Women-founded, BIPOC-founded, up-cycled (yes, food can be up-cycled!), gluten-free; whatever your preference of small business snack brand, you can find it in Lia Ballentine’s Yumday’s expansive selection of snacks, subscription boxes, and other curated collections. A few years ago, Lia combined her passions for food and storytelling through a podcast she co-founded, Everyday is a Food Day. The fascinating stories she explored through that platform, various changes that have occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and global realizations about sustainability and representation in the world, inspired Lia to launch Yumday in January of 2021. Yumday is an alternative retail channel for small businesses, which has numerous benefits for both buyers and sellers. Lia explains how she finds the brands that are featured on Yumday, how Yumday facilitates the growth of these other start-up businesses, and her big hopes and dreams for the future!
Get to Know Lia:
Name: Lia Ballentine
Location: Austin, TX
Years in the food industry: <1
Favorite Food: This is tough because I love many foods! But if I had to narrow it down to one, I’d say mashed potatoes. I have such a vivid memory of the first time I ate real, homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. As an immigrant Filipino kid, this was one of the first “American" foods I fell in love with. My family had just moved to East Tennessee from the Philippines, and I remember my sweet Southern babysitter “fixin’” lunch and making mashed potatoes and gravy from scratch. She served it in a deep CorningWare dish (the kind with the blue cornflower design on it), and I remember eating bowlfuls and enjoying each creamy, buttery bite. Mmm!
Least Favorite Food: Hawaiian pizza. I love pineapple. I love ham. I love pizza. But I can’t seem to enjoy those things together on a pizza. (But people are welcome to change my mind!)
The last thing I ate and loved: This past weekend, I had a super flavorful waterfall pork dish from a spot called Thai Kun in Austin, TX. I love spice, and this dish did not hold back on the heat! It had delicious pork shoulder with mint, basil, cilantro, tomatoes, in a Crying Tiger sauce (that made me cry a little, but in a good way) and served with sticky rice. So good!
Key Points Mentioned in this Episode:
An introduction to Lia and her business, Yumday.
Ways that Yumday benefits small businesses.
The types of brands that can be found on Yumday’s website.
How the COVID-19 pandemic shaped Yumday (which was founded in January 2021!).
Lia’s professional background prior to starting Yumday.
A passion that drove Lia to co-found the Everyday is a Food Day podcast.
Hear about the origins of National Donut Day.
How Lia finds the brands that she features on Yumday.
Marketing that Lia encourages brands to do through her platform.
Personalization that Lia’s curated boxes allow for.
Lia shares an example of what an up-cycled food product is.
Plans that Lia has for the future of Yumday
Links Mentioned in this Episode:
Click Here for Full Transcript:
[0:00:00] 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. It’s so important to me to support those founders and I can do that through Yumday
[0:00:23.9] 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.
[0:00:50.2] Georgiana Dearing:
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 Yum Day 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.
[0:02:58.2] Georgiana Dearing:
Hi Lia, thanks for joining me today.
[0:03:00.7] Lia Ballentine:
Hello, I’m so glad to be here, thank you.
[0:03:04.6] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, I’m really happy to have you on the podcast because I think your business model is a pretty interesting one and pretty timely, so can you start off by introducing yourself to our listeners and tell them who you are and what you're doing?
[0:03:20.5] Lia Ballentine:
Absolutely. 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. I started Yumday and launched the ecommerce component at the beginning of 2021, so mid-January of this year.
[0:03:43.6] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah, you're kind of a new player on this scene and I thought that your business model was pretty relevant and that’s why I wanted to share you with our audience here.
[0:03:53.3] Lia Ballentine:
[0:03:56.3] Georgiana Dearing:
2021, that’s like a crazy time to start. I mean, the pandemic has been nuts but we’re still working our way out of it in springtime while we’re talking now. 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?
[0:04:19.1] Lia Ballentine:
Sure. When 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 – it’s 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.
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 type 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. It is so important to me to support those founders and I can do that through Yumday.
Actually, there were a lot of things during the pandemic that just pushed me to launch his business and I can’t think of a more perfect time to get it started than now.
[0:06:01.5] Georgiana Dearing:
That was a bold move because you were not in the food industry prior to this, right?
[0:06:07.0] Lia Ballentine:
Right, I was not. I mean, I’ve always been an eater but before this, professionally I worked in media and entertainment for the past decade.
[0:06:15.4] Georgiana Dearing:
You also are on a podcast called Everyday is a Food Holiday, right?
[0:06:21.3] Lia Ballentine:
Yeah, Everyday is a Food Day is a podcast that I co-produce with my friend Anna Van Valin who is also a podcast consultant and producer.
[0:06:29.8] Georgiana Dearing:
As you started that, before you started this business that you’re in now, is that right?
