Cakes, cookies and brownies, among other confectionary delicacies, tend to be packed with the most common allergens, including cow’s milk, eggs and tree nuts. While we all deserve a treat, those with allergies can often be excluded from satisfying their sweet tooth without planning and forethought. That’s where Partake Foods comes in.
Founded in 2016 by Denise Woodard, Partake Foods was created out of necessity for allergen- and gluten-free cookies and baking mixes. After Woodard’s young daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and she couldn’t find any high-quality snacks that her daughter could safely enjoy, she left her career at Coca-Cola to focus on launching Partake.
But the brand sells more than just sweet treats. To Woodard, every box is a step towards inclusion and accessibility in the food industry.
Partake Foods’ Humble Beginnings
It’s no secret that children love sweets, and Woodard’s daughter Vivienne is no exception. But since she has multiple food allergies, including several outside of the Top 8, Woodard was determined to create a better-tasting, allergen-free and healthier alternative for her daughter and others like her. Though she wasn’t a natural-born baker, she became self-taught out of necessity and from there, Partake was born.
To accelerate the process of formulating the cookies that everyone could enjoy, Woodard enlisted the help of Shauna Ahern, author of Gluten-Free Girl Every Day. Together, they created a cookie that is free of the Top 8 allergies as well as mustard, sesame and sulfates. It’s a cookie in which everyone can partake.
The brand launched with a mission to make delicious foods that can be enjoyed without apprehension — and not just when it comes to allergies. Partake’s cookies also have 30 percent less sugar than most other sweets, incorporate fruits and vegetables and have more fiber and protein than some of its competitors. The brand took it a step further and became Certified Gluten Free and Certified Vegan to be even more accessible.
Since its launch, Partake’s product line has expanded to include soft baked cookies, brownie and blondie mixes, pancake and waffle mixes and most recently, a pizza crust baking mix. Clear labeling also became a priority for the brand, with each product clearly stating which ingredients are included as well as all the allergens that are excluded and third-party certifications.
In terms of sales, Partake has found major success in recent years, growing 10-fold in 2020. It has accumulated $7.5 million in total funding, including a $4.8 million series A funding round in January 2021. Notable investors include Rihanna, Jay Z’s Marcy Ventures and Once Upon a Farm co-founder and CEO John Foraker. Partake’s products can be found in 7,000 stores as well as online through Amazon.
Creating Opportunities for People of Color
As a Black-owned brand that’s majority backed by investors of color, Partake was built with intentionality. In 2020, the brand launched The Black Futures in Food and Beverage fellowship program which “welcomes active juniors and above enrolled in any Historically Black College and University (HBCU) interested in exploring a career in the food & beverage industry,” according to the company’s website.
The seven-week virtual program includes career prep and workshops with food and beverage industry leaders. It concludes with a capstone project and virtual career day that can result in internships and full-time roles at big food and beverage companies. The first cohort had every full-time student land a job or an internship.
The fellowship is really meant to be a primer on the wide variety of job opportunities in the food industry. Students will learn about different career paths, how to build a network, business models, presentation skills and how to build a purpose-driven brand that lasts, all within the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) industry.
Applications for this year’s fellowship will be open from July 9 to September 3 and will take place between October 5 and November 19.
Aside from the fellowship, Partake is passionate about getting safe food into the hands of food insecure families. According to FARE, food allergies affect one in 13 children across the country, with Black children being at a significantly higher risk of developing these allergies. That’s why a portion of the brand’s proceeds go to organizations like No Kid Hungry to provide access to food, education and advocacy.