STORY BY SHELBY DEERING ✷ PHOTOGRAPHS BY JONAS JUNGBLUT
In life, some of us are lucky to have one of those giant, lightning-bolt aha moments, when we suddenly realize exactly what we’re supposed to do in life. For Elizabeth Stein, the Boulder, Colorado-based CEO and Founder of superfoods company Purely Elizabeth, it happened at a triathlon expo.
A little over a decade ago, Elizabeth, a holistic nutrition counselor, was standing at an expo table and working to drum up nutrition clients by handing out homemade muffins made with chia, almond flour, coconut oil, and coconut sugar. “No one cared about signing up for my nutrition practice,” she says. “They just wanted to know where they could purchase the delicious muffins.”
That’s when the jolt of electricity hit her: She would start a natural foods company. One year later, with no knowledge of how to start a company, Purely Elizabeth was born—albeit with a learning curve. At the start, her biggest struggles surrounded finding and managing a “co-packer” (an outside company that packages products) and maintaining a consistent, quality product. “These are all things that still to this day keep me up at night,” Elizabeth says. “It’s so hard to find the right partner who treats your baby like it’s their baby. While we made mistakes in this area in the beginning, I always like to think that every mistake has a lesson, and a lot of times you don’t learn those lessons until you personally go through them and experience all the motions and emotions of it.”
Most entrepreneurs will tell you, finding a partner that offers a yin to your yang is critical. Elizabeth brought to the table a thorough knowledge of nourishing eats (she had quit her job to attend the Institute of Integrative Nutrition) and an appreciation of healthy food. “I’ve always had an interest in good food, whether that meant eating it, caring about it, or creating it,” she says. “From a young age, I was a pretty healthy eater and developed an interest in better-for-you foods. My mom was definitely into a holistic view of nutrition long before we even knew what that was.”
Elizabeth’s appreciation grew into a deep respect in her early 20s, when she started doing marathons and triathlons. “Everything for me shifted at that time, when I started to see the effect of living purely,” she says.
That’s what led her to become a holistic nutrition counselor and, eventually, the founder of her now-thriving company—although she describes the company’s beginning as “very lean.” Purely Elizabeth initially launched in 2009 with three muffin mixes and a pancake mix. But those products laid the groundwork for values the brand still holds dear. “The mixes were made with many of the same nutrient-rich ingredients that we use today,” she says, “such as almond flour, chia, hemp, flax, and no added sugar. From day one, our products were certified gluten-free and made with organic ingredients.”
Then, she caught a big break early on. “I was very lucky in the beginning to get incredible publicity from DailyCandy [the email newsletter popular in the early 2000s],” she says. “They found out about my products when a friend posted my new business on Facebook. Someone she knew worked at DailyCandy. From that one press hit, I received a ton of inbound PR inquiries and quickly hired a freelance PR person to help with the outreach. At that time, PR was definitely more traditional, so it was solely reaching out to editors versus using influencers and social media.”
The company then began specializing in their now-famous Ancient Grain Granola—it currently holds the title as the number one granola brand in the natural channel. “Our granola recipe is the very same one that I first made in my New York apartment in 2011,” Elizabeth says. “I never tweaked the recipe from the first time I made it and launched that a few months later.”
Concocting a granola recipe from a small kitchen isn’t all that far from how the company operates now. “We continue to make our foods in artisanal small batches to ensure our great flavor and texture,” she says.
It’s in those small batches that Elizabeth continues to carry out her original mission. “My goal was simple. I wanted to provide healthier, better-tasting alternatives to what was currently on the market,” she says. “At the time, I was learning about incredibly powerful superfoods like quinoa, chia seeds, and coconut oil and realized they weren’t being incorporated into products on grocery store shelves, so I set out to re-create the most delicious food products using these innovative, nutrient-rich ingredients.”
Elizabeth’s 5 Rules To Launch a Business
Elizabeth certainly knows a thing or two about running a successful company. If you, too, have dreams of a new business dancing in your head, here are her top tips.
In the beginning: I didn’t have a business plan; I didn’t delay because all my ducks weren’t in a row; I didn’t allow myself to get in my own way. When I talk to other entrepreneurs, I remind them of this. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.
From day one, I knew nothing about the food industry, so I had a million questions. I kept a notebook of all the questions that would come up on a daily basis around starting and running a startup food business. I would use this when networking with those in the industry. It ranged from simple questions, like, ‘How do you get a UPC code?’ to more complex questions like, ‘How does a broker and distributor work?’
I had to quickly figure out the ins and outs as I got great press and sales from the get-go. It was a real learning opportunity for me — that anything is possible and you don’t have to have all the answers. Just put one foot in front of the other and move it forward each day.
Take risks and know that it’s okay to make mistakes and fail. From day one, starting this business was an incredible risk! But the point that I remember in the early days that felt the ‘riskiest’ was transitioning from producing our muffin and pancake mixes in a commercial kitchen to outsourcing production to a co-packer in Vermont. I vividly remember writing down an advantages/disadvantages list to help me decide if I should take the leap or not.
Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you to take risks and not question you for doing something crazy. My mom has been my biggest cheerleader, believing in the business when it was merely nothing.
In 2014, the company got another boost in the form of financing, getting the nod from one of the largest food companies around. “We took our first outside investment from 301 Inc., the General Mills investment group,” Elizabeth says. “They’ve been an incredible partner.”
