How To Run a Healthy Brand Featuring Sophia Maroon, Dress It Up Dressing
Dressings should be as healthy as your salad. So, where can you get clean, high-quality, classic-flavored dressings to whip up a delicious and healthy dish?
People need to understand what they are eating — if it’s healthy or not — and that includes the dressing they use on their salad. Sophia Maroon shares her entrepreneurial journey of how she started her dressing and marinades company to provide tips to entrepreneurs on how to run a successful business — and educate people about healthy eating.
In this episode of the Gooder Podcast, host Diana Fryc is joined by Sophia Maroon, the Founder and CEO of Dress It Up Dressing, to discuss her entrepreneurial journey in making healthy dressings and marinades for salads. Sophia explains her 10-year journey of scaling Dress It Up Dressing and the mistakes she avoided, the kind of networks an entrepreneur should have to succeed, and her advice to entrepreneurs.
In this episode we learn:
- Sophia Maroon talks about Dress It Up Dressing and why it exists
- How Sophia’s “messy life” influenced the genesis of her company
- The 10-year journey of scaling Dress It Up Dressing
- How Sophia realized they were moving in the right direction — and mistakes she avoided
- Sophia’s proudest moment and milestone
- How Sophia’s background in anthropology and filmmaking influence what she does now
- What kind of networks should you have as an entrepreneur, and which entrepreneurs does Sophia admire?
- Sophia’s advice to entrepreneurs
- What’s next for Dress It Up Dressing
- Sophia shares brands and trends she has her eyes on and why
About Sophia Maroon
Sophia Maroon is the Founder and CEO of Dress It Up Dressing, a company that offers olive oil-based dressings with gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, paleo, keto and Whole-30-friendly varieties. Since Sophia couldn’t find a salad dressing on the market that resembled homemade — and because her brother challenged her — she decided to create Dress It Up Dressing using her mother’s recipe. Sophia is also a filmmaker with three kids.
Guests Social Media Links:
LinkedIn Sophia Maroon : https://www.linkedin.com/in/sophia-maroon-sofine/
Website : https://dressitupdressing.co/
- Dress It Up Dressing
- Dress It Up Dressing on Instagram
- Sophia Maroon on LinkedIn
- Diana Fryc on LinkedIn
- Retail Voodoo
- Specialty Food Association
- Nina Tickaradze on LinkedIn
- Maria Jose Palacio on LinkedIn
- Hugo Coffee Roasters
- “Frito-Lay is Changing the World of Business for The Better with Ciara Dilley, Frito Lay” on the Gooder Podcast
- “Reimagining Well Being Snacking with Brigette Wolf, Mondelēz International” on the Gooder Podcast
- Junita’s Jar
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo.
Retail Voodoo has been building beloved and dominant brands in the food, wellness, beverage, and fitness CPG industries for over 30 years. They’ve served multinational companies like PepsiCo. and Starbucks, startups like High Key, and everything in between.
Their proven process guides hundreds of mission-driven consumer brands to attract a broad and passionate fan base, crush their categories through growth and innovation, and magnify their social and environmental impact.
So, if you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, Retail Voodoo is here to help.
Visit retail-voodoo.com or email email@example.com to learn more.
Welcome to the Gooder Podcast where we talk with powerhouse women in CPG about their journeys to success. This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo. A brand development firm guiding mission driven consumer brands to attract new and passionate consumer base crushed their categories through growth and innovation and magnify their social and environmental impact. If your brand is in need of brand positioning, package design or marketing activation, we are here to help. You can find more information at www.retail-voodoo.com.
Diana Fryc 0:43
Hi, Diana Fryc here, I’m the host of Gooder Podcast where I get to talk with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage, and wellness categories about their journeys to success and their insights on the industry. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. Retail Voodoo is a brand development firm. Our clients include Starbucks, Kind, Rei, PepsiCo, high key and many other market leaders. We provide strategic brand and design services for leading brands in the food, wellness, beverage and fitness industry. If your goal is to increase market share, drive growth or disrupt the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk. Can find out more at retail-voodoo.com. Today we get to meet Sophia Maroon who is CEO of Dress It Up Dressing, a filmmaker by trade and a professional career interrupted by child rearing. It was in the middle of a messy life that Sophia created a crave-able luxury in a sexy little package. Dress It Up Dressing has not only won awards and accolades for retailers and renowned chefs, it is also part proudly part of the B Corp family insistent on making a change for the better in business. Well, hello, Sophia, how are you today?
Sophia Maroon 2:23
I’m fine, Diana, thanks for having me.
Diana Fryc 2:26
No, of course, where are you? You’re in Maryland. Correct?
Sophia Maroon 2:30
Just outside of Washington DC.
Diana Fryc 2:33
And rainy today, right?
Sophia Maroon 2:34
Rainy and a little miserable. But the end of April.
Diana Fryc 2:40
We switched here in Seattle. It’s a gorgeous spring dreads spring day. So we’ll just switch for the day. Sorry about that bear yet.
