“As a woman of color, I felt the need to create a business whose mission was to elevate other people who are marginalized in their communities.”
- Lia Ballentine
The pandemic taught us two things. One, we want good, nutritious food and snacks that are easily accessible, simple enough that we can make in our own kitchens, and the taste and ingredients are close to home. And two, we’re more comfortable shopping online. This demand and shift in consumer behavior paved the way for startup food brands to create snacks and food that aren’t just healthy, but also have a familiar taste and feel to them. The existing food market, as wide as it is, still isn’t able to cater to the specific preferences of some audiences.
Startup food brands are quick to jump into this opportunity, doing innovative things independent of larger corporate food systems. And they aren’t getting the spotlight they deserve. This is why Yumday was created: to be a platform to showcase emerging food brands and amplify and promote representation.
In Episode 44, I’m bringing back Lia Ballentine, founder of Yumday, an online curated snack shop and snack box service that features and prioritizes women and BIPOC-led food brands. Since the original interview came out in January, Lia’s business has grown leaps and bounds, with a new website relaunch, a wider selection of food products, additional subscription sizes, and corporate gifting.
Lia and I talk all about the sustainability of business operations, innovation, and partnership, customer engagement, and using storytelling to highlight the reason and purpose of these growing food businesses.
If you're an emerging food business that wants to tap into new audiences but doesn’t have the capacity yet to have its own promotion platform, partnering with a digital platform like Yumday is a great way to get your products directly to consumers’ homes.
Or, if you're a foodie who loves new snacks every month or might be looking for a great gift idea this holiday, Yumday has curated food boxes so you can check that off your to-do list this Christmas season!
Virginia Foodie Essentials:
If you're trying to grow retail sales for packaged food, the bigger channels always want data on not just your market but how you serve your business accounts too. Finding and growing retail accounts takes time and networking. - Georgiana Dearing
Storytelling is so important to me and it's such a great way to connect people. - Lia Ballentine
What I value so much is the connection with the brand and the story they come along with. - Lia Ballentine
What’s so fascinating is a lot of these emerging brands have created these new food products or items because of a need that they recognized either with their own families, wanting to create a healthier version of this type of food product, or wanting to introduce a new type of snack that maybe meant something to them culturally. - Lia Ballentine
I love finding really innovative products. Most recently, I have been connecting with a lot of brands that are creating snacks using upcycled ingredients. - Lia Ballentine
Key Points From This Episode:
Yumday as an alternate channel to spread brand awareness while learning the ropes of order fulfillment
Finding your tribe and new customers
How Yumday discovers and benefits startup food brands
Curated boxes as values and diet-driven
Creating snacks using upcycled ingredients
Why customer feedback is important to business growth
Tapping into new opportunities based on different cultures and preferences
More about the Guest:
Lia Ballentine is the founder of Yumday, a purpose-driven snack box company featuring women- and BIPOC-led food brands. She is a foodie, photographer, and art enthusiast with an incurable case of wanderlust and she loves to follow her curiosity—wherever it leads.
Lia's mission is to make every day delicious by finding and sharing wholesome snacks from diverse founders of innovative food brands.
Connect with Lia:
Follow The Virginia Foodie here:
Click Here for Full Transcript:
[00:00:00] Lia Ballentine: As a woman of color, I just felt the need to create a business whose mission was to elevate other people who are marginalized in their communities. Smaller makers, women, minority-owned businesses are so important to me to support those founders, and I can do that.
[00:00:20] Georgiana Dearing: Welcome to The Virginia Foodie Podcast, where we lift the lid on the craft food industry and tell the stories behind the good food, good people, and good brands that you know and love. If you've ever come across a yummy food brand and wondered, "How do they do that? How did they turn that recipe into a successful business?" Then we've got some stories for you.
