June 22, 2022

Safer Plate (Season 4 Episode 24)

Angie Nelson is the founder of Safer Plate. Safer Plate is a meal kit service for people that have allergies.  Each kit comes complete with Recipe cards and meal kit ingredients aside from household staples.

Safer Plate’s  goal is to create a bounty of incredible, well-balanced meals free of the most common allergens, so you can feel confident about what you’re eating (and feeding your family.) No need to worry about cross-contamination, reading labels, contacting manufacturers, or second-guessing

Learn more and start your order here:

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Safer Plate Podcast Transcript

Stephanie Hansen 0:12
Hello, everybody, and welcome to the makers in Minnesota podcast where we talk to cool people doing cool things. And today we are talking to Angie Nelson, I have a cousin named Angie Nelson. So I already think you’re pretty cool. We are talking about something that’s called a safer plate. It is a food business that is geared towards people that have allergies. And if you have had someone in your life that has an allergy, it is really, it can be really difficult, it can be difficult to figure out where to go out to eat. It can be difficult when you’re having people over to your house that have this allergies, and you’re trying to prepare food for them. So Angie, tell me about your experience and why you started this safer place.

Angie Nelson 0:54
I guess I’ll start off by just kind of telling my story. So my son was six months old when he had a severe reaction to peanut butter. And it was his second time having peanut butter. So I kind of thought we were in the clear for food allergies. But after some testing, we found out he was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg and milk. And at six months old, I mean that that diagnosis, it rocked my husband and my world like it was our first child. We’re foodies. We love to eat, we love to cook. So it was a big game changer for us. And I was nursing at the time. So I was not only making sure my son snacks were safe, but also what I was eating had to be safe as well. And, and so I guess I really became frustrated with the lack of options out there. Like I said, I love to cook, but sometimes you just want to press the easy button and grab something off the shelf, or, you know, have some more ideas around how to create meals that taste similar to those comforting foods you grew up with. Yeah, you know, when you can’t eat dairy, you’re you’re really lacking on that creaminess. And so anyway, um, you know, we dealt through that we learned a lot, but I wanted to do more. And I just felt compelled to do something about it. And with the help of my father in law, who’s been an entrepreneur, he he and my husband really pushed me to go ahead and do something about it. So we started talking with the chef back in probably 2019 and concepting the idea and we decided we wanted to create meal kits and ready to eat meals that are free of the top allergens.

Stephanie Hansen 2:33
So the top allergens are tree nuts, peanuts, what else is on the list?

Angie Nelson 2:39
peanuts, tree nuts, egg mill, wheat, shellfish, fish, soy, and sesame.

Stephanie Hansen 2:48
Okay, and not to be flip. But then what’s left like give me an idea of a ready to eat meal that you would have that would not have any of these things in it.

Angie Nelson 2:57
Absolutely. And that’s that’s actually something we really want to change the stigma about food allergies, because yes, that is a lot of stuff to eliminate. Absolutely. But when you think about other proteins besides fish, you can think of every type of meat there is out there. And we use a lot of whole ingredients. Vegetables, fruits, rice, we do gluten free pastas. But you know, we offer some of our key neat meals are like a chicken alfredo with broccoli, we have a great chicken and dumpling recipe. So you actually when you partner up with a professional chef, it’s amazing that they can tweak so many recipes and make them taste great without those ingredients.

Stephanie Hansen 3:43
So your Heaton eats, would you find them in the freezer section or in the refrigerated section? And how does that work?

Angie Nelson 3:52
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we initially launched those on our website. As refrigerated back in February, we started selling those and we have been meeting with local grocers to try to get them sold in stores. And right now we sell them fresh in the deli area at a co op in Burnsville Valley natural foods, and they’re flying off the shelves. So that’s been really exciting to see. And I think just a testament to the fact that there just aren’t other options out there. For people that have multiple food allergies, we are working on developing, we’ve actually developed 10 additional skews that will be frozen. And this will give us a lot more flexibility with shelf life and to be able to kind of enter some of the bigger markets.