Fast-forward to 2020. Purely Elizabeth is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The brand has achieved Certified B Corporation status, signifying a for-profit company that balances profit with a commitment to social and environmental causes. And the company is pulling in over $50 million in annual revenue while staying true to their values. As Elizabeth explains, “We source organic and Fair-Trade ingredients whenever possible and are very mindful about supporting our partners. For example, our coconut sugar is sourced from a community of 900 farms in Java. We have gotten to know these Fair-Trade farmers and support their traditional villages. We are proud to be their largest U.S. purchaser.”
Nowadays, the company has moved beyond its first offerings of muffin mix, pancake mix, and granola to even more tastes-good-and-good-for-you foods, like the Cauli Hot Cereal, the first grain-free hot cereal made with a base of freeze-dried diced cauliflower, coconut, chia, and flax, all presented in a handy on-the-go cup. Or the Collagen Protein Oats, a boosted superfood oat cup with grass-fed collagen and a NuttZo Nut Butter Squeeze Pack that yields 11 grams of protein per cup.
Purely Elizabeth is in the business of superfoods, utilizing them to their full nutritional potential and making them taste good in the process, things like coconut oil, probiotics, MCT oil, dragon fruit, and blue spirulina.
In fall of this year, the company will launch their Probiotic Honey Almond Granola with 50% less sugar. “While all of our products are low in sugar and use better-for-you sweeteners like coconut sugar, we were still getting consumers who were looking for lower sugar granola options,” Elizabeth says. Also on deck is a Bread + Muffin Mix, which can be whipped up into zucchini, pumpkin, blueberry, and banana bread.
In addition to creating products that weave in ancient grains, the company provides many grain-free options as well. “That means, we don’t use any grains and instead use things like nuts and seeds to replace grains. Oftentimes, a grain-free diet is less inflammatory in the body, which leads to better overall health,” Elizabeth says.
Non-genetically-modified products are also top priority for the company, for well-known reasons. “GMOs are thought to be unsafe in our bodies,” Elizabeth says, “disrupting our normal bodily functions.”
Elizabeth walks the walk, incorporating her brand’s nutritional practices into her life. After all, her name is baked into the name of her company. Although she sticks to good nutrition, she avoids putting labels on her approach to food. “I am personally not grain-free. My nutrition philosophy has always come from a place of balance,” she says. “Today, my diet focuses on limiting inflammatory foods and having a mostly plant-based approach. Food has the incredible power to heal and be used as medicine.”
Grilled Zucchini Ravioli with Pumpkin Cashew “Ricotta”
Yield: 4 servings
“This pumpkin cashew cheese is the perfect seasonal flavor—I like to use this in a lasagna, too,” Elizabeth says.
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups raw cashews
1 can pumpkin puree
1 garlic clove
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Add water as necessary to blend
Using a mandolin slicer, slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin 1/8 inch slices.
Transfer slices to a large bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper to coat.
Preheat a grill over medium-high heat.
Lay the slices of zucchini out over the grates and grill until light char marks are visible.
Flip the zucchini over and cook until the other side is charred as well.
Remove the grilled zucchini from the grill and place on a plate.
Meanwhile, to make “ricotta,” in a high-speed blender, add cashews, pumpkin puree, garlic, lemon, salt, olive oil, and blend until smooth (add water as needed).
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Using a cast iron skillet, cover the bottom of the skillet with the tomatoes.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Once the zucchini slices have cooled to the touch, place 1 tablespoon “ricotta” at the end of each zucchini slice and roll.
Repeat process until all the zucchini slices are rolled and are covering the cherry tomatoes.
Place skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until tomatoes are warm and soft and ricotta is warm. Sprinkle on chopped walnuts for flavor.
Cauli Mushroom Risotto
Yield: 2 servings
This cauliflower-centric take on risotto is both tasty and packed with nutrition. And, it’s vegan to boot. “The cashew cream sauce is a great base for any dairy-free, cheesy sauce replacement,” Elizabeth says.
Cashew Cream Ingredients:
1 cup cashews, soaked
1/4 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup water
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
8 ounces mushrooms (such as maitake or shiitake), chopped
16 ounces cauliflower rice
1 cup vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
In a high-speed blender, add Cashew Cream ingredients and blend until smooth.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over low to medium heat, add olive oil and shallots.
Sauté for 3-5 minutes or until browned.
Add mushrooms and continue to sauté for 5 to 7 minutes or until browned.
Add “cauli” rice and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.
In increments of 1/4 cup, add vegetable broth and sauté until absorbed.
Continue to add broth until 1 cup has been added.
Add desired amount of Cashew Cream and stir to combine.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Raw Pumpkin Cheesecake
YIELD: 12 bars
Just in time for fall, you can make one of Elizabeth’s favorite recipes using her granola. She says, “You can change it up with any of our granolas for different seasonal flavor combinations.”
1 bag Purely Elizabeth Honey Almond Probiotic Granola
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 1/2 cups cashews, soaked 3 hours in water
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
Grind the crust ingredients together in a food processor.
Press the dough into a tart pan and freeze.
Meanwhile, in a high-speed blender, add filling ingredients and blend until smooth.
Pour over the crust and freeze until set.
Cinnamon Pear Oatmeal Bake
Yield: 12 bars
Perfect for breakfast or on-the-go healthy snacks, Elizabeth loves this recipe because you can swap in any seasonal fruits. “It would be great with peaches in the summer!” she says.
1 10-ounce pouch Purely Elizabeth Superfood Oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped, divided
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 cups pears, diced, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, baking powder, sea salt, and 1/4 cup nuts.
Add in the maple syrup, milk, 1 cup of pears, and vanilla extract.
Stir to evenly combine.
Pour into an 8×8 pan and spread evenly.
Sprinkle the rest of the nuts and pears across the top.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the oat mixture is set and wet ingredients are absorbed.