Today's episode is a repeat, but I hope you'll listen through to the end. Founder Lia Ballentine and I connected a few weeks ago, and I have an update to share with you. Hello there, Foodie folk, welcome to the podcast. In today's episode, I've got a treat for both the makers and the eaters out there. I sat down earlier this spring with Lia Ballentine, the founder of Yumday, an online marketplace for snacks and treats made by BIPOC-owned brands launched right in the middle of the pandemic. Lia's mission is to make every day delicious by finding and sharing wholesome snacks from diverse founders of innovative food brands. I found Lia through some food industry connections. But since we first spoke, lots of other brands are taking notice of her values-driven company. She's been featured twice on the Food Network first as an AAPI-owned business and again, as a Mother's Day gift idea. I was fascinated with Yumday because my work with emerging brands overlaps a bit with her role as being an alternate retail channel for small food businesses. If you're trying to grow retail sales for packaged food, the bigger channels always want data on not just your market but how you serve your business accounts too. Finding and growing retail accounts takes time and networking.
Alternate channels like Yumday are one way to spread brand awareness while also learning the ropes of order fulfillment. The fact that she's focused on BIPOC brands means that companies without deep connections in the industry have an opportunity to start making their mark. On top of her role as Chief Snack Officer, Lia also hosts the podcast, Everyday is a Food Day with Anna Van Valin. In it, they explore the stories behind food holidays, and those stories are part of what inspired her to create Yumday. As a marketer, I think it's so cool to have built her audience first. And she speaks today about how the podcast led her to the business she founded.
Hi Lia, thanks for joining me today.
[00:02:54] Lia Ballentine: Hello. I'm so glad to be here. Thank you.
[00:02:58] Georgiana Dearing: Well, I'm really happy to have you on the podcast because I think your business model is pretty timely. So can you start off by introducing yourself to our listeners and tell them who you are and what you're doing?
[00:03:11] Lia Ballentine: Absolutely. So hello everyone, I'm Lia Ballentine and I run Yumday which is an online curated snack shop and snack box service that features and prioritizes women and BIPOC-led food brands as well as mission-driven and sustainable brands. And I started Yumday and launched the e-commerce component at the beginning of 2021, so mid-January of this year.
[00:03:33] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, you're a new player on the scene and I thought that your business model was pretty relevant, and that's why I wanted to share you with our audience here.
[00:03:43] Lia Ballentine: Thank you.
[00:03:44] Georgiana Dearing: So 2021, that's like a crazy time to start. The pandemic has been nuts but we're still working our way out of it in springtime while we're talking now. And I wanted to know, what was it like to start what you're doing during a pandemic? And can you talk a little bit about that and why it was so important to you to kick this off?
[00:04:05] Lia Ballentine: Sure. I was telling my friends that I was going to launch this company during the pandemic. I think I was met with a lot of wide eyes. And I had the same feeling myself. It's a different and challenging time to do anything that's new. But also, I feel like the pandemic actually helped me shape this business because what Yumday does with its online curation of snacks and online sales was really driven by the way that I started shopping for my own food during the pandemic. During lockdown in 2020, my eating habits changed. I had to shop a little bit differently. There were a lot of things happening culturally such as this need and desire to be able to amplify and promote representation. All of these forces and factors came together really to help me clarify my vision for launching Yumday. So I knew that I was more comfortable shopping online. I wanted a different way to eat and get my snacks because I was working from home, my husband was working from home, and we just wanted to get some different types of food in our pantry. And also, as a woman of color, I just felt the need to create a business whose mission was to elevate other people who are marginalized in their communities. Smaller makers, women, minority-owned businesses are so important to me to support those founders. And I can do that through Yumday. So actually, there were a lot of things during the pandemic that just pushed me to launch this business. And I can't think of a more perfect time to get it started than now.
[00:05:36] Georgiana Dearing: That was a bold move because you were not in the food industry prior to this, right?
[00:05:41] Lia Ballentine: Right, I was not. I've always been an eater, but before this, I professionally worked in media and entertainment for the past decade.
[00:05:49] Georgiana Dearing: And you also are on a podcast called Everyday is a Food Holiday, right?
[00:05:55] Lia Ballentine: Yes, Every day is a Food Day is a podcast that I co-produced with my friend, Anna Van Valin who's also a podcast consultant and producer.
[00:06:02] Georgiana Dearing: You started that before you started this business that you're in now, is that right?