Stephanie Hansen 4:41
It’s so interesting that you talk about you know, starting at a deli because if you have a product like this or a frozen product, it’s interesting because you’re dealing with now completely different buyers, completely different set of rules and how they want you to show up in the free Is your case versus where you would maybe in a refrigerated or a deli section, it would look completely different. So are you learning about some of the different things about freezer aisles like someone I talked to recently? Oh, it was three bears, oats. And she was saying, you know how her package looked so different in the freezer section and it didn’t have enough pop. So she had to redesign our packaging.

Angie Nelson 5:23
Yeah, you know, that is interesting. And in Valley natural was kind enough to just give us the space and felt that that would be a great place to sell it, you know, where people would see it. And it is showcase where you see the whole front of that packaging. And we do feel confident that this is a, you know, very vibrant design. But we are working on these right now our sleeves and our fresh section. And what we’re working on now is a box with a perforated tamper proof design. So there are some differences. Absolutely. And then, when you do go from the fresh to frozen route, you’re adding, you know, emulsifiers and things to make sure that the product is preserved. You know,

Stephanie Hansen 6:04
do you feel like the fresh versus frozen product is one easier or harder to do

Angie Nelson 6:10
you know, what I love about the fresh is it does taste fresh and it you know, you’re going to have fresher tasting vegetables and things like that anytime you freeze something, it does kind of change the taste a little bit. So you know that that is a challenge. But when you look at the market of frozen meals, there’s so many on the shelf so people are buying it.

Stephanie Hansen 6:30
Are you surprised that no one has done this before?

Angie Nelson 6:33
I’m absolutely surprised. It boggles my mind truly. And I don’t know if you’ve shopped like a specialty aisle at the grocery store lately, but it is incredible how many new snacks there are out there granola bars, cookies, just you know, really treat based items. I mean, you even can look in the ice cream miles now. And you see every dairy alternative for that. But where what gets me is these quick options, just they’re not an option. And so yeah, I It excites me because I do feel like we are solving a problem and bringing a solution.

Stephanie Hansen 7:11
How do you mark it to a specific? Like, for instance, it’s hard enough to market to families, right with a product. Now you’re marketing to families that have a specific allergy. And you don’t know which of those specific allergies they have? Are there like lists that you can buy? Or is it just hit and miss digitally? Like how do you mark it?

Angie Nelson 7:32
Yeah, I don’t know if I completely understand your question. But I

Stephanie Hansen 7:37
find people that have like these allergies, and that’s who is your primary target? And yeah, it’ll be hard to find them. Okay. Okay. Yes, yes.

Angie Nelson 7:45
So it is and, you know, we have tried to, you know, work get really creative, and, you know, give flyers out in doctors offices, or allergy clinics. Yeah, and targeting like that. But I have to say like, it’s been a really organic process. And, and what’s amazing to me is there is a really, really strong food allergy community on social media. And these people, I mean, the heartbreak they go through when they’re dealing with a child at a birthday party that can’t participate or school events that are built around, you know, food. And so I think there’s this, you know, bonding that people do over social media, that’s just truly incredible. But it’s also been a great place to spread the word and get word out there, and people can provide their feedback. So that’s probably been the strongest place where we’ve gotten customers. But we’re still learning and we’re still trying to figure out the best way to target that

Stephanie Hansen 8:40
there are like, I would imagine there’s Facebook groups for peanut allergies. And I mean, there’s Facebook groups for everything, right? But then you also have to like play the Facebook game and for some folks, you know, that’s not their favorite thing to do. And we’re noticing now in the influencer world, that the more you tag a product, the less they show your, your posts, so it’s kind of, you know, Facebook’s always gonna be the winner in the end, right? How old is your son now? My son is six and a half now and as he’s getting into school age are the challenges less or more,

