. We want the focus to be on them, not on us.
Currently, you are working with small-batch food producers to provide artisan products in your marketplace. What are your future plans for the expansion of Foodlyn?
Foodlyn is a digital market representing unique and mostly undiscovered foods and brands from across the US. We like to think of it as a digital farmer’s market. Foodlyn brings together small-batch foodmakers without exposure and food-loving consumers without access to the product for the benefit of both! The idea that a food lover in Oregon can discover and buy a one-of-a-kind hot sauce from Virginia is very exciting to us. The Foodlyn triangle benefiting the consumer, the foodmaker and charity completes our story.
We already are working with another large group of foodmakers and artisans that we intend to bring onto the site before the holiday season. We will to broaden the categories of food available. Next year, we anticipate significant growth through the addition of foodmakers from across the U.S.
As a company that focuses a large part of its energy on charitable efforts, what overall impact do you hope to have on widespread issue of hunger?
As our socially-conscious customers embrace our mission and fall in love with our products, we believe they will organically spread the word about Foodlyn. We are a self-funded venture and because of our laser-focus on driving charitable donations, we don’t spend money freely. We have consultants, business executives, and other professionals who generously offer their time as advisors pro-bono. Customers understand that Foodlyn will not spend money in the way that a purely for-profit venture would spend on traditional advertising. Each dollar spent takes away from our core mission to grow charitable donations exponentially year over year. We believe in our customers. They come to our site to buy great food for a great cause. They will help spread the word.
Stephanie and I are committed to making a positive impact through Foodlyn. We will highlight stories that make more people aware of the hunger issues in America. There are a lot of misconceptions about hunger, about access to food generally and healthy food specifically. I believe deeply that we cannot wait for our government to solve this problem. I believe in the powerful John F. Kennedy quote “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In the time I have remaining on earth, that is what I intend to do.
Thanks again to Nancy and Stephanie of Foodlyn for sitting down with us. For more information visit their site here www.Foodlyn.com.