"When you eat good food, you feel good about yourself, you're happier, and you're nicer to people!"
MelLIsa Mills, Founder of Spread'em Kitchen
Winner of Silver BC Food Processors Association's 2017 Product of the Year Award, meet Mellisa Mills of Vancouver, BC. The "Product of the Year Award recognizes a product that shows innovation; criteria include taste, product packaging, marketing, innovation, and environmental impact." So naturally, we wanted to congratulate her and share the story behind her amazing dips!
Spread'em Kitchen sprouted in 2014 from a passion for food, 500 bucks, and a delivery bicycle. Mellisa, graphic designer turned business owner remembers "always [being] interested in social justice, food economy, and the buy local-ism of food."
Returning from a South American excursion spent pondering her next career move, Mellisa chose to start sharing her cashew dips, that she would make for friends, at farmer's markets. She sold out her first market and many after that! Supported by a community who, no doubt, caught her infectious positivity surrounding health and nourishment.
"Food is a really intimate thing to share with a stranger," Mellisa shares, it is"a means to connect with people and connection is basically the only reason we are here — it's what's most important."
It was when dip lovers were stocking up at the end of summer to last the off-market season that she knew it was time to expand into retail! Starting with 4 natural-food stores in the Vancouver core to over 120 stores now, Spread'em is growing quickly in recognition and popularity. Their growth shows no signs of stopping as Mellisa hopes to be an example in the industry to show that no matter the size of a company, it is possible to produce ethically at scale and continue to make choices that have a postive impact.
Spread'em creations include vegetable and fermented cashew dips intended to delight and nourish with innovative flavours — tumeric and black pepper, cucumber and garlic, carrot and chili, chives and garlic, and beet and balsamic.
Spread'em produce is sourced local (when in season) by distributors — the beets are grown in Delta and Richmond, cilantro in Richmond, etc. As we explain in our "Decoding Demand for Local Food" series, Mellisa comments on how vegetables picked while they're green and shipped end up losing nutrition and by buying local our produce matures longer on-stem, increasing the overall nutrient density.
As far as ingredients go, the hardest thing for them to find is ethical cashews. Starting in September, Mellisa is going to start working with African Cashew Alliance. This group uses natural growing methods and give profits back to the small collective farms to help with education and equiptment. This transition reflects a what Mellisa describes as a personal "responsibility to give back" and close the loop on her ingredients.
The packages are designed by Mellisa herself, commenting that she strives for a clean and crisp packaging to draw those who identify with her style. The new cardboard sleeves are made of 100% recycled paper and printed with vegetable-based inks, making them 100% biodegradable / recyclable.
Just in the time we were sitting in the coffee shop chatting, coffee-goers on either side of us took the time to comment on how much they loved the design. Serendipidously, the woman at the table to our side had recently used Mellisa's Cucumber and Garlic dip as a raita substitute for a vegan friend, sharing that the packaging made her feel like she can " trust what's in it."
Over the years, Mellisa has learned a lot from following the evolution of brands and food makers she respects. For small manufacturers in the Vancouver areas, she highly reccomends getting involved with Feeding Growth— stating that participating in their first workshop series helped fasttrack her and continues to provide leadership and support. The next Feeding Growth workshop series is 5 parts running from Sept 14 to Nov 9, 2017 with teachings ranging from Branding and Marketing to Financing Growth. "I couldn't reccomend it more," says Mellisa, "there were a few questions that had me stumped [..] and each one of their sessions was exactly what I needed."
Our final question for Mellisa was: Why is prioritizing local and ethical important to you?
"I'm physically looking into people's eyes and sharing food with them. I couldn't, with a conscious, not share the best possible thing. If I'm not going to eat it myself, then I'm not going to sell it. I would never say 'This is just business,' that term does not make sense to me. [...] For me, I'm nourishing people, if I'm not nourishing people, then I can't ethically continue to do this. My conviction on stuff like this is unwavering."
Thank you for your conviction, Mellisa! We hope to see you grow and inspire food brands to make choices for the betterment of our personal and global health.
Find Spread'em products at Farmer's Markets in Squamish and Vancouver (see schedule) or in over 100 stores in BC (see store list). You can also follow Spread'em Kitchen on social media to get to know them even more:
We are a B-Corporation, certified woman-owned business with a mission to support diverse, social, and ethical products to thrive in retail aisles. Localize was founded in 2011 to answer one question: "Where does our food come from?" Since then, we've evolved to become a connector between food businesses, retailers, and consumers who care.
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