Angie Nelson 9:16
you know, that’s a good question. I feel like we’ve been able to adapt and like learn how to work through it. So I don’t want to say it’s getting harder but I think just letting go of like the control and like seeing him eat his lunch, you know, you’re sending him off to kindergarten, it’s like you hope for the best but what frustrates me I guess the most is that food allergies are considered a disability and you know, he has very limited options at this point. You know, I probably could have pushed it a little bit more with the school but they wouldn’t even give them us access to a microwave. You know, when I I would love for him to be able to bring one of these to schools and one of these heat neat meals to school and have someone help him heat it up and that can be as lunch. But unfortunately, it’s a bigger fight than that. And those are kind of the frustrating things are just when they are having a special party for something, I do feel like they’re good about communicating to me in advance and saying, Hey, can Liam eat XYZ, we’re going to have this party. So that’s been really nice. But I do think there’s a lot of work to be done in schools, and I would love for safer plate to one day be an option for all kids.

Stephanie Hansen 10:25
Yeah, and maybe that’s a whole nother marketing Avenue. Like, we talked to the folks at Johnny pops. And when they started out, it was completely, you know, these healthy fruit bars that were at the school lunch level. And that’s still a pretty robust part of their business. But that’s where they started before they even were in grocery stores. So maybe you’ll do the reverse, maybe you’ll be on the grocery frozen, and then find ways to have these accessible to kids at school.

Angie Nelson 10:53
Absolutely. And that that is our hope. We want safe replate to be an option for people everywhere. Because the reality is, is like our world is revolved around food. And you eat pretty much everywhere you go. And there just needs to be more options. I mean, even like airlines and hospitals, I’ve had experiences with my son, you know, on a full day of traveling, and there’s nothing available at the airport or on the airplane. I’ve also been through lots of rounds of allergy testing with him at Mayo Clinic and there wasn’t even a safe quick option for him to grab there, which is just really crazy to me, you know, there should be more options.

Stephanie Hansen 11:32
It’s crazy to like, this is a whole nother realm. But just you know, when you go on, you sit in the chemo chair, and you’re there for eight hours and you have treatment all day and they bring you Teddy Grahams and Cheez Its, and Soda Pops. And you’re just like, Whoa, this is so weird. I’m at a hospital getting treated for this disease that we know feeds off of carbohydrates. And yet, it is it was kind of a crazy feeling, knowing like, Oh, I’m gonna have chemo today, I’m gonna pack my whole lunch. And just another added thing I didn’t really want to think about, but I didn’t want to sit and eat the crappy food all day. And it’s

Angie Nelson 12:10
yeah, it’s just unfair. It just feels like there should be fresh options. And again, like the things my son can eat, it’s like whole real food.

Stephanie Hansen 12:19
Right? Which you would think that’s a pretty easy, natural thing, you wouldn’t be having to fight about to have access for him to just eat up his poor lunch kid. When you go out and you like, figure out, Is there a price point on these things? That’s like, it can’t be more than this or less than that? Or what are people willing to just pay? Because there’s so little access?

Angie Nelson 12:42
You know, I think it’s a mixture of both. But if you look at any of the, you know, allergy alternative products, they’re all a higher cost.

Stephanie Hansen 12:52
I know. And why is that? That’s kind of why I was asking it’s like in I mean, maybe there’s more research and development that goes into making it taste good on the front end, but in some cases, you know, not so expensive, and they don’t have it. So

Angie Nelson 13:05
yeah, it is it is really mind boggling. But as we’ve developed recipes, and you know, put together the cost it is to produce these, it is just a higher cost. And I mean, there’s a statistic out there that food allergy families spend, you know, I think it’s like $5,000 more a year on food or something of that nature. And it is really interesting. And it just feels unfair, right? Because there aren’t any other. This is what they have to choose. And that is unfair. But at the same time, if if we want to stay afloat in our business, we have to charge you know, what, a little bit higher probably than some of the stuff we’re next to. And that’s just the reality.