[0:06:34.4] Lia Ballentine:
Yeah, that is true. So when I actually started Yumday, this name and brand, it 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 aren’t we celebrating national donut day? Why do we have national French fry day? 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 in 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 a reason. National Donut Day for example is something that started by the Salvation Army as a fundraiser and also as a tribute to the women who served donut lassies during easter in World War I.
[0:07:44.3] Georgiana Dearing:
[0:07:46.1] Lia Ballentine:
It’s just all these things I think we don’t see, they don’t rise up the way we would want them to. So my friend Anna and I were like, “We should tell these stories,” and podcasting’s such a great way to be able to share these types of bits of history.
[0:08:02.0] 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?
[0:08:16.9] 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 in 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.
[0:08:37.7] Georgiana Dearing:
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?
[0:08:46.7] Lia Ballentine:
As I mentioned, storytelling is so important to me and I find that that’s such a great way to connect people. When I get to work with a brand, I really love to learn more about their teams and their founders and their founder stories.
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, 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.
I would love to tap into that and figure out what it is that drives these founders and makers into creating the new snack. What I love to do is be able to tell that story to other people in my community.
[0:09:36.0] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah, you’re offering additional sort of promotion out to the people who are sort of following Yumday.
[0:09:43.3] Lia Ballentine:
Exactly, there is definitely that. I mean, I like to see myself as a partner to these brands. In a way to be sort of 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 being an eater of their product.
[0:10:05.4] Georgiana Dearing:
That was one of the things I wanted to ask is how do you find all these brands? I mean, emerging startup brands generally have a small community so how are you running across these brands?
[0:10:17.1] Lia Ballentine:
I do, I do tons of Internet research. There are also a lot of great organizations out there that do highlight these startup brands. So we’ve got things like Good Food Foundation. I’ll signup for newsletters from people like Foodboro and Foodbevy Group and then the Specialty Food Association has been really great, you know, 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.
[0:10:52.7] Georgiana Dearing:
You really are a startup and you’re a buyer, that’s the role that you fit in sort of my client relationships is you’re a buyer for a retail channel essentially.
[0:11:04.1] Lia Ballentine:
Yeah, that’s it exactly. I am the buyer, I curate and this is – yeah, I’m very new, but this is so exciting to be hitting the ground running in this way, it’s super thrilling.
[0:11:17.0] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, subscription services are something that are 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 yeah, I know a lot of brands that could really benefit from relationships like this.”
[0:11:47.0] Lia Ballentine:
Yeah. 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.
[0:12:33.6] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, I saw that you can order individual products on your site as well. 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 kind of got marketing materials. Do you let your brands do that? Like add additional stories or flyers or coupons or things like that?
[0:12:53.6] 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 was surveying people who would be potential customers. I did a lot of business prep before the launching, as one should do. One of the questions I got was asking, “When a brand is part of Yumday, can they go beyond just giving you the product to including marketing?” And 100% yes for 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 their missions behind their snack products 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 like another level. Food becomes more delicious when you know where it came from. That’s scientific, but no.
[0:13:54.3] Georgiana Dearing:
Yes, I think so. You form a personal connection, it just got a whole lot yummier.
[0:14:00.4] Lia Ballentine:
[0:14:01.4] Georgiana Dearing:
I heard you mentioned curated gifts. How does curation work? What happens in a curated gift box?
[0:14:09.7] Lia Ballentine:
Sure. So, you know, there are some options that you can choose to buy with a curation. If you want to shop a female-founded box, or if you want a BIPOC-founded box. We have the up-cycled and sustainable snack box now and as part of it, you know, I’ll go through and find snack brands by founder or value and put them in the box.
There is 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. There is definitely – I mean, it’s all handpicked based on value, 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.
[0:14:55.9] Georgiana Dearing:
Well then, you’re like in the specialty food environment. You are very specialty. Like with these curated boxes, you are really narrowing it down to sort of a very values-driven choice.
[0:15:10.4] 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 too, being very thoughtful about the type of snacks that are in there, so that way you get a nice range. You know, from bars to bites to some type of popped food or popcorn, and even now I have a few beverages as well. Yeah, the curation is – I’m 100% working on your box when you make an order. You know, I am thinking through what goes in it and how you get it.
[0:15:49.2] Georgiana Dearing:
What are you looking for in your snack brands? I mean, obviously you’ve got a cultural definition but what else are you looking for? What do you think makes a successful Yumday brand?
[0:16:00.3] Lia Ballentine:
I love finding really innovative products. Most recently, I have been connecting with a lot brands that are creating snacks using up-cycled ingredients and to me, just the ability to be able to find something that would have been considered food waste, stuff that would have been discarded, and turning it into this other super food is just incredible. 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 food, still makes for perfectly good ingredients and create this brand new snack out of it?” I mean, it’s kind of a new category when you look at it.
[0:16:40.6] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah, can you explain that a little more? What’s a good example of an up-cycled product?
