Editor’s Note: Zippy Pantry has been named to The Story Exchange’s list of 12 Brilliant Business Ideas.
Ericka Mabrie wants to make shopping for specific dietary needs a breeze. Her online marketplace, Zippy Pantry — run from her home base in Brooklyn, New York — lets users shop for snacks, pantry staples and beverages by targeted benefits. (Think stress relief, sleep assistance, gut wellness and skin rejuvenation.) Mabrie’s mission? Make it easy to find packaged foods and drinks that complement a variety of lifestyles and help consumers achieve their individual health goals. There’s a societal groundswell occurring where individuals are increasingly prioritizing specific health goals over general weight loss — not to mention, a pandemic-induced spike in online shopping that has yet to wane. Zippy Pantry smartly aims to capitalize on both shifts.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A with Mabrie, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
My earliest memories are centered around food and family. I grew up the pickiest eater in one of the best food destinations in the world: Houston. Childhood was filled with Nana’s peach cobbler, dad’s breakfast house special, and mom’s tortilla soup. I spent most evenings at my grandparents’ house and saw the health issues they dealt with like high blood pressure and diabetes. As I got older, I realized that Black people were systemically more likely to develop these problems, which ignited my interest in health and wellness. After graduating college, I began working in the beauty industry as the inside-out beauty movement took off. Two years later, I met my co-founder, Alexa Lombardo, as we relaunched a line of herbal remedies at a holistic skincare brand. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was laid off from my marketing job and Alexa shared an idea with me about creating a co-op for CBD foods. I loved the idea but thought it could be so much bigger, given my knowledge of functional ingredients. As I looked at the food landscape, I saw no place to shop by benefit, the way people shop for cosmetics. I envisioned a place where the pantry doubled as a medicine cabinet, powered by emerging people-of-color- and female-founded brands. My entrepreneurship is a result of both my identity and lived experience: where my life-long awareness of health, passion for food, and years in the beauty industry collide.
How do you define success?
Watching Zippy Pantry grow from an idea Alexa and I had in the park at the beginning of the pandemic to a home for functional food brands and individuals trying to navigate the space has felt like a success, especially since we’ve focused on organic, intentional growth. Being adaptable and determined in pursuing a long term vision is also part of it. What makes me feel most successful, though, is that my work is in alignment with my greater purpose, which is showing and teaching people the ways that food can be a conduit for healing the body and spirit, nurturing community and fighting against societal inequities.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Selling out at our first in-person event after our brand relaunch. We partnered with a digital artist for a womxn– and pink-themed event and sold snacks and raised awareness for Zippy Pantry. I got to meet so many amazing womxn and share my story, and sold over $500 worth of snacks and teas in a few hours. As someone who has struggled with talking to people and with self-promotion, I felt so proud that I was able to advocate for my brand, share our products and mission, and it resonated with so many people so quickly.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our website conversion rate being low before we rebranded. We improved it by reaching out to our consumers and asked what they wanted to see from us, how they wanted to shop, what kinds of products they wanted they most, and we stopped running ads. We rebranded with a more superhero theme, refined our messaging to hone in on functional food, and simplified our menu to make the site easier to navigate.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
A few months before Alexa and I came up with the concept for Zippy, I’d decided to divorce my husband of nearly two years and had been laid off my job at the beginning of the pandemic. I felt like my life was going through a huge reset and there was an opportunity for me to redefine freedom for myself. Zippy Pantry felt like my calling, so when I make any business decisions to this day, I reflect on whether they’re in alignment with this new chapter of my life and propelling me forward.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Stay true to your mission but be flexible on how you execute as you learn more from your consumer. When we initially launched, we were told consumers didn’t understand functional food and we should just market as healthy and use claims that every other marketplace was using. It made us blend in with the crowd and diluted our mission, so we decided to take the learnings, rebrand, and relaunch and we’re so much more satisfied with the result and actually attracting and retaining our target consumer.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
It sounds cliche but I’m really inspired by nature these days. Last year, I began volunteering at my local community garden and it’s transformed my life and been so grounding for me. Making that time to connect to the Earth, others who share that call, and learn from incredible activists and stewards, has been so inspirational and can get me out of any funk.
Who is your most important role model?
My parents, because they have always encouraged me to live my life on my terms and to never forget the importance of integrity. They hold me accountable, push me to dream bigger, and set great examples for me as I navigate adulthood and entrepreneurship. ◼