[00:06:06] Lia Ballentine: Yes, that is true. So when I actually started Yumday, this name, and brand, came out of my desire, passion, and interest for food storytelling. I just find that there are so many really interesting stories and histories behind the foods that we eat every day. As a personal side project, I wanted to dig into all of these national food holidays. It just was fascinating to me. Why are we celebrating National Donut Day? Why do we have National French Fries Day? And when I looked back, I'm a total nerd, by the way, I would go down these rabbit holes of really cool pieces of information and history. that gave me fascinating origin stories behind some of these days that I didn't know about. I always took them to be more of a marketing tactic like "Get your free donuts on National Donut Day." But when you really look back, you can see that it started because of a very specific thing or reason. A National Donut Day, for example, is something that was started by the salvation army as a fundraiser and also as a tribute to the women who served as donut lassies during World War I. It's just all of these things I think we don't see. They don't rise up the way we would want them to. And so my friend, Anna and I were like, we should tell these stories. And podcasting is such a great way to be able to share these types of bits of history.
[00:07:22] Georgiana Dearing: So with your new venture, Yumday, you talk about origin stories for these national food days. Are you only looking for startup food brands or are you just looking to elevate the entire community?
[00:07:35] Lia Ballentine: At this point, being so new I have quite a focused filter on what I'm looking for. So I am really focused on startup food brands. A lot of the brands that I'm meeting, they're emerging. They're doing really innovative things and they're all independent. They're not part of larger corporate food systems at this point.
[00:07:53] Georgiana Dearing: So when you find these brands, you're putting them out there into the market. What else do they get out of a relationship with Yumday?
[00:08:01] Lia Ballentine: As I mentioned, storytelling is so important to me and I find that that's such a great way to connect people. So when I get to work with a brand, I really love to learn more about their teams and their founders and their founders' stories. And I think what is so fascinating is a lot of them have created these new food products or items because of a need that they recognized either with their own families, you know, wanting to create a healthier version of this type of food product, or they wanted to introduce a new type of snack that maybe meant something to them culturally. And so, I love to tap into that and figure out what it is that drives these founders and makers into creating the new snack. And what I love to do is be able to tell that story to other people in my community.
[00:08:45] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, so you're offering additional promotion out to the people who are following Yumday.
[00:08:52] Lia Ballentine: Exactly. There's definitely that. I like to see myself as a partner to these brands in a way to be a megaphone for them as well. I think when I approach the brands, I'm always a customer first, that's really how I find them, from my own experience of being an eater of their product.
[00:09:11] Georgiana Dearing: That was one of the things I wanted to ask is how do you find all these brands? Emerging start-up brands generally have a small community. So how are you running across these brands?
[00:09:22] Lia Ballentine: I do tons of internet research. There are also a lot of great organizations out there that do highlight these startup brands. You've got things like the Good Food Foundation. I'll sign up for newsletters from people like Food Borough, Food Bebee Group, and especially, the Food Association has been really great in helping me find a lot of these brands. But there's a lot of time that I spend myself researching, going online and reaching out, shooting an email to a founder, and learning more about what they have and what they offer.
[00:09:52] Georgiana Dearing: So you really are a startup and you're a buyer. That's the role that you fit in my client relationships is you're a buyer for a retail channel, essentially.
[00:10:03] Lia Ballentine: Yes. That's it exactly. I am the buyer. I curate and I'm very, very new, but this is so exciting to be hitting the ground running in this way. It's super thrilling.
[00:10:14] Georgiana Dearing: Well, subscription services are something that is a good alternate channel for brands that are trying to make that next step into say, bigger retail. It's a good place to demonstrate that you can deliver a quantity, that you, can negotiate these relationships. And so that's really what brought you to my attention. I was like, oh yes, I know a lot of brands that could really benefit from relationships like this.
[00:10:41] Lia Ballentine: Yes. The subscription piece is really great to have. I look at Yumday as a discovery platform. This is a great place for people who want to try something new but don't know where to start. They can get started with a curated box or join our monthly snack box program. And I will curate these products and put them together and send them out every month to subscribers. And it's really exciting when the customer gets the box and just finds a new brand or new type of snack or flavor that they would not have run across in their normal grocery shopping. It's such a lovely way to find your tribe and find new customers and showcase new things that you might have going on.
[00:11:21] Georgiana Dearing: I saw that you can order individual products on your site as well. But when you're doing these curated boxes or the subscription thing, I'm thinking about Birchbox where you would have these little samples in there, but you also got marketing materials. Do you let your brands do that, like add additional stories or flyers or coupons or things like that?
