By Angela Walker, Vice President Communications, WEConnect International
WASHINGTON, DC – A trained journalist, Shelby Taylor discovered her passion for nutrition while a magazine editor in her hometown of Collingwood, Ontario. She found herself drawn to stories about food, where it comes from and the impact on our bodies and our planet.
While pregnant with her first son in 2014, she decided to turn her passion into a career and bought a local health food store. Through conversations in the shop, Taylor noticed that there was a real gap in the market for people interested in good nutrition but who wanted foods that their families would actually eat and enjoy.
“My customers were struggling to get their families transitioned to a healthier diet and to find meals that were not just better for them, but actually good for them without sacrificing taste and convenience.” Taylor says. “It’s a big leap from hamburgers to kale smoothies.”
She started interviewing her customers about what foods they were making for their families, and pasta came up again and again. But many finicky kids didn’t want to eat sauce and most felt pasta to be an unhealthy choice.
Taylor decided that she could create a product that would contribute to good health while being tasty too. In 2016, she launched Chickapea into the Canadian market, offering organic, high protein, gluten-free pasta, made from only chickpeas and lentils. Chickapea entered the US market less than a year later.
Today, her company has eight employees and sales brokers throughout Canada and the US, who sell her products into more than 3,500 grocery stores and markets. Her pasta is now manufactured in Italy, which has allowed her to boost the quality of her products. And it’s been a huge hit — Taylor says that she has doubled sales each year in business.
“Millennial women and moms are really driving our sales,” Taylor says, “but pasta is a food everyone can enjoy and consumers are seeking out more plant-based options as they consider the impact their food choices have on their bodies and the environment.”
Taylor’s first step to getting Chickapea off the ground was a pitch competition to advisors at a local college where the prize was expert advice. She ended up winning the competition for best pitch and was approached by the founder of a local angel investor’s group whose introductions led to her first seed investors. Not all women entrepreneurs are so lucky, she says.
“Many women question themselves, ‘Is my idea good enough,” Taylor says. “As women we tend to be a lot harder on ourselves and challenging of our ideas. We wonder who will be affected by us going after our dreams and whether we’re being selfish. We’re raised to put others first and often don’t realize that growing ourselves will grow those around us.”
Laura Didyk, Vice President and National Lead, Women Entrepreneurs at BDC, and on WEConnect International’s Council for Scaling Women-Owned Businesses, agrees and says that “investing in women entrepreneurs just makes good economic and business sense.”
“Women entrepreneurs have so much untapped potential,” she said. “To encourage more women-owned businesses to grow and succeed is an enormous opportunity for our economy.”
Supply chains should reflect the diversity of a company’s customer base.
“At BDC we believe our supply chain and workforce need to be as diverse as the client and communities we serve. Companies can’t afford to ignore 50 percent of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy,” Didyk said. “Each of us have different experiences, viewpoints and insights which results in better problem solving and more innovation. We’ve experienced that sourcing products and services from under-represented communities and diverse suppliers is helping us progressively transform our company’s supply chain to become more innovative and competitive.”
Taylor says that being certified by WEConnect International has led to important connections not only from buyers but also with other women-owned business owners. She’s committed to lending a helping hand to the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
“Small and growing women-owned businesses are one of the most significant drivers of innovation and job growth globally,” said Stephanie Fontaine, Canadian Country Director for WEConnect International. “Closing the gender disparity gap would add trillions of dollars to global GDP.”
For Taylor, the mission of Chickapea goes beyond bringing consumers organic meal options. Two percent of the company’s revenues, not just profits, go to fund social and environmental charities, including providing nutritious meals to children in need.
“Business can be so challenging — for me it’s more than making money and our bottom line. I want to set an example for my kids and show that we are responsible for our neighbors and communities,” Taylor said. “Businesses have enormous influence and can make the world a better place. It makes running this business much more exciting and joyful. I’m showing my kids that they can do anything that they work hard at.”