Sophia Maroon 2:49
I’ll pretend I’m in Seattle. This is almost an in person interview.
Diana Fryc 2:53
Now, before we start, I just want to say what a beautiful and romantic writer you are. So just to let everybody know, I always ask for people to send over their bios. And a lot of the bios are what you would expect from most professionals. And Sophia’s bio is this really lovely lyrical expression of her life story of bringing a brand to life from kind of start to now and I wish I could read it to you all now with her permission posted somewhere but so great. I just want to say what a lovely writer you are and if that’s not your writing, just own it anyways, it’s awesome. Now first off, I always like it when brands or when people tell us about their brands. Why they exist. So tell us a little bit about Dress It Up Dressing. What is it? Why does it exist?
Sophia Maroon 3:50
So Dress It Up Dressing exists. I didn’t bring it into creation. It was my mother the provenance of creation. For my childhood every single night a salad was served with dinner and she made a really simple red wine vinaigrette that was just olive oil, vinegar, mustard and garlic. And she started making her own dressing because my father had been told he was pre-diabetic and she couldn’t find any salad dressing on the market that didn’t have sugar. So she insists that she got the recipe from her cousin Bridgette in France. But Bridgette said no I have my salad dressing and I got it from you. And so nobody really knows the origin of the salad dressing. I think I’m taking full credit for it now. But it was the brand Dress It Up was a natural evolution of that because when I left for college I took the recipe with me when I when I was living in my own home. I always made my own dressing and then as I entered into motherhood, again and again and again, I have three children. I was still making my own dressing and if they say like, great products come out of a need that, this was my own need, I made salad dressing and I didn’t want to be making it all the time. And so I couldn’t find a salad dressing on the market that resembled homemade. And my brother kind of had the idea. Okay, well, so sell yours then. And, and I started Dress It Up by just giving it to friends. Actually, it wasn’t even called Dress It Up at that point, I was just giving salad dressing to friends to sort of say, yeah, I do this, like, I’ve got three children, but they’re young, and you have a little free time, not a lot, but just enough to either get bored or do something. And so I just started making dressing for my friends and sharing it around the neighborhood. And one thing led to another, and somebody from Whole Foods tried it. And they said, “We don’t sell anything like this.” And if you can make this properly at the time, my three year old was peeling the garlic, and I’m printing labels off of my computer. But they said if you can make it properly, then we’ll put it on our shelves. I love it. And so I had a bunch of friends over for dinner, and had a big, big boozy dinner and said, I’m thinking of starting the salad dressing company, whole foods will bring it in, like what do I call it? And my friend Jim said, “You should call it dress it up.” And I didn’t want that kind of support, Dress It Up was born.
Diana Fryc 6:23
Oh my goodness. Well talk a little bit about in this bio that I’m referencing from early talk about kind of the messiness of life. And I’m curious how that messiness may have helped with influence, it may have helped influence the genesis of this. Is it just that you are busy mom? Or is there kind of a way of thinking or a way of life around that? Can you expand?
Sophia Maroon 6:51
Yeah, well, so I mean, my life was, is messy. And especially at that point, I had three young children they were all under the age of 10 and you feel as a mom at that point, like you’re part short order chef, but nobody likes the same food. So you’re always throwing, whatever, whoever liked what the front of them. And I felt like if I put a salad in front of them too, salad dressing and a packet of carrots. If I was feeding them tater tots and fish fingers for the night, if they had that then at least like I was ratcheting it up a little bit as mother It was slightly healthy. And for my own salads, like when I just salad dressing that my mother made honestly, I didn’t need any other salad dressing for 20 years. It was so good. And it just made everything tastes magnificent. Even if you were having like iceberg lettuce, with spring onions. It was incredible. So I felt like it could transform even the sort of most druggie, like pull it together while the kids are fighting meal that you had this instant transformation. And I often liken it to Cinderella. Like her fairy godmother comes and thing you put a little dress up on your salad, like on your lettuce and it doesn’t matter what the rest of your dinner is like something there is delectable and amazing. And so that was where it’s like out of this messiness, can’t we all grasp like a tiny moment of glamor? Is there something we can do so that when you’re sitting there in your yoga pants and your, you haven’t showered yet today? Whatever it is, it’s like, can you do a little something for yourself to just bring that touch of indulgence into your day? And that’s what that represented to me every night.
Diana Fryc 8:44
Yeah, I don’t know if folks can see this. Those of you that are on YouTube. I’ve got one too. There you go. I did try the champagne one. Thank you. I did try the champagne when on just plain spinach. And it was enough. Like I could just have a pile of spinach with a little bit of that dressing. You’re not kidding. A little bit goes a long way. I really love the transformation of the creative on there. And I think it really matches the story. All parts of it are just so just beautiful expression. Yeah, so you’re going on year number 10 now, right, this is the 10th year anniversary. Ooh, that’s a big number in entrepreneurial brand. How’s that feel?
