When Denise Woodard started growing her allergy-friendly cookie company, Partake Foods, she had almost 10 years of experience working at Coca-Cola. But, she said, that food industry knowledge didn’t open many doors for her Black-owned business.
“Women, particularly women of color, are under-funded, and because I had no connection to the venture capital world, I knocked on a lot of doors [and] spent a good amount of time sending LinkedIn messages to ask questions and request introductions,” Denise told The FruitGuys via email.
Denise didn’t give up: She kick-started her business in 2016, selling cookies to New York City grocery stores from her car. The thought that her cookies could help kids with food allergies — like her daughter, Vivienne — kept her going when things got tough.
Her footwork paid off: In 2018, the southwest region of Whole Foods Market started selling Partake’s cookies. Today, Partake offers allergy-friendly cookies, graham crackers, and breakfast mixes nationwide.
The FruitGuys is featuring Partake and a fellow Black- and woman-owned brand, Pipcorn, for Black History Month in February 2024. Their snacks will be in every Thoughtful Snack Box, exposing them to thousands of new eaters. They’ll also be available by the case for fans.
Supporting Black-owned businesses matters — not just during Black History Month, but every day of the year — because it’s a simple but effective way to help address a long-term disparity.
The Black-Owned Business Gap
In 2020, Black people made up 14.2% of the U.S. population, but they only accounted for 2.4% of all business owners. The Brookings Institute reports that if Black business ownership keeps growing at the pace it is today, it could take more than 250 years for those percentages to align.
Luckily, the historic gap is closing. The number of Black-owned businesses in the U.S. jumped 13.64% from 2017 to 2020. Overall business growth during that time was much slower, measuring just .53%.
By celebrating Partake and Pipcorn, The FruitGuys hopes to help both businesses continue growing. Each company has a unique mission and entrepreneurial story. Here’s a quick look at what makes these two Black-owned businesses so special.
Partake: Feeding Every Hungry Child
As you’ve already read, Denise Woodard founded Partake with her then 1-year-old daughter in mind. Vivienne is allergic to nuts, eggs, bananas, and corn, which makes everything from birthday parties to airport trips a source of stress for her and her mom.
“Vivi was my first child, Partake was like my second,” Denise said, adding that her daughter is now 8 years old. “I am so proud of what she’s been able to be a part of. Not only has she witnessed her mom grow an idea into a loved brand, but she’s seen that when you have a great idea that meets a real need, you work hard and with integrity, and you surround yourself with great people, then wonderful things can happen.”
Partake’s cookies look like any other grab-and-go grocery store treat — but they’re far from ordinary. Every box is certified gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, Orthodox Union Kosher, and free from the top nine allergens. Their flavors range from classics like Crunchy Chocolate Chip (Denise’s favorite) to seasonal delights like Soft-Baked Chocolate Peppermint.
That said, Partake is about much more than cookies. The company is a Certified B Corp that believes in “radical inclusivity,” which Denise defines as “pushing for transformative changes that create a truly equitable and accessible society.”
Part of that mission is fighting food insecurity. Denise is both Black and Asian-American, and she’s passionate about feeding every hungry child, whether they’re struggling with allergies or economic disadvantages.
About 1 in every 17 American children has a diagnosed food allergy and almost 1 in 5 children live in food-insecure households. When you break those statistics down by race, Black children are the most likely to have a food allergy and/or live with either low or very low food security. Partake partners with organizations like #HashtagLunchbag, Eat. Learn. Play., and The Birthday Party Project to provide food and resources to food-insecure kids and families.
Pipcorn: Tiny Corn Does Mighty Good
Pipcorn is a Black-owned business on a mission to support heirloom crops and sustainable agriculture. The extra crunch and bold flavor in Pipcorn’s snacks (including miniature popcorn, cheese balls, “crunchies,” and twists) come from heirloom corn, which produces tiny chompable kernels.
Two of Pipcorn’s co-founders, Jen and Jeff Martin, discovered the corn in 2012 when Jen brought some home from the Chicago health food store where she worked. At the end of a long day of packing for a move, the siblings popped the corn and fell head-over-heels in love with it. They eventually tracked it back to its source — an Indiana farmer with a stash of heirloom seeds — and founded Pipcorn to share it with the world.
Jen and Jeff teamed up with Jeff’s wife, Teresa Tsou, to create a thriving Black-, AAPI-, and LGBTQ-owned company that prioritizes sustainability. More than a decade later, Pipcorn still sources eco-friendly, open-pollinated heirloom corn from family farmers.
“Open pollination is important because it keeps our crops genetically diverse,” the Pipcorn team explains on their website. “Over many generations, open-pollinated seeds adapt to local climates and growing conditions, strengthening the resiliency of the genetic line. Growing open-pollinated plants also keeps us from losing unique varieties — like our mini heirloom popcorn! — at a time when our agricultural biodiversity is shrinking.”
On top of their environmental benefits, Pipcorn’s heirloom corn packs more fiber and antioxidants than conventional corn into a smaller package. The company’s snacks are non-GMO, gluten-free, and sold in fun flavors like white cheddar and cinnamon sugar.
Black Entrepreneurs Pay It Forward
In addition to fighting food insecurity, preserving heirlooms, and pushing for a more sustainable future, Pipcorn and Partake also pay their success forward by giving fellow Black entrepreneurs a leg up.
Each month, Pipcorn spotlights a different Black business owner on its blog and social media pages “to amplify awareness for Black-founded brands.” They’ve featured Delisa and Zach Harper of Funky Mello, Ibraheem Basir of A Dozen Cousins, Lilian Umurungi-Jung of MUMGRY, and more.
Meanwhile, Partake launched an annual fellowship program called Black Futures Fellowship to further the careers of active historically Black college or university (HBCU) students.
“I founded Black Futures Fellowship, now a 501(c)(3), in 2020 when I was building out the Partake team and found the applicant pool lacked diversity,” Denise said. “Thinking back to my own career, to date, I realized that in many rooms I was often the only woman — particularly the only woman of color.”
Denise had a breakthrough thought: “If I can educate, inspire, and give students the opportunities in CPG (consumer packaged goods) food and beverage, perhaps over time the diversity of the industry can more directly represent the people it serves.”
Black Futures Fellowship matches active HBCU students with paid internships at CPG food and beverage companies, and so far, they’ve placed 20 fellows.
How You Can Celebrate Black History Month
You can support Pipcorn and Partake by trying their delicious products. Celebrate Black History Month this February with their mouth-watering cookies, graham crackers, cheese balls, and cinnamon twists!
If you already get The FruitGuys’ Thoughtful Snack Boxes, keep an eye out for Pipcorn and/or Partake’s products in your boxes each week of February 2024. You can also purchase their products by the case to show your support.