At Tini Lux we believe that everyone should be able to accessorize despite suffering with metal allergies. At Partake Foods, the same sentiment rings true when it comes to being able to enjoy your favorite foods despite suffering with food allergies. Meet Denise Woodard, Founder and CEO of Partake Foods. A natural food company that was inspired by her daughter’s experience with food allergies.
Launched in 2017, Partake has taken over the allergy friendly food market with their line of delicious, better for you cookies - which can be found in more than 8,000 retailers including Target, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and more. In 2021 Partake expanded their allergy friendly line by releasing an expansive collection of Baking Mixes, including Brownie Mix, Blondie Mix and a Pizza Crust Mix. Just recently, Partake announced Pancake and Waffle Mixes which are available at select Target stores nationwide.
Before launching Partake, Denise spent a decade in consumer packaged goods at various Fortune 100 companies. She currently lives in New York City with her husband, Jeremy, and daughter, Vivienne. She graduated with her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA from Arizona State University.
Our team was fortunate enough to connect with Denise, the first Black woman to raise more than $1 million publicly for a CPG food startup. She dives deeper into her journey being a female entrepreneur and mom, how her company has raised over $7.5M from investors including H.E.R., Rihanna, CircleUp Growth Partners and more.
Partake is such an amazing and delicious brand, we are always fully stocked in the Tini Lux headquarters. Where did you find the inspiration from to start Partake? Did you always see yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
I created Partake Foods in 2016 when my young daughter was diagnosed with several food allergies. Frustrated by the lack of safe, delicious snack options available, I left my corporate job determined to create tasty, allergy-friendly treats that everyone could enjoy, not just those with dietary restrictions. While building the brand, I worked long hours and burned through my personal savings to make my dream a reality—from selling cookies store-by-store (out of my car!) and clearing out my 401k to selling my engagement ring to bootstrap Partake—my entrepreneurial spirit never wavered.
You launched Partake in 2017 and the company has absolutely taken off and is only continuing to grow. Did you imagine this type of success when you first started the company? What has been your proudest accomplishment thus far?
I started Partake in my kitchen to solve a problem for my family & other food allergy families. To now be in more than 8,000 stores nationwide and have a full-time team of 15, I still pinch myself at how we've been able to scale and continue our mission of making super delicious, safe snacks. One of my proudest moments was taking my daughter to see our products on Target shelves for the first time back in 2020. And it always feels wonderful when a customer shares where they spotted us!
What would you say is the key to successful and efficient branding? How does Partake successfully differentiate itself from competitors?
With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, I realized just how important having a solid online presence for our small business was. Suddenly, there were no more in-person sampling opportunities. We had to meet our customers where they were, digitally, and try to win them over. We had to rapidly understand how they were shopping, what they needed, and what products they were purchasing for themselves and their families. We did that by focusing on what makes Partake unique. The fact that we do not compromise on our four values: quality, accessibility, opportunity, and inclusion.
Starting your own business is amazing and exciting but I’m sure there are times when it can be scary, stressful or overwhelming. How do you find yourself overcoming feelings of stress? What advice would you give to someone who might be fearful of taking the leap to start their own business?
On hard days, I like to focus on the reason I started Partake—my own daughter has several food allergies and benefits greatly from my company's products. So knowing that I'm building something that I feel good about giving her and other people like her is very motivational. Also, I'm proud of the example I set that, when you have a problem, you work to solve it for yourself and others and that, with hard work and passion, you can positively impact others' lives.
One piece of advice I would give an entrepreneur just starting out would be, "Progress is better than perfection." In the early days of Partake, Seth Goldman, the founder of Honest Tea, gave me the advice to, “Just get started.” And over time, by listening to our customers, I would get the feedback I needed to iterate and create a product that people wanted and loved. I always strive to improve (at least a bit) every day because I know it is the small, incremental changes that make a seismic impact.
How has starting your own business impacted your life? What is something you wish you knew before you started your own company?
After launching Partake and seeing firsthand the disparities in the CPG industry, I became even more passionate about providing opportunities for underserved Black families, businesses, and communities. I feel a deep responsibility to leave the door open wider for other Black entrepreneurs than it was when I got here.
There is so much sacrifice and hard work and time that you must put in that no one sees and no one mentions. And it’s expensive—we were really bootstrapped at first. As we’ve grown, we’ve raised funding which has enabled us to hire and scale, but I naively thought that I could bootstrap the business forever—and continue to grow quickly.
Is there a piece of advice that has resonated the most with you along your entrepreneurial journey? Or do you have any mentors that have helped shape who you are today?
Mentors - Irene Chang Britt, the former President of Pepperidge Farm, is a Board Member and amazing mentor. I admire her journey as a working mother, person of color, and leader in the food industry. I’ve also been fortunate to have a network of female founder friends who are peer mentors, teachers, and advocates.