Sophia Maroon 9:34
So it really does feel like a milestone. I didn’t think it was going to be that significant, but it is significant. And I will also divide it up into sort of two phases. Because when I first started Dress It Up like I said, my kids were three, six and nine by the time like they were young and my youngest was in school three days a week for two and a half hours a day. Like, I had my hands fall and I would go and drive, I would make a delivery at Whole Foods. So we got into one whole foods in 2012. And I think they finally got like, once you do all the paperwork, we finally got on the shelf November, it was election day. We got in on in 2012. And that was November by December, we were in three stores. And then by March, we were in 14. And so I was driving around with the two year old in the back of the car and like making these deliveries, arriving with my cases, and they’d buy like four cases at a time on a good day, sir. But I was raising my family and sort of learning the ropes about how to build a food company simultaneously. And it wasn’t really until 2018 that I would say like the kids were now in school full time. And slightly more independent. Like I’m also a single mom, right? So I had the kids were with me all the time. Yeah. And so I was trying to raise both my babies, my three live babies and my salad dressing babies simultaneously. And I’m sure I could have done a better job of both if the other hadn’t been in existence, but I was trying to do them side by side. And at 2018, I felt like okay, now I can turn much more attention to the salad dressing. And so that was when we made a lot of big changes, we went from initially we were selling four products, we expanded the line to seven, we went from these little pots of dressing because it’s thick and creamy. And the idea is that you would spoon it on and Whole Foods was like, no, you don’t spoon salad dressing, salad dressing comes in a bottle, put it in a bottle. So we switched to a bottle, we lowered our prices, we expanded distribution. And so I’d say like, until 2018 it’s not a hobby, it was one more it was one above a hobby. I was learning how to do things. So post 2018 though, we got serious, and it helped that that year we also want to awards. SFA award and we want to good food award.
Diana Fryc 12:17
You did? Okay, that’s a big deal.
Sophia Maroon 12:20
I didn’t realize what bigger deal was.
Diana Fryc 12:25
SFA award for people who don’t know about the Specialty Food Association and the fancy food shows like that SFA award is a pretty big deal from that organization. And from that group of people there. So more information on what did they go by? SFA by specialty services? Yeah. So yeah, that’s a big deal. Wow, congratulations.
Sophia Maroon 12:50
Yeah, well, and with that, we obviously got a lot of attention from retailers. And so that was a big, big year of growth. And one year after another, like it’s sort of moved from there that we’ve just been keeping up ever since then trying to trying to grow the brand in a way that is smart, so that we don’t either get loved to death, end too quickly. Scaling really, it’s difficult and it’s expensive. And so 2018 post has been just the next phase where it’s scaling the company more than learning.
Diana Fryc 13:31
Gotcha. So is there like a moment? Or was there a conversation where you were like, oh, this was a good idea. I’m headed in the right direction.
Sophia Maroon 13:43
Well, so as a consumer of my own products, I always thought it was a good idea. I think like, most salad dressing just doesn’t resemble what you make it from scratch at all. It’s usually made with inexpensive oils, and it’s filled, they say it’s the least healthy part of your salad. And that’s true. And we were making a product that was healthy, like just clean ingredients that you recognize and was no different from what you would make from scratch. And I really believed from day one that this was the best product on the market. Like for that reason because my kitchens filled with it. But I think even if I weren’t running the company, I’d be its best customer nonetheless. But I don’t know that there was maybe the support we got from retailers helped me really think that I was on to something good. I mean, when we were getting the attention of Whole Foods, right? And they’re the ones telling us we went and said we’ve got three new ideas and like bring them all in, but put them in a bottle. And other retailers. Like, that response made me feel like I was that we were on the right path.
Diana Fryc 15:04
So awesome. Great. So now looking back, and I like to ask this question just so that other people that are considering this journey, or retailers, retailers are pretty savvy about kind of the trials that entrepreneurial brands are going through whatever the stages, was like to ask females like, was there a moment where there something went wrong? There was a bad whether it was a bad mistake, there was a mistake, that ended up being kind of like a really important part of your business. Like that mistake is the thing may have been one of the things that helped you move into the right direction? And is that something that you can share?
Sophia Maroon 15:50
I mean, because there are plenty of mistakes and mistakes that then turned into, like happy accidents?
Diana Fryc 15:59
Well, it could be even just the way you think about running a business or managing people or leading through change any of those sorts of things.
Sophia Maroon 16:08
What I would say is that, in the food industry, there are a lot of people that have expertise in the food industry. And it’s almost like they are so good at making food that they forget how to cook.
Diana Fryc 16:26
Oh, okay, tell me more. What does that mean?