[0:16:47.7] Lia Ballentine:
Sure. One of the chips that we sell, they’re 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.
[0:17:01.1] Georgiana Dearing:
[0:17:01.5] Lia Ballentine:
That stuff that just would have been thrown away and they have made incredible chips. And the first ingredients, you know, when you look at it, are the vegetables. A lot of times, you’ll see veggie chips, right? And then you read through and the vegetables don’t come until like later down in the ingredient list. But right up front, you know, these are grain-free chips made with celery, kale and other superfoods. The pulps of those foods.
[0:17:28.9] Georgiana Dearing:
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.
[0:17:42.3] Lia Ballentine:
A whole new food, yeah and, you know, the chips are delicious so you know, flavor of course is a priority but to know that what you’re eating is good for you and it’s good for the planet. I mean 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 up-cycling food and finding sustainable ways to use things that would have been waste and actually turn them into nutrient dense snacks for us.
[0:18:13.7] Georgiana Dearing:
That’s an exciting category. That’s one to watch.
[0:18:17.3] Lia Ballentine:
[0:18:17.8] Georgiana Dearing:
Up-cycled. I just keep thinking of repurposed furniture but that’s a whole new meaning to up-cycling. Well, then another question I had is like, if a brand forms a relationship with you and you’re doing these curated boxes, is there an opportunity for repeat business? How would the life of a brand relationship work with Yumday?
[0:18:42.4] Lia Ballentine:
Sure. Yeah, there is opportunity for repeat business and something I do, especially with the subscription piece, is I have this ability now to kind of schedule out into the future what types of foods I want to have in that box and because of that, because there is something new coming out every month, a brand could come back to me and we could debut a new flavor or a different skew later on down the road, which is so wonderful.
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 that 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 and a way for me to keep showing off what they have. You know, 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 is a great opportunity to showcase those a little on down the road.
[0:19:45.6] Georgiana Dearing:
Yeah and 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 certain subscription environment and kind of get a little bit of that feedback. Oh this is exciting to me actually. I’m starting to nerd out a little bit.
[0:20:03.9] Lia Ballentine:
Yes, this is what we love.
[0:20:08.3] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, 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.
[0:20:19.6] Lia Ballentine:
Well, I think what is 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 at Yumday and finding all the places where they align. 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 am 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 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.
[0:21:42.3] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, what is a big home run for your brand? If you were inspired to start this, what is the five-year end of the road or something for Yumday?
[0:21:54.0] Lia Ballentine:
Oh my goodness, I’ve had these visions of grandeur. I would love to be able to bring on guest curators and collaborators. I think that would be something so wonderful because while I love doing the curating myself, I love finding other people’s perspectives on what types of brands and snacks they love. I’d also really be interested in expanding beyond the snack space into finding more pantry staples.
I mean, five years from now it would be so wonderful to have a physical location where I could some more fresh foods from local makers and farmers. Just growing however I can to continue to support independent food producers in the best way possible, I mean that would just be a dream.
[0:22:41.1] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, that’s a lovely dream. That’s a lovely thing to be aiming for. 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?
[0:22:58.5] Lia Ballentine:
Sure. I have a lot of themed curations that are coming up. 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. We’ve got in May, Asian-American-Pacific Islander Month and I am so excited to be teaming up with brands that are founded by wonderful AAPI entrepreneurs.
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. It’s really exciting to jump into my calendar and then see who I have lined up. There is so much anticipation for what’s next, or going to come on board next, and it is so much fun for me to do that. It’s like a surprise party every month for people.
[0:24:03.7] Georgiana Dearing:
Well, I like that, surprise party every month, that’s a pretty cool concept.
[0:24:09.6] Lia Ballentine:
[0:24:10.7] Georgiana Dearing:
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?
[0:24:24.4] Lia Ballentine:
Yeah, so you can find Yumday on social media @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, you know, if it’s overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, we have a great place for you to start.
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.
[0:25:03.0] Georgiana Dearing:
That sounds like a great gift idea too.
[0:25:05.4] 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 hand write 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 is probably one of the big reasons too that drove me to start this is there’s just so much joy when you’re able to give somebody something really unique and different. Yeah, they make great gifts.
[0:25:41.4] Georgiana Dearing:
You get a surprise party in the mail.
[0:25:43.6] Lia Ballentine:
Surprise party, yeah. You open it up, you don’t know what’s going to be in there. It’s amazing.
[0:25:48.6] 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.
[0:26:00.2] Lia Ballentine:
Oh my gosh, thank you so much for inviting me to join you and to share the story. I love 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.
[0:26:17.6] Georgiana Dearing:
All right. Well, I’m going to let you go. Have a great day.
[0:26:20.6] Lia Ballentine:
Thank you so much. This was wonderful.
[0:26:25.5] Georgiana Dearing:
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 @vafoodie on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Join the conversation and tell us about your adventures with good food, good people and good brands.