[00:11:39] Lia Ballentine: Yes, absolutely. I love that. It was interesting when I was getting this started. I was doing a lot of feedback from people. I've surveyed people who would be potential customers. I did a lot of business prep before launching as one should do. And one of the questions I got was asking: when a brand is part of Yumday, can they go beyond just giving you a product, like including marketing? And a 100% yes from me, because that is what I value so much, is this connection and the story. I think it's wonderful. When I send out a box, I always include an insert that covers the bios of the founders and the missions behind their snack product. And I think once you have that in there and your customer opens up the box and they can read more about the person, the experience of eating that treat I think just goes up to another level. The food becomes more delicious when you know how it came from. That's scientific but...
[00:12:36] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, I think so. You form a personal connection, it just got a whole lot yummier.
[00:12:42] Lia Ballentine: Exactly.
[00:12:47] Georgiana Dearing: Hey there, podcast listeners. I've been getting a lot of questions about RangeMe, the leading digital platform for connecting with retail buyers. I believe so strongly that RangeMe is an essential tool for any food brand that's trying to land retail accounts that I want to give you my top tips for free. If you email me firstname.lastname@example.org, I'll send you free of charge my top 25 tips for success on RangeMe. So shoot an email to me, email@example.com, and I'll send you those tips. Not listening at your desk? Then DM me with your email address and I'll still send you my 25 top tips for success on RangeMe for free.
So I heard you mentioned, curated gifts. How does curation work? What happens in a curated gift box?
[00:13:38] Lia Ballentine: Sure. There are some options that you can choose to buy with the curation. If you want to shop female-founded box, or if you want to buy a puck-founded box, we have the upcycled and sustainable snack box now. And as part of it go through and find snack brands by founder or value and put them in the box, there's also an opportunity too, with the curation piece, if you have special dietary needs. For instance, if you're gluten-free, I will select based on that as well. So there's definitely, I mean, it's all hand-picked based on value or any special need. And then if you want to send it as a gift, you can include a note with the box that I am very happy to personalize and write out for your gift recipient.
[00:14:20] Georgiana Dearing: Well, then you're like in this specialty food environment. You're very specialty with these curated boxes. You're really narrowing it down to a very values-driven choice.
[00:14:32] Lia Ballentine: Yes, absolutely. It is very narrowed down by values and by diet if needed. If somebody has any sort of restrictions or allergies, I also will curate that way. And then even to being very thoughtful about the types of snacks that are in there, so that way you get a nice range. From bars to bites to some type of popped food or popcorn. And even now, I have a few beverages as well. So yes, the curation is I'm 100% working on your box when you make an order. I'm thinking through what goes in it and how you get it.
[00:15:07] Georgiana Dearing: So what are you looking for in your snack brands? Obviously, you've got a cultural definition. But what else are you looking for? What do you think makes a successful Yumday brand?
[00:15:18] Lia Ballentine: I love finding really innovative products. Most recently, I have been connecting with a lot of brands that are creating snacks using upcycled ingredients. And to me, just and so, there are some really great brands that have tapped into figuring out how do we take what would be just tossed away food that's still perfectly good. Still makes for perfectly good ingredients and creates this brand new snack out of it. It's kind of a new category when you look at it.
[00:15:54] Georgiana Dearing: Yes. Can you explain that a little more? What's a good example of an upcycled product?
[00:15:58] Lia Ballentine: Sure. One of the chips that we sell, the veggie chips, is from a company called Pulp Pantry. And what Pulp Pantry does is take this discarded fruit and vegetable pulp from commercial juiceries. Most of that just would have been thrown away, and they have made incredible chips. Well, the first ingredients when you look at it are vegetables. A lot of times you'll see veggie chips, and then when you read through the vegetables don't come to later down in the ingredient list. But right up front, these are grain-free chips made with celery, kale, and other superfoods, the pulps of those food.
[00:16:33] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, okay. That makes sense. So they're buying something downstream from a food manufacturer that's already using an ingredient and then turning it into a whole new food, I guess.