Sophia Maroon 16:28
Well, it means a one. So every time we’ve worked with three different co-packers in the time that we’ve been making this. And obviously a co-packer is somebody who, so my dressing is really easy to make, because it’s just a couple ingredients, and you store it literally like there’s not cooking, it’s so easy to make. But it’s really hard to get into the bottle. And to get it like we make it creamy and emulsified. That’s the one trick my mother taught me how to do. But it’s hard, like because we don’t put any additives in it. It’s hard to get it right, every single time. And with the co-packers, I’ve been told oh, well, you can add this ingredient. And that’s going to help. Or you can add this ingredient and it’s going to lower your price like we went on to enter the market and we were easily the most expensive salad dressings on the shelf. There are a lot of reasons for that. We only use olive oil, we don’t dilute it with water, we don’t add sugar and gums and starches. Like every ingredient in there is delicious. And it’s not the cheapest ingredient. But it’s going to be the one that’s healthiest for your body. And if you pay attention to your body, if you eat olive oil, and vinegar, like that works well in your system, and you don’t need as much. If you’re if you eat olive oil and vinegar, it works well with your system. It’s good for inflammation, it’s good for your gut. Olive oil leaves you with the sense of fullness of you don’t need to keep on eating like you eat less if you eat real food. And our dressing is made exclusively from real foods. And I was told time and time again, you should try this oil. It’s a lot less expensive. And it’s like no, I want olive oil. Like I just want olive oil. I don’t want canola, I don’t want safflower. If you added gums and starches, you’d get the same product every single time. It’s like well I’d rather teach my customer that there’s going to be slight variation in here, but we’re never going to add gums and starches. And again, you can lower price per ounce. If you add some water. It’s like well, I’d rather teach my customer to use a little less and get all that flavor right than to ship water around the country because you don’t put water in your salad dressing if you’re making it from scratch. So why would you in the bottle. So that’s kind of being able as a startup brand. And as somebody you’d never met with no background and food to say to people not willing to do that, or I’m not going to do that. Let’s try it this way. Let’s see what happens if we don’t add the gums and starches. Like let’s try, that was something where I had to fight sometimes more than others and I was told you’ll never go on the market with a salad dressing this expensive. Nobody will ever buy it if it’s this expensive. If you tell people what they’re spending money on, usually people are okay with it if they know they’re getting value for money.
Diana Fryc 19:41
As a brand strategist, I’m going to step over here into the other side of the world. We’ve worked with plenty of brands where we’ve developed brand positioning that allowed the brand to command the highest price point by significant margin in their categories because there’s a value proposition that is so succinctly communicated, and I am frequently frustrated by experts out there who now they work in the world of more commoditized products, right? Things that don’t have those pure ingredients. And so for them, it’s all about volume. And if you’re gonna do volume is how cheap can you do it? And how many units do I have to sell with a 1% margin instead of a 5%, or insert whatever your percentages are. And so I think, what I love about what you’re saying is, listen, I’m more committed to what this product is, than I am about the profit, if this isn’t going to fly the way I want it to go, if this concept isn’t going to fly the way I want it to go, then it’s not meant to be. And you stuck by your guns, and you were showing that it’s possible, right? So I’m so happy to hear that you’re just like, no, this is the way it’s going to go down and find the right partners to work with you to make it come to a reality so good for you.
Sophia Maroon 21:08
Well, I do feel like, my name is on the bottle. It’s on the side of my car. I can’t sell something I don’t believe and I’m not a salesperson. And I’m not like, no, I can’t help but sort of tell you what I feel.
Diana Fryc 21:27
Go for it. Right.
Sophia Maroon 21:28
I can’t stop myself. And like we had a ranch dressing that was not good and I couldn’t sell it. Like people would be like, oh, can I try the ranch and try that one instead? Because it wasn’t good. And we took it off the market? Because I couldn’t even pretend to say this was a good one. And there are great ranches out there. So I wasn’t competing. Yeah. I’m not going to sell a product I can’t believe in.
Diana Fryc 21:56
Absolutely. Totally get that great. So kind of do you have a particular milestone or moment that you, like, are most proud of right now? I know. It’s just like, which one do you choose? But there might be one that just kind of the first one that pops to mind that you’re like, that was an incredible moment, or opportunity or human or whatever?
Sophia Maroon 22:17
Yeah, I got one big one. And it really doesn’t have much to do with selling my product.
Diana Fryc 22:24
Sophia Maroon 22:24
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. But, so 2020, February of 2020, we got a loan from Whole Foods to create individual serving sizes of our dressing, my beautiful little packet and they were it’s like, clean, healthy salad dressing on the go. And the idea is, put it in your pack lunch, take it on the plane, take it camping, wherever you’re going. Pack a couple carrots and you’ve got a snack, you’ve got a meal, whatever you want. So we launched those February 1 of 2020. And they were on every salad bar in the mid-Atlantic region of Whole Foods. And they were doing like this was going to be because we have an $8 salad dressing, let’s have people try it for a $1, for dollar because as soon as you try it. You’re new addict.
Diana Fryc 23:19
Brilliant. What we do with snack products is those single serves. Yeah, absolutely.