Stephanie Hansen 13:50
And also, you’ll probably be able to get it because if there are limited choices. I never like institutional food like airlines. And that’s just a huge category that I would think would just have a huge opportunity. But that leads you to like, now you’ve got four sales forces, right? Because you’ve got one for institutions, one for grocery, they’re not all the same skill set. Absolutely. And

Angie Nelson 14:13
I think that’s been that’s kind of been the hardest part about starting safer plate is where you focus because there’s so many avenues to take this and each of them are so important. But I think right now we’re just really trying to build the brand and spread the word and understand what our customer is looking for. And I think, you know, we did start off with the meal kits. So that’s, you know, very similar to other meal delivery companies, where we would send the ingredients and step by step instructions and our chefs are doing a lot of the heavy lifting you know whether it’s chopping the vegetables in advance or preparing the sauces from scratch, but there’s still work to be done when you at the end of the day you get these ingredients and use they’ll have to put the meal together. And I think in today’s society, people are just so busy that cooking a meal, and taking a half an hour out of your evening isn’t always an option. And so I think, you know, we’ve learned a little bit there. And we’ve tried to simplify the recipes, and then come out with these heating options, which are really great for families that are running kids around from practice or games. And, you know, I think they’re just, it could just continue to expand from here, you know, I have thoughts about expanding and doing like a family style shepherd’s pie that you can just pop in the oven and other things like that. Because again, there’s just there’s no options. And I feel like we’re the first of the first one to be doing this. So it’s really exciting.

Stephanie Hansen 15:42
And also like a singular serving, which is like your frozen model. But yet, you’re not wanting to cook separate meals for your kid all the time and make the kid feel other because he can never eat what you’re eating. I get all that and how family options that are good and tasty, are important to just to have that family meal experience.

Angie Nelson 16:01
Yeah. And that’s another core like value that we have is making mealtime fun again. And I think what I became so drained by when we first got the diagnosis is just how negative mealtime became like, you can’t have that that’s not safe. Like you’re reading labels, and it’s stressful. And you’re trying to like explain it to your family and your friends and people that don’t have experience with it. It’s hard to understand. And I don’t think I think there’s this misconception that allergies can just be like, Oh, he’s uncomfortable. If he eats it, no, he could actually die. Yeah. So it’s, you know, there’s a lot that needs to be, there’s just a lot more education that needs to be out there around around the topic. But yeah, we want we want a family to be able to have friends over for dinner and make safer plate and not feel like they’re missing out on those other ingredients. And just change the stigma.

Stephanie Hansen 17:00
Yeah, I think too. And this is sexist, probably. But I think a lot of that falls on the mom and you get the whole crazy mom. You know, the crazy mom is you know, with their kids allergies. And I think there’s even been skits on like, Saturday Night Live about it, when you really think about, you know, coming from your side of the lens. Where No, you know, it isn’t just that this is uncomfortable for my kid, it’s that he has that potential where he could get something and die. And that’s got to be real freaky.

Angie Nelson 17:28
It is it is especially when something that’s been such a key part of my life food, I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I love to eat I love to go out to eat, I It’s been such a focus for me in my life, and to all of a sudden be told that that could be poisonous to your child is it like it’s, it’s like, oh, it’s just it hurts. And it breaks your heart and you want so badly to make them feel like they’re not alone. And that. And I think so often they’re, you know, alienated when they’re out at school, and they sit at the peanut table and things like that. And I really try to navigate that delicately, and try to make choices because at the end of the day, my son can’t live in a bubble. And you know, I’m not going to have him sit at the Food Allergy table, but I’m going to make sure that he can advocate for himself and that he’s only eating his own food. And he, you know, understands some of the symptoms of having a reaction and things like that. So yeah, there’s just there’s just so much that comes with it. And it really is a very stressful process. Well, I

Stephanie Hansen 18:35
think it’s a great reason to start a company because it’s fueling your passion and really trying to make a difference. And usually those types of companies can do really well if they meet the need. And I definitely see that there’s a need here in a way that I hadn’t even thought about it before. So thanks for sharing more about a safer plate. We’ll help you spread the word and good luck. We’ll check in with you in about a year and see how things are going and where you end up.

Angie Nelson 18:59
Awesome. Thank you so much, Stephanie. I appreciate it. All right, bye bye. All right. Bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai