Denise Woodard never imagined that her daughter’s food allergies would lead her down a pathway toward entrepreneurship.
Back in 2016, she was a corporate executive at The Coca-Cola Co. when a peanut and corn snack almost took her daughter Vivienne’s life when she was just a year old.
“My daughter was born in 2015, and in 2016, right after her first birthday, on a Wednesday afternoon at 3’o clock, I remember clear as day, I was on a conference call,” said Woodard recalling the terrifying encounter on an episode of The Startup Podcast. “Immediately after she takes a tiny bite, her lips start swelling up, her tongue starts swelling up, it’s clear she’s having trouble breathing. She turns blue in our living room.”
Fortunately, Vivienne survived the frightening incident and Woodward realized that she was allergic to corn. After taking another allergy test, she discovered that Vivienne had a tree nut allergy as well. In order to keep her young daughter safe, Woodard went on a mission to find allergy-safe snacks.
“Naturally, I set out to find the healthy, allergy-friendly snacks we’d need to fuel our active lifestyle,” Woodard writes on her website. “I came away from the stores frustrated and mystified. Nothing on the shelves met our dietary needs and my healthy standards.”
As a result, Woodard resorted to making snacks for her daughter from scratch. That same year, she launched Partake Foods, a vegan food startup that specializes in allergen-free cookies. All Partake cookies are free-from the top eight food allergens: cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soybeans, and wheat.
In 2017, Woodard left her job at Coca-Cola and sold cookies out of her car for six months. In 2019, she secured a $1 million investment from Marcy Venture Partners, a venture capital firm co-founded by hip hop billionaire Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Not only did the investment help take Partake to the next level, but it also made Woodard the first black woman to ever raise over $1 million for a food startup company.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the vegan cookies inspired by Vivienne are now being sold in over 1,600 Target stores nationwide. Partake revealed the partnership with the mega-retailer on Monday in a press release. In addition, Partake is expanding its cookies into Sprouts, The Fresh Market, and additional Whole Foods Market regions across the country, making the vegan snacks available in over 2,700 stores.
The announcement comes in the middle of Food Allergy Awareness Month. Studies reveal that food allergies affect 1 in 13 children and are expected to impact up to 1 in 10 kids this year. Additional research shows that African American children are more likely to have food allergies and suffer from food-induced anaphylaxis. Black and Hispanic children also visit the emergency room more due to food allergies.