Sophia Maroon 23:24
Right. So that was the idea. And so they enter the market first. And we were they were trickling into Whole Foods. Like they don’t all go in at once. But it got into the first one. And then the second one and we were selling like the numbers were so like you when you pitch them to your investors or your team. And you’re like, I think this is what we’re going to be able to do. We hit or exceeded every single number that I had projected, and dance party in the office. Four weeks later, six weeks later, eighth of March around here, they shut down the salad bars. They shut down everything. And we had 100,000 well, we produced 100,000 we probably had 60 80,000 of these in stock and lost all of our customers. And for a long time we’ve supplied salad dressing to DC public schools, because healthy eating starts early and we’ll eat their vegetables with a good dressing. So we would give them dressing either at cost or below cost because I figured I was making future customers. And like I said that they started using our dressing and found that vegetable consumption was going up among these, last was going into the trash cans. So anyway, when the pandemic struck, and we had all of this extra dressing, I called up DC public schools and said what do you need because I knew that they were going to be serving just as many lunches with school closed. And so many DC school students rely on their school lunches in order to get their nutrition that parlayed into another partnership with my personal hero, Jose Andreas. And he had a program that he was running out of NAT stadium here in DC, where they were feeding first responders, elderly and children. And we partnered with them, and they used I think 10,000, serve 10,000 meals with our packets. DC public schools did about triple, quadruple that amount. And so that’s part one. Like that, to me was the milestone of my life was that partnership, because he’s such a hero of mine. And he’s local, he comes to my farmers market where I first started selling the dressing. That was fantastic. Equally was when they called back a year later, I was like, okay, we want to work together again. And so I think that partnerships like that, like being able to not just like yeah, we sell salad dressing, but also being able to use the salad dressing in order to just do the right thing like achieve new milestones do good thing. Be a part of my community? Yes, that’s the stuff that Jazz’s me as much as I don’t know, just about anything else I do.
Diana Fryc 26:27
Yeah. Well, and Jose, you get as close to a saint, as you can possibly like the work that he does on a global level is pretty miraculous.
Sophia Maroon 26:41
Role model. Like what we should all think was that sense of community?
Diana Fryc 26:46
Yeah, what is my gift? And how can I use it to help people? It’s really that simple? And it’s so like, all of these things that you’re talking about. To me I like, it makes complete sense that you guys are a B Corp. I mean, just everything about what you do and had plenty of B corps on the show. And we’re a B Corp as well. And just I love that relationship between business as a force for good is that is a complete demonstration of what you’ve done is not to wait not even to wait for the ask, is to step up and go, how can I help is pretty great. Or pretty rad as the kids say, these days.
Sophia Maroon 27:35
I’m okay with being radically great.
Diana Fryc 27:37
Ooh, radically great, I love that moniker. So I’m curious. In the intro, I mentioned that you’re a filmmaker. And we were talking about this beforehand and I said, and you went to film school, and you actually didn’t go to film school. So you went to school to do one thing, you became a filmmaker. And here you are an entrepreneurial entrepreneur of a dressing brand. And it’s also a marinade and all those things, but this is not something that you eat by itself. It is it what do they call that?
Sophia Maroon 28:12
An ingredient, and not an ingredient? There’s some word that I heard. I heard somebody describe it’s like an ingredient product. I’m like, okay, you just took all the fun out of what I do.
Diana Fryc 28:24
It’s a condiment, I believe. But in any case, I’m curious. How does your filmmaking background influence what you’re doing now? Is there anything in the way you leave things are the way you see things? I mean, obviously, you went to school to be an anthropologist, that makes complete sense. But tell me from that journey of anthropologists, to filmmaker and how that influences what you’re doing now.
Sophia Maroon 28:51
Yeah, well, so the anthropology to filmmaking was actually a little like, anthropology studying people. And filmmaking, I became a documentary filmmaker guy, and that’s telling the story of people. And I worked a lot I worked on programs that were mostly for public television. That were social historical documentaries, so that like that was a natural segue. Taking that to salad dressing is a little bit bigger step. Well, it’s less of a natural progression, however, like when think about it, it’s actually exactly the same practice. In a film, you have your raw materials like you have the you know, you the what you shoot audio interviews, music, you take all of these pieces, and you turn them together into the best thing that they can possibly be with so many different disciplines of practices. And but it really is like, okay, turn that into something beautiful. And then after that, you have to then go and sell it, sell that product. And dressing is actually no different. It’s the same ingredients, so same raw materials. And if any one of them, like there’s a phrase and filmmaking, which is garbage in, garbage out, if you don’t have good material, you’re not going to have a good film like exactly. You can’t make a silk purse out of salesy or whatever, whatever that expression is. Same with the dressing. And that’s actually been a little bit of a mantra for me all along, is it like, we’re only as good as our ingredients. So we better have good ingredients, and especially when you only have a few, like, so we get the best vinegar we can possibly find. And we use fresh garlic and we don’t like great olive oil, each of these things, because if you compromise on any of that, then the final product is going to show those compromises. So that it’s like when I think about it that way I’m like, okay, it is it’s the exact same thing all over again. You’re repackaging raw materials in the very best way you can and you bring your now how, you bring the skills you have the assets you have to bear in order to make it as good as it can be.