[00:16:45] Lia Ballentine: A whole new food, yes. And the chips are delicious. So flavor, of course, is a priority. But to know that what you're eating is just good for you and it's good for the planet. I feel like that's just such a win all around. It's so exciting to find more of these companies that are doing things with upcycling food and finding sustainable ways to use things that would have been a waste and actually turn them into nutrient-dense snacks for us.
[00:17:10] Georgiana Dearing: Oh, that's an exciting category. That's one to watch. Upcycled, I just keep thinking of repurposed furniture, but this is a whole new meaning to upcycling. Well, then another question I had is if a brand forms a relationship with you and you're doing these curated boxes, is there an opportunity for repeat business? How in the life of a brand relationship work with Yumday?
[00:17:34] Lia Ballentine: Sure. Yes, there is an opportunity for repeat business. Something I do, especially with the subscription piece, is I have this ability now to schedule out into the future what types of foods I want to have in that box. And because of that, because there's something new coming out every month, a brand could come back to me and we could debut a newer flavor, a different SKU later on down the road, which is so wonderful. And what I've been noticing too, is I love getting feedback from customers and finding out what they enjoy or what they want more of. And so once they find a new snack they like, a lot of times they'll be like, oh, do they have other versions of this? Or do they have a different variety? So there's certainly a spot and a place for a brand to stick with me in a way for me to keep showing off what they have. There are a few brands that I've been working with since the beginning here who have new flavors coming out later on down the year. So through the subscription program, there's a great opportunity to showcase those a little down the road.
[00:18:32] Georgiana Dearing: Yes, a part of me is going, oh, that would be a good test market opportunity too. You could introduce a flavor and see how it played in a subscription environment and get a little bit of that feedback like, oh, this is exciting to me, actually. I'm starting to nerd out a little bit.
[00:18:49] Lia Ballentine: Yes, this is what we love.
[00:18:52] Georgiana Dearing: I have other questions like you're in the startup phase and I'm like, okay, how do you grow? What do you do next? Tell me some things about your long-term vision.
[00:19:01] Lia Ballentine: Well, I think what's so interesting with Yumday is I'm serving two groups of people. I have the customers, your consumers, and also the brands. And so for me, it's very exciting to find all of the places where they intersect Yumday, and find all the places where they align. And so, to be able to continue finding more and more brands that fit these values and the mission would be such a win for me just to keep growing that relationship. And then also proving to those brands that I'm here 100% to help support your growth. And then also, just continuing to build up the customer base and the engagement, I find there are a lot of people who really want to start shopping by values, who want to look for different ways to get food on the table, to get snacks in the pantry. And the big challenge for me is figuring out how I can find all of those folks and show them these snack brands that I have at Yumday. But the big goal this year, while I'm still very much, you know, deep into startup mode is really growing the connections, growing engagement, and finding more and more customers who want to get their hands, their mouths around these snacks.
[00:20:14] Georgiana Dearing: Well, what is a big home run for your brand? If you were inspired to start this, what is like the five-year end of the road or something for a Yumday?
[00:20:24] Lia Ballentine: Oh my goodness. I've had these visions of grandeur. I would love to be able to bring on guests, curators, and collaborators. I think that would be something so wonderful. Because while I love to love doing the curing myself, I love finding other people's perspectives on what types of brands and snacks they love. I'd also be really interested in expanding beyond the snack space into finding more pantry staples. Five years from now, it'd be so wonderful to have a physical location where I could do some more fresh foods from local makers and farmers. So just growing however I can to continue to support independent food producers in the best way possible, that would just be a dream.
[00:21:05] Georgiana Dearing: Well, that's a lovely dream. That's a lovely thing to be aiming for. So you're in your startup year, what's on the horizon for this year? In particular, you mentioned that you're planning out some curated packs. What are you working on?
[00:21:19] Lia Ballentine: Sure. I have a lot of themed curations that are coming up. So there are a lot of wonderful holidays that we can celebrate, Mother's Day and Father's Day. Also, a big thing that I am focused on is creating curated collections around our heritage awareness months and finding makers that would be great people to represent some of these different months. So we've got May, Asian-American Pacific Islander Month, and I'm so excited to be teaming up with brands that are founded by wonderful AAPI entrepreneurs. And I would love to continue that going with each of the months coming up. And then every month also is just another opportunity to bring in a handful of new snack brands. So it's really exciting to jump into my calendar and then see who I have lined up with. There's so much anticipation for what snacks are going to come on board next, and it is so much fun for me to do that. This is like a surprise party every month for people.
