For small businesses, getting a product into Whole Foods is like being accepted to an Ivy League college. So many vegan food businesses begin in the home kitchen, fueled by a passion and endless sleepless nights, all to share their creation with the world. From the crude first packaging to sampling at farmers’ markets to finally building the business to be worthy of supermarket shelves, it’s a journey. We interviewed four vegan small business owners to learn more about the process from home cook to Whole Foods. 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Maxine’s Heavenly (@maxinesheavenly) on

1. Why did you decide to launch your product in Whole Foods? 
Daniel Nicholson, CEO of NadaMoo: Whole Foods is the reason we decided to turn a homemade ice cream recipe into a brand and business. A key buyer discovered our organic, creamy coconut-milk ice cream while our founder was sampling it at a juice shop. This was before we even had a brand or company in existence. After the buyer’s first taste, we had an offer we couldn’t refuse. We quickly got going on creating branding and packaging—at which point NadaMoo was born. 
Ayinde Howell, Founder of Mac & Yease: Well, they wanted what I had and I thought that Whole Foods was the perfect partner. Back when I had to travel as a private chef, Whole Foods was like a beacon in every city, because I could rely on its high standard every time. Partnering with a corporation with that kind of strong brand recognition was a no-brainer. 
Robert Petrarca, CEO of Maxine’s Heavenly: With Whole Foods, it’s less of a “why should I?” and more of a “How soon can I get there?!” Whole Foods is the better-for-you mecca. Their shoppers are informed, enthusiastic, and, super health-conscious—which is the perfect and most immediate audience for our better-for-you-cookies. Once you’re in, you can more easily gauge how your product is going to do overall. Because we knew you can grow with Whole Foods by starting with as little as one store, it became a great testing ground for learning how to improve things like brand message, taste, and marketing support. 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by VEGAN MAC & YEASE®️ (@macandyease) on

2. Do you go to Whole Foods and linger by your product to experience customer reactions? (We would.)
Mac & Yease: Absolutely! I love to see people make their way down the line with a generous heap of Mac & Yease on their plate—I see it even with meat-eaters. To me, that’s progress, because they’re still reducing the carbon footprint and still taking dairy out of the food chain. 
Maxine’s: We actually had a fun thing happen just recently. We were at a Whole Foods in Sonoma, CA, and we decided to buy a few bags and share the cookies with the employees. One cashier was so in love that she recommended them to a customer—who bought some for her daughter’s wedding rehearsal that night! Otherwise, I go into any Whole Foods I ever pass and always look to marvel at our products on shelf. I do often wait around to see people pass by and engage with the product and the category in full. So, if you’re ever looking at our cookies on the shelf at Whole Foods and you feel someone’s eyes on you from across the aisle, don’t be scared … just go with it!

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Pizza Plant (@thepizzaplantusa) on

3. What did it feel like on launch day?
Mac & Yease: It felt very surreal—something that I had always made by my own hands that only served a small number of people was now literally a part of the food chain and able to feed thousands.
Maxine’s: It’s so exciting to say, “Yes” to the question, “Are you in Whole Foods?” It really changed the game for us. Being in Whole Foods adds legitimacy to our brand in the eyes of consumers, and that feels amazing. In short, it felt surreal.
Marvin Acuna, CEO of The Pizza Plant: We launched on my mother’s birthday. Considering that this company is an homage to my parents, it felt awesome!

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by NadaMoo! (@nadamoo) on

4. What advice would you give to fellow vegan entrepreneurs who want to launch their product in Whole Foods?
NadaMoo: Be prepared. Make sure your product creates real value for consumers and is differentiated. Be ready to grind.
Maxine’s: Be patient and know that you’re in it for the long haul. While there are some exceptions, it can take a while to connect with the right buyer and build a relationship. They receive so many new products all the time and they’re not always quick to jump into a relationship with a new supplier. Know that when you do ultimately get in, they take your relationship seriously and are there to support you and expect the same from you. Getting in is part one. Finding success on the shelf is the rest of the game.
The Pizza Plant: Ensure that your values align with theirs. 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Maxine’s Heavenly (@maxinesheavenly) on

5. What’s your Whole Foods Hot/Salad bar go-to?
NadaMoo: When I hit the prepared foods area of Whole Foods, I’m focused on packing as much lettuce and raw vegetables as possible into those little brown containers. No salad is complete without a final trip to the salad toppings and dressings bar. 
Maxine’s: I’d like to take this answer to the next level. At the hot bar, I get vegan cornbread succotash (it’s rare but not to be passed up if you find it). At the salad bar, I pile on a nice mix of greens and whatever else is new. At the sandwich bar, a TTLA (duh). At the pizza bar, the real secret is that you can have them make a whole vegan pizza whenever you want and it’s actually really affordable and so delicious. Finally, at the bakery, the chocolate chip vegan scones are to die for—as are the vegan donuts, vegan blueberry muffins, and vegan blueberry pies.  
Mac & Yease: I get Mac & Yease, garlic roasted broccoli, a vegan samosa, chickpeas, and then throw some greens in the corner. If not that, I’ll order a TTLA heavily modified, because I’m a chef. My modification is toasted seven-grain bread, heated tempeh bacon, grilled onions, jalapeños, mustard, and arugula (in addition to the mayo, avocado, and tomato). Try it! 

Tanya Flink is a Digital Editor at VegNews as well as a writer and runner living in Orange County, CA.

Please support independent vegan media and get the very best in news, recipes, travel, beauty, products, and more.
Subscribe now to the world’s #1 plant-based magazine!

Subscribe