Diana Fryc 31:08
Yes, organizing a mess and turning it into something beautiful. I love that. Now, I want to step back for a moment because how I met you, I remember this is just at the most recent Expo West, and I met you. Well, there was a group of women. This woman it Nina Tickaradze. I did not pronounce that last name, correct?
Sophia Maroon 31:39
No, it’s a tough one. Because she’s a Georgian. She’s a Georgian from Georgia from both Georgia.
Diana Fryc 31:44
Oh, my goodness. So forgive me, Nina of Nadi. And I came to meet her to have a brief meeting. And she introduced me to this group of women that were all there together. It was like I was walking into a party in the middle of a bigger party, which was weird. And there’s a common thread that you women all meet I think almost weekly and you have a little bit of a mission behind you. Can you just share what that is at a high level? Because that was so special.
Sophia Maroon 32:21
Those are my Pepsi girls. Yeah. So summer of 2020. This is one of the greatest programs that exists. Summer of 2020, Stacy’s Peter, Stacy’s rise has a program called Stacy’s rise. Yeah, what it used to be, I think was a competition where they would have a competition for 15 and female founders. And Pepsi owns Frito Lay which owns Stacy’s. So it’s really Pepsi that was running the program. Summer of 2020. They decided rather than having a competition, let’s just give an award to 15 female founders that pivoted in the midst of COVID and whose companies were threatened. And obviously, my company was threatened because we owed so much money on those packets that we’ve been, I’m sure that 1000s of dollars and had no market for them. And 14 other women won the same award. And Pepsi is brilliant, because they don’t just give you cash, obviously, cash is valuable. But when you’re talking to entrepreneurs, and especially if you’re Pepsi, and you have so much innate talent and expertise within your walls, they provided mentorship. So each winner was targeted, like what’s your growth area? Where do you need attention. And so each of us was paired with a team of Pepsi execs to help us grow in the area that we needed to grow. Then the other thing that I don’t think they realized was going to be as valuable as it was, is that they created these peer groups. And so 15 of us we were split into three different peer groups and my peer group it’s not east from Nadi juices or Nina rather than not East juices. A woman named Maria Palacio CEO who has a coffee company called progeny coffee, Claudia McMullin who has a coffee company called Hugo’s coffee, and Juanita flowers and she has a cookie company called Geneva’s jar. And the five of us were met. And we were told, like we’d like you guys to talk on a bi weekly basis while you’re going through the program just so you can sound ideas off of each other. We got together and we were like a house on fire and we did not meet every other week. We started meeting every week and we met every week for the 12 weeks of the program. And we’ve met every week for the two years.
Diana Fryc 34:50
Oh my goodness. Is this the program that I’m Ciara running? Ciara Dilley? Yes, I interviewed her a couple of years ago. She is such to an amazing human.
Sophia Maroon 35:01
Well, so I heard actually, I listened to some of the previous podcasts you did. And one of the questions I saw was like, Who do you admire? And she is who I admire what she does for emerging brands and what she does just for kind of women in the food space, and in general, which, yeah, it’s kind of there are a lot of dudes here. And they’re great, like, love them. Yeah. But it’s for female founders, we receive a fraction of the amount of investment, we don’t have the same opportunities in networks. And she has done a lot to elevate female founder brands, and give them opportunities and even just provide a friend like sometimes when I mean, I would call her if, and I think she’d pick up the call, like, even.
Diana Fryc 35:46
She would, she’s busy running a company.
Sophia Maroon 35:54
She is one of these people who really helps grow both companies and individuals. And she has my admiration.
Diana Fryc 36:03
Yes, you have to listen to her episode, it’s been a couple of years now. But so I guess one of the questions that I have for you kind of coming on the heels of all of this, this love and this kind of this entrepreneurial love and all of this growth is, what do you what kind of advice do you find yourself giving when people come to you’re in your 10th year? What’s something common that you find yourself saying, yeah, this is really important for you to know about yourself, or about the business or anything?
Sophia Maroon 36:39
So it’s the same stuff that I sort of tell myself frequently, because often as an entrepreneur, you have to have a live dialogue with yourself. Sometimes other people aren’t willing to listen to you keep talking about that same old thing. But I have, I would say two pieces of advice. I mean, one, the big one is don’t give up because it’s so tempting frequently to give up. And I think that we’re often you know, it’s not easy. And sometimes the people that are still doing it are just the ones that haven’t quit. That’s probably number one. The other thing that I think is, back to the point about the Stacy’s ladies is surround yourself with as many people that you can, that are either doing the same thing that you’re doing or actually have already done it and know better. And this is where especially within food, we’re so fortunate because food people are such, they’re such generous people in general, like you wouldn’t be in the business of like hearing this, try this have that unless you kind of had that generosity of spirit and you’re at EXPO, you can feel it at Expo and people are as kind and as generous with their information as they are with the products that they’re sharing. And so I just think like, I mean, meet as many people as you can and just kind of create your own circle.
