Denise Woodard launched Partake for her daughter Vivienne and others like her with intense food allergies who couldn't "partake" confidently in snacks with friends. Initially self-funded and self-distributed, Denise now has a robust lineup with soft-baked and crunchy options in flavors like ginger snap, carrot cake and chocolate chip sold everywhere from The Goods Mart to Amazon.
Crunchy Cookies for Everyone
These cookies taste even better because there’s no fear of inadvertently triggering an allergic reaction.
A Conversation With...
When did you come up with the idea for Partake?
Shortly after her first birthday, my daughter Vivienne (who is now 5) was diagnosed with allergies to eggs, corn, bananas and most tree nuts. When I couldn’t find solutions that met my nutritional standards, safely satisfied her taste buds and would allow her to confidently and happily snack with her friends, I came up with the idea for Partake Foods.
We launched in August 2017 with three flavors of cookies. We were a self-funded and self-distributed brand, which meant I spent my days filling up my SUV and selling our cookies to natural food stores in New York and New Jersey, where I live. I was selling during the day, demo'ing in the evenings to getting customer feedback, and managing the business with the time in between.
Where do you produce the cookies?
We produce our cookies with a contract manufacturing partner that has a top-eight allergen-free facility. Given the importance of maintaining a safe supply chain, we thoroughly vet all raw ingredient suppliers and typically work with single-source suppliers who only produce the ingredient we are purchasing from them.
I spent hours in the kitchen trying to perfect our cookies before launch, and admittedly, I failed in creating a final product that met the brand proposition, so I enlisted the help of a food scientist who was able to bring my vision to life.
Did you ever consider giving up?
I never considered giving up. I started Partake for my daughter, and to create a solution for a challenge that she and millions of other people face. I wouldn’t be able to look her in the eye if I didn’t turn over every rock, exhaust every option and give the business every ounce of effort I am capable of.
What was your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
I had an eBay business that grew to six figures in annual revenue while I was working at Coca-Cola as the Director of National Sales for Venturing & Emerging Brands group. I would scour my local thrift shops for vintage designer items and sell them on eBay. I would literally be on conference calls while sifting through piles of clothes at the local thrift shop.
When I started Partake, the name was about people with food allergies being able to confidently partake in and share snacks. As a woman and a person of color, I’ve learned that there are a lot of other groups that don’t have fair space at the table to partake. Our mission has evolved to be all about fostering inclusivity and diversity.
One of the ways that comes to life is through our partnership with the Food Equality Initiative, which supports food insecure families managing food allergies. We've been able to help feed over 3,000 families this year through our monetary and product donations.
Additionally, we launched the Black Futures in Food & Beverage Fellowship, where we've partnered with five historically Black Colleges & Universities and selected eight students to share an eight week curriculum on the building blocks of CPG and will culminate with a virtual career day that offers them the opportunity to earn a summer internship with participants like Beyond Meat, Once Upon a Farm or Chobani.