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The Vitaminis Journey: A Tale of Passion, Perseverance, and Healthy Beverages

In the world of entrepreneurship, some stories are born out of a lifelong dream, while others emerge from unexpected circumstances. Leslie Danford's journey into the world of clean-label functional food and beverage entrepreneurship falls into the latter category. As the founder and CEO of Vitaminis, Leslie has brought to life a brand that combines her passion for nutrition with her formal business training.

 The Early Entrepreneurial Spirit

Leslie's entrepreneurial spirit can be traced back to her childhood. Even as a young child, she displayed a knack for business, creating and selling homemade books on street corners. Her desire to become an entrepreneur stayed with her through college, where she joined the Chicago Entrepreneurial Group, setting the stage for her future endeavors.

However, Leslie's path to entrepreneurship was not straightforward. She pursued a career in finance, attended business school, worked as a consultant, and gained experience in the consumer products industry within large corporations. Despite these detours, her dream of entrepreneurship remained alive.

 Navigating a Year of Challenges

In 2019, Leslie left the beverage industry to join a fast-growing hotel company, only to face the unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She, along with her team and many colleagues, was furloughed. With her children's daycare closed, Leslie found herself thrust into the role of a stay-at-home mom to her three young boys while also searching for a job in an uncertain job market.

The pressures of balancing childcare, job hunting, and navigating a world grappling with the pandemic were immense. It was a period of survival mode, a stark contrast to the professional life Leslie had known.

 From Inspiration to Innovation

During this tumultuous time, Leslie's perspective began to shift. As the primary caregiver and meal planner for her family, she started reevaluating the nutritional value of the foods her family consumed. The pandemic highlighted the importance of a robust immune system, and she realized that there was a gap in the market for a natural beverage that offered immune support without added sugar or preservatives.

Leslie's journey into entrepreneurship wasn't sparked by a single "aha" moment but evolved through experimentation and adaptation. She started by researching nutritional challenges people faced and conducted interviews with friends, family, and colleagues. This research helped shape her vision for Vitaminis.

 Crafting a Unique Beverage

Creating Vitaminis wasn't a straightforward process. Leslie knew what she wanted the product to be—a natural beverage with immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium, free of added sugar and preservatives. However, turning this vision into reality required formulating the right recipe.

Leslie collaborated with a food scientist to develop the perfect formula. It took months of iteration, taste testing, and refining to create a product that met her stringent criteria. Along the way, she had to overcome challenges and communicate her vision clearly to the experts she worked with.

 Seeking the Right Partners

One of the challenges Leslie faced was finding the right partners to help bring her product to life. She needed a co-packer who could produce a shelf-stable beverage in the unique bottle she had selected. This search led her to explore various options and reach out to potential collaborators.

Leslie's journey highlights the importance of networking and persistence when starting a business. She sought advice from other entrepreneurs, leveraged online communities, and conducted personal research to find the right partners who could turn her vision into reality.

 Navigating Packaging and Regulations

Packaging played a crucial role in Vitaminis' branding and success. Leslie worked with experts to design a visually appealing label that also adhered to regulatory guidelines. Ensuring that the product's packaging communicated its value accurately was a crucial step in building trust with consumers.

Furthermore, Leslie made a strategic decision to classify Vitaminis as a beverage rather than a supplement. This choice meant adhering to stringent FDA regulations, which she believed would inspire confidence in her product's quality and safety.

 Launching Amid Personal Challenges

Leslie's entrepreneurial journey intersected with significant personal milestones, including the birth of her fourth child. She faced the pressure of launching her product before her due date, which pushed her to prioritize progress over perfection. This decision allowed her to gather valuable feedback from early customers and make necessary improvements to the product and packaging.

 The Path to Retail

Initially, Leslie started selling Vitaminis online due to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Selling online allowed her to establish direct relationships with customers, gaining insights into their preferences and needs. However, the challenges of scaling without substantial advertising budgets led her to explore retail opportunities.

Navigating the retail landscape was not without its hurdles. Leslie's determination led her to persistently approach store managers, even after initial rejections. She worked closely with one store manager who eventually introduced her product to a local chain, and this grassroots approach gradually expanded her retail presence.

 Building a Brand

Today, Vitaminis is available in various stores, including Fresh Time and independent retailers. Leslie's journey from conceptualizing a product to building a brand has been marked by resilience, adaptability, and unwavering commitment. Her story serves as an inspiring example of how entrepreneurship often requires embracing challenges and finding creative solutions along the way.

Tune into The Wild Feather to hear more inspiring stories from women founders.



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