Diana Fryc 38:08
Yes. Okay. Well, what’s next for Dress It Up Dressing or for you what’s on deck this year.
Sophia Maroon 38:15
So we got a bunch that we’re bringing back the packets, that’s the big thing, we put the packets on hold, when salad bars remained closed for so long, and schools and businesses were all close. So bringing those packets back into existence is absolutely number one on my list, it’s sort of the only thing that’s on my list, maybe playing with a couple new flavors, and always. But I’d also be curious, like, you talk to so many people that are entrepreneurs and like where do you like to see people grow and expand? What do you like to see people do?
Diana Fryc 38:58
Oh my gosh, well, for me, the tables are turned this was unexpected for me, what excites me the most is novel, innovation, real novel innovation. So line extension is fun, for sure, going from seven to 14 flavors or whatever. But when I see approaching the needs of the consumer and with a different type of product that is not just yummy, but actually meets a need state and part of the background of this whole podcast project was I had become really frustrated and disillusioned with what had been happening, what was happening and is still a little bit happening in the naturals category where a lot of food science came in and we started seeing a blurring of lines between what healthy was, what naturals and better for you was. And with all of this investment capital coming in, a lot of old school leadership was coming into this category and kind of further unbalancing kind of the gender and then also other kinds of diversity roles. My biggest thing with the naturals category is we’re making products for white, upper middle class people that have access to education and health care on how to live really healthy lives. And I think we have done a disservice to pretty much everybody else that doesn’t look like that, by creating products that don’t taste good, or just don’t talk to those people. And then looking at data and going, hey, our data supports the fact that really rich white people are buying our product, I’m like, well, that’s who you’re targeting. So market opportunity somewhere else. So for me as I’m starting to see people reach out and kind of go, let’s create flavor profiles that aren’t super sophisticated, or let’s find products that are made with real ingredients. And back to the whole real ingredients. And with ingredients, when people read the back of pack, they know what they are, and taste good. That’s my real passion right now is to grow natural and better for you eating to the larger audience, knowing that people who aren’t rich will still pay more for food if they believe in it. And if it tastes good, and then they’ll cut back in other areas that are less important for them. And because our health is so important to us, food is the deliverer I’d rather people spend more money on food than on medicine, no disrespect to the medical industry. But why wouldn’t you, it’s more enjoyable all the way around. So for me, kind of the innovative thinking from a novel standpoint of how are we going to attract this new audience into this really healthy way of eating and not make it feel too highbrow or too complicated? or too add whatever your descriptor is? That’s what gets me really excited.
Sophia Maroon 42:20
I love that idea. Especially like, I love food as the ultimate preventative medicine.
Diana Fryc 42:25
Sophia Maroon 42:28
Isn’t veganism growing faster among African American community than any other group? Like, I actually feel the same way about dumbing down what people want to eat, you know, like, gives them challenging flavors, like your toddler challenging. And they’ll be down with it. Like they’re going to want a tater tot too.
Diana Fryc 42:49
But like, yes, like, I mean, it has to be exposed to them. And if you live in an environment where none of that exists, you have to have some wedge something needs to wedge in there first so that people start going, nobody 20 years ago, would have thought snacking on kale chips would have been a great idea. And yet, here we are. Kale is this ginormous part of our diet now both in snacking and real food, but it required somebody to come in there and normalize it.
Sophia Maroon 43:09
Yeah, one of the things that I often think about is like, because when I started selling the dressing we were selling first at the farmers market because paperwork and Whole Foods takes a really long time. So even though it was our first customer six months in between that yeah, selling at the farmers market. And there you get introduced to things you’ve never seen before, all of the bizarre looking Yes, washing vegetables and like. I loved this idea that because I like my dressing so much, I could buy anything, anything they have there and I know that I was going to make it taste good. But you have this kind of like you’re willing to open yourself up to new thing to try new foods. If there’s somewhere in there that feels comfortable, right? Like, okay, if I know I can put Dress It Up on it then like, I know it’s going to be good. Hey, find out like they’d like milk cheese on it or whatever it is throw it on the grill, like just something so that you’re not taking this huge leap and you’re not going from like I don’t know from, like, you don’t have to necessarily go from a glass of water to that mushroom powder beverage. I can’t think of the name of yes, you don’t have to go all at once but like you can’t do baby step it they’re a little bit more imaginative, absolutely inducing new things one at a time.
Diana Fryc 44:44
And that’s when I was talking with Bridget over at Mondelez on the podcast. Also, about a year and a half ago. We talked about the fact that like, let’s create the baby step between the Cheeto and the kale chip. There’s 1000 steps in between let’s get to People on that journey so that it doesn’t feel like a shock to the system to try something’s so new, they can experiment and step back and experiment and step back and move forward. And I think that’s really, really important. And when you can have a product like yours on the market that is like this tastes good, or when it’s real food. That’s a bonus.