[00:22:18] Georgiana Dearing: I like that surprise party every month. That's a pretty cool concept. Well, before we close, can you share how listeners can find you? Can you give us your social handles and ways that people can become subscribers? And also, how can a brand reach out to you?
[00:22:36] Lia Ballentine: So you can find Yumday on social media at @yumdayco, and then you can head over to our website, which is yumday.co. And for people who want to check out our snack shop, if you're over the website at yumday.co, you can see places where you can shop individual snacks. You can also jump in and get curated collections. If it's overwhelming, you're not sure where to start, we have a great place for you to start. And also, if you just love snacks and would like new snacks every month, and you're open to discovering new flavors, we do have our monthly snack box program.
[00:23:10] Georgiana Dearing: That sounds like a great gift idea too.
[00:23:13] Lia Ballentine: It really is. I've been doing a lot of gifting lately. It's been so much fun. If people are interested in wanting to send the snacks as gifts, you can also include a note that you want to have in your box and I will personally handwrite that note for the gift recipient. Sometimes you'll see little doodles on there too for birthdays. But it's just so fun and it's so special. And I love gift giving. I think that's probably one of the big reasons too, that drove me to start this. There's just so much joy when you're able to give somebody something really unique and different.
[00:23:45] Georgiana Dearing: You get a surprise party.
[00:23:48] Lia Ballentine: Party. Yes. You open it up and you don't know what's going to be in there. It's amazing.
[00:23:53] Georgiana Dearing: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. I think it's exciting and interesting. And your passion just really shines through. And I think, what a lovely avenue for these emerging brands.
[00:24:03] Lia Ballentine: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you and to share the story. I've loved getting to meet so many new brands and brand founders, and I'm always open to kicking off a conversation about what Yumday can do for a new brand.
[00:24:18] Georgiana Dearing: All right. I'm going to let you go. Have a great day.
[00:24:21] Lia Ballentine: Thank you so much. This was wonderful,
[00:24:30] Georgiana Dearing: My original interview with Lia took place just a few months after she launched her company. I recently reached out to her to see how she was handling her first year. It might surprise you, but the original Yumday website has already been relaunched with a new shopping experience. That's actually not an unusual process for a startup. Particularly one that is paying close attention to the business. Launching a site is a big move the first time you do it. But a bold leader is okay with learning and changing, especially if it leads to bigger and better sales. Lia's also been listening to her market. Lots of people were asking about gluten-free and vegan products so she's added curated boxes that contain only vegan or only gluten-free snacks. She's also added different sizes of subscriptions. There are now three sizes of boxes to choose from, and shoppers can opt for quarterly or monthly subscriptions. She's also grown the B2B side of her business and now offers corporate gifting. Her most recent new corporate client has signed up for Yumday to provide monthly snack boxes to all of their employees.
I think that's an interesting twist on creating a corporate culture in this new world of remote work. I used to treat my team to Coffee Fridays. But imagine getting a box of treats from your team leader. Young brands, take note, do you have an indulgent snack that would lend itself to this kind of community building? Another of Lia's highlights of the past year was participating in an accelerator program for Filipino and BIPOC entrepreneurs. There's been a lot of corporate investment in underserved populations, and I hope this trend continues. To quote Lia, "It was such an awesome experience to meet and share with other women of color founders."
She topped off this year of news. A new company, new website, new product, new customers, new relationships with a whole house remodel. She certainly got the entrepreneur's disease, has taken it all on. It's a good thing she had a snack company to rely on while she lived without a kitchen. However, she was pulled in a million directions, I was really pleased to hear that her company is growing. I think Yumday and other subscription services are a great platform for emerging brands to be discovered. I hope you found some inspiration in her story of a company that's moving slowly but steadily toward bigger and better sales.
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Thanks for listening. And if you want to learn more about how to grow your own food brand, then click on Grow My Brand at vafoodie.com. If you're a lover of local food, then be sure to follow us. We are at @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people, and good brands.