By Donna Cornelius
Deciding to eat well – as in “healthy” – tops a lot of New Year’s resolutions lists every January.
“People resolve to eat better, to go to the gym, and by the end of January, the wheels will have fallen off this plan,” Mary Drennen said.
Drennen and her business partner, Tiffany Vickers Davis, own Birmingham-based Nourish Foods. The meal delivery service offers fully prepared, chef-driven food and makes it easy to watch your calories, carbs and fat intake.
“We emphasize healthy meals and portion control,” Drennen said.
She and Davis met when they worked together as Cooking Light magazine test kitchen chefs. Both are culinary school graduates – Davis went to Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, and Drennen to New York’s French Culinary Institute, now the International Culinary Center.
The two started their business in 2014. Drennen said in a 2015 Over the Mountain Journal article that they “saw a need in the community for high-quality, healthy meals, so we launched Nourish.”
Considering the company’s growth over the past few years, that vision was pretty spot on.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Drennen said. “When we started, we had five or six people who worked here. Now, we have 16 people who work full time. We also have weekend courier people, so about 30 total.”
Most culinary school students learn food-centric techniques ranging from knife skills to mother sauces preparations. As Nourish has expanded, Davis and Drennen also have had to learn about administration, sales and marketing, packaging and delivery logistics.
“Meals are delivered in metro Birmingham by couriers,” Drennen said. “We also ship four days a week all over the country. We ship to about 30 states. Colorado is the farthest.”
How do folks find out about Nourish? Carly Crawford, a marketing and sales coordinator for the company, said a large social media following helps.
“We market through social media and do ad buys on Instagram and Facebook,” said Crawford, who first came to Nourish as an intern from Samford University.
She said a new marketing channel is social media influencers – social media users who have established credibility in a specific field and have access to a large audience.
“Carly will reach out to them and suggest they try our food and then talk about it with their followers,” Drennen said.
Nourish was a much more local business when it started.
“About 99 percent of our sales was local delivery,” Drennen said. “When we decided to expand our footprint across the Southeast, we didn’t look at changing our product but in changing our logistics in shipping and packaging fresh food.”
At the beginning of 2017, Drennen and Davis both felt they’d maxed out the word-of-mouth marketing method.
“We took a chance on a bigger business model, a bigger idea. We figured we might as well roll the dice,” Drennen said.
They hooked up with Yellowhammer Media Group, a New York digital agency that specializes in working with direct-to-consumer brands.
“That association has been really great,” Drennen said. “They get us in the door, and our responsibility is to retain customers.”
Nourish launched a new website last November and did a brand redesign with a new logo, new meal sleeves in different colors and a branded box.
“Customers now have a lot more ability and choice in what they’re receiving,” Drennen said.
Ordering meals is easier now, too.
“We send a text with a menu,” Drennen said. “People get a lot of emails, and we’ve found that text messaging is better. It feels more personalized, and customers can choose meals from their phones.”
The Nourish menu rotates so customers have a variety of choices. Twelve to 14 entrees are new every week. Meals can be ordered in three sizes: for individuals, couples and families.
“We hired a new executive chef, Alexis Jones,” Drennen said. “She has a fine dining background and is breathing new life into the menu.”
Drennen and Davis said the stuffed sweet potatoes and the spaghetti squash pizza bake – a healthy take on lasagna paired with sautéed kale – remain popular menu items. They said they’ve been surprised by the staying power of the spicy beef noodle bowl.
“I do think our chicken salad is the best in town,” Drennen said. “We use all white meat and make our own mayo from scratch. We have six to eight flavors that we rotate throughout the month.”
While meal kit companies like Blue Apron have enjoyed a run in popularity, those kinds of services involve actual cooking. With Nourish, there’s no prep work, mixing or chopping.
“All you do is put the food in the microwave or oven – and there’s no clean-up,” Drennen said.
Nourish makes it easy not just to get the food on the table but to stick to a healthy diet. Nutrition facts are on each product label and online. Most of Nourish’s meals check the boxes for popular diets such as low carb, paleo, keto and gluten-free.
Subscription prices range from $64 to $90 per week.
“Our prices are premium, but there’s a reason for that: Our food is prepared by human hands with great care,” Drennen said. “You get not just convenience but peace of mind. Our customers can feel confident in feeding themselves and their families. “
The two business partners also are moms and thus know how hard it can be for busy working parents to make sure their families are well fed. Drennen’s daughter, Betsy, is a fourth-grader at Mountain Brook Elementary School, and her twins, Robert and Felix, are 3 years old. Davis’ son, Garrett, is a first-grader at Edgewood Elementary School in Homewood.
While Betsy is into healthy eating, “Garrett is pretty much living on carbs right now,” Davis said, smiling.
Nourish isn’t through growing. The Lakeview building, which has been the company’s home from the outset, has become a bit of a tight squeeze.
“We’re on the second floor, which makes things a little hard, and we have five people in our little main office,” Drennen said. “So we’re looking for a new facility. We’re evaluating buying a piece of land and building on it. Hopefully, this will start happening in the first quarter of 2019.”
For more information about Nourish Foods, visit nourishmeals.com or follow the company on social media.