Sophia Maroon 45:24
That’s what like somebody said, what’s your innovation? I’m like, well, it’s sort of like the anti-innovation like, yeah, salad dressing got innovated out of reality. Salad Dressing got so innovative, that like, you could never make it in your own house. We’re going to take 20 steps backwards and go back to just a couple real things, all of what you know.
Diana Fryc 45:46
Which is super important right now, I think the biggest movement is, I don’t know if it’s veganism, that is the fastest are where African American and black people are the fastest growing part of veganism, but in plant based in and of itself, plant based whole foods. I think the biggest area of growth is in Latino Latina markets. And then an African American and black communities for sure. But particularly in those groups that are closest to immigrating to the United States, they’re already close to the concept of Whole Foods, because outside of the US, most countries eat a little bit healthier than we do. But that’s a whole another podcast. I think.
Sophia Maroon 46:41
We can learn by taking a step back from that, you’re absolutely right, that label reading is critical. It’s the best thing that people can do. But I also think it is the fastest growing trend in food right now.
Diana Fryc 46:54
Sophia Maroon 46:56
It’s more than more than almost anything is that people are just being so much more educated about what they want.
Diana Fryc 47:03
Yeah. And they want to understand what they’re eating. So the closer we can get to the real the better. Well, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, I know that we’re going to have a bottle of wine sooner than later. There are a couple of questions I like to ask everybody on the show. You’ve already answered the first one. I think, are there any women leaders or rising stars in our industry or not that you would simply like to elevate or admire for the work that they’re doing right now? I know you mentioned Ciara Dilley over there at the Frito Lay family anybody else?
Sophia Maroon 47:42
Well, the one person whose story I just love watching, I love watching this woman grow and she was part of the Pepsi crew as well. Junita Flowers of Junita’s Jar. She makes a cookie. She’s based in Minneapolis, and she had when she Ron one, Stacy’s rise in part it was because her facility was across the street from where George Floyd was murdered. And so she was right there. And at a time when it was hard for her to access her kitchen. Everybody wants to buy local, everybody wants to support local businesses. And what’s great about Junita is that through her affiliation with Stacy’s, she’s now about to launch in Target. She had had exclusively I think, an online and a direct like a business DTC. She had no retail stores at all, and in her company, and now she launches in target in June of this year. And so, keep your eyes open for Junita because she’s a superstar and her cookies are out of this world.
Diana Fryc 48:51
Wonderful. I’m curious what brands or trends you have your eye on and why.
Sophia Maroon 49:05
Well, brands got to have to think like, I could just look in my fridge and tell you what brands although not right now. My fridge is pretty bearish. I’ll tell you though trends like, I mentioned reading labels but I think actually is a really exciting thing, trend that I see more and more and I’m so proud to be part of this in a way in my little way. We’re a B Corp. We just got certified non GMO which is hard. I wish we were organic like I’d love to have an organic product but organic olive oil we’re already the most expensive salad dressing on the market if your organic olive oil as well like we’re going to be laughable.
Diana Fryc 49:45
Yeah, we got a massive and manageable.
Sophia Maroon 49:49
First we’re teaching people about like okay, not diluted 20 servings per container a lot of real good food in there. You can’t get that from a $3 salad dressing. But I think into the fact that people are asking companies to be more than just a company that they’re asking us to be a B Corp. They’re asking us to pay attention to like, how do you treat your employees? How do you determine, how are you part of the community where you live, like, we are really being demanding about the products that we choose? I know I am as a consumer, and I love that it raises me as a business owner to a higher standard. Yeah, we’re paying attention to so much more than we’re paying attention the bottom line, but much more at the same time. And so I think that’s the trend like, because ideally, that just becomes the way of doing business that it’s not, we’ve had a culture we’ve had a especially a consumer culture that was focused on the bottom line exclusively. But I think a world in which companies behave with the same personal responsibilities that individuals have is when we see a really cool marketplace.
Diana Fryc 50:59
Yeah, I love that too, like I said, we’re a B Corp as well and super fan of the movement can’t wait till that just becomes table stakes. And then it doesn’t require a certification. That’s just the way it is.
Sophia Maroon 51:12
Right? Yeah. No, I agree with that. And I sort of feel like it was nice to have the certification but I didn’t have to change a thing. Like, I wouldn’t have been doing it anyway.
Diana Fryc 51:24
Well, we’ve been talking with Sophia Maroon CEO of Dress It Up Dressing. Sophia, where can people learn more about you and your company?
Sophia Maroon 51:33
At dressiupdressing.com or please visit us on Instagram. That’s where we’re mostly on Instagram. Despite the film background, we’re still new to that.
Diana Fryc 51:45
You’ll get there. You’ll get there. Oh, my goodness, thank you so much for your time today. I’m happy to have spent time with you. And I look forward to seeing what’s next. And yeah, I want to thank all of you listeners for your time today. If you liked this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day and we’ll catch you next time on the Gooder Podcast.
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