Interview With Feel Good Foods' CEO Vanessa Phillips
If you aren't already stocked up on Feel Good Foods, you will be after reading this interview!
Vanessa Phillips Talks Starting Feel Good Foods: 'Food Was My Calling'
Vanessa Phillips has always wanted to pursue a career in food.
"Since I was born, I knew I was meant to do something with food. Food was my calling."
Even after a celiac diagnosis, her passion for food never went away. Instead, Vanessa was inspired to start Feel Good Foods—a line of entirely gluten-free frozen meals.
Intrigued by her story and background, we sat down with Vanessa to talk the full origin of Feel Good Foods, what she wish she knew before starting the brand, and more.
Read what she had to share below!
Women.com: How did Feel Good Foods come to be?
Vanessa Phillips: I have celiac and wanted to create a line of my favorite foods accessible to everyone. Growing up, my favorite food to eat was Chinese. My parents had a lot of Chinese restaurants and ordered in a lot, so I had an overexposure to gluten products. When I found out I was celiac, I was devastated Chinese food was no longer an option for me to eat.
When I met [my co-founder] Tryg, he also shared my love for Asian food. He asked me one day what foods I missed, then I listed off egg rolls, dumplings, and tempura, and he started cooking me dishes from his former restaurants, tweaking them to be gluten-free. I felt bad for celiacs who are really hungry and miserable and didn't have access to someone like Tryg day-to-day, like I did.
While Tryg was at Balducci's as their executive chef of prepared foods, I was in PR at the time. Still wanting to be involved in the food side of the food industry, I had done a trial run gluten-free menu for my father's restaurant, and the foods were met with rave reviews. One day, someone had come into the restaurant, and the customer liked these lasagnas I made so much, she asked if she could buy it in bulk to take home. I put up an add online and had like 20 orders after the first week, which grew to 50 orders a week after a lot of gluten-free bloggers started writing about this girl in the West Village delivering gluten-free lasagnas.
I was living in a 450 square foot studio apartment and realized it wasn't economic, so I took down the add and regrouped, which is how the inspiration for Friedman's came to be. However, I loved the idea of people serving my food in their homes and I never got over that idea. I knew that one day I would come back to that concept, but it was on the back burner while Tryg and I launched Friedman's. Feel Good Foods was born from that. It's Friedman's, but in a box.
WDC: Which Feel Good Foods products are your favorites?
VP: The potstickers are my favorite. Growing up, dumplings were my favorite food. Today, they are still my ultimate comfort food when I'm feeling sick and tired. Even before I was diagnosed with celiac, dumplings were my ultimate comfort food. I was determined to create them with Feel Good Foods. We are absolutely planning on expanding with other foods. Food innovation is the most inspiring part of what I do and I'll never stop.
WDC: What do you wish you knew before you started Feel Good Foods?
VP: It's going to take a lot of money. I didn't realize how much time fundraising takes—it's exhausting and can feel very defeating, at times. It's a big part of what I do every day and I was naive in thinking it'd be easy.
Being in business is harder for women than men. I never expected the disproportionate amount of gender inclusion in business to be such a theme in my career. I grew up with a lot of strong female role models and never thought that being a female in business would make situations in the workplace more challenging.
You're not always going to love every part of what you do. When I first started my business, I was obsessed with it. But just recently, I had a moment where I really wanted to give up. I realized that running a business is similar to being in a relationship or getting married. You have to realize that it's for better or for worse. When I started, I never thought I'd have moments of uncertainty. In reality, you sometimes have to get discouraged a little bit in order to get back up again on the other side.
I wish someone would've been able to tell me about the different logistics associated with different categories within a grocery store. I maybe would have chosen to go into a different segment. I never knew that frozen food was one of the most challenging categories within grocery. If I had known more, maybe I would have chosen something else. Because at the end of the day, I just wanted to get into food. I didn't know frozen was going to be so tough, but I am proud of how far FGF has come and glad we are growing within the frozen sector and changing how people stock their freezers.
It never gets easier, it just changes. I used to ask people before I started that if starting was going to be the hardest part. They said yes, but in actuality, it's all hard. Same, same, but different. As you grow and get bigger, the challenges change and get more dynamic. But I believed that once I got started and got my placement that things would get easier. People said that being a start-up was the hardest part, but that's not true.
WDC: What's the biggest misconception surrounding Feel Good Foods?
VP: That FGF is food for celiacs. The idea is that FGF is really far-reaching and it's food for everyone to enjoy and feel good eating. Definitely not just food for people who have to eat gluten-free. There's a stigma around gluten-free foods and sometimes that creates a stigma around FGF. We want everyone to try it to see if it's something that could become a part of their food routine.
WDC: Apart from FGF, what are your favorite gluten-free brands?
VP: I am really lucky that I am a good cook, because usually when I want something, I make it myself. I've been unprofessionally trained in cooking my whole life. I don't really buy gluten-free food, but I do love Nona Lim's Wide Pad See Ew Noodles. They're a really good mom hack for when I'm making Pad See Ew for my son and I, because he doesn't know the difference.
WDC: How can we better support women in business, such as yourself?
VP: By encouraging more women to go into business, talking about it more, and lifting each other up. We are outnumbered.