Partake Foods founder and CEO Denise Woodard's first Thanksgiving as a mother was terrifying. After eating some baked macaroni and cheese, her daughter Vivienne ended up vomiting 14 times over five hours and had to be rushed to the emergency room. And then shortly before her first birthday, Vivienne had an anaphylactic reaction after eating a snack made with just two simple ingredients.
"From day one, it showed me how severe food allergies can be, and how seriously our family needed to take them," says Woodard, one of Well+Good's 2021 Changemakers. As Vivienne got older, her diet was incredibly bland. Not wanting her daughter to feel self-conscious about her choices but, rather, empowered, Woodard decided to create her own food brand, starting with cookies. Today, Partake sells both soft-baked and crunchy cookies in eight flavors. The brand recently released a brownie mix and five-in-one baking mix for pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, and more.
Woodard shares what it was like creating Partake Foods in the latest episode of Changemakers, Well+Good's newest YouTube series that highlights the people who are making innovative and inclusive improvements to the wellness industry.
"We're often gluten-free in our house," says Woodard. "Oftentimes whenever you're not using egg, there's some sort of corn derivative that's in its place." Vivienne, however, is allergic to eggs and corn (along with tree nuts and bananas). This mix showed Woodard the gaps that exist in the natural foods space. For this reason, Partake Foods is free of the top eight allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, and soy. It's also free from artificial flavors, genetically modified foods, and pesticides.
Expanding access to allergen-safe foods gives Woodard tremendous joy. "My daughter is safe and healthy and thriving," says Woodard. She shows other families that it's possible to live well with allergies by "giving them examples of how we've prepared, and how we handled different situations when it comes to food allergies, and just being there to listen and to provide comfort."
As Woodard builds Partake Foods, she's committed to lifting as she climbs. One way she does this is through Partake's Black Futures in Food & Beverage fellowship program which welcomes students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who are interested in exploring careers in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) food and beverage industry.
"One of the stories that is often told about Partake and me is that I'm the first Black woman to have raised a million dollars for a package food company," says Woodard. "While I'm really proud of that, it's a dismal statistic. And I hope that through our work, we'll be able to change it so that there's hundreds of other Black women that will be able to say the same thing and that I'll be able to mentor them and make their journey a little bit easier and faster than mine was."
Learn more about Denise and Partake Foods by watching the full video above and subscribe to our YouTube channel to catch with future episodes.
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