We are excited to feature one of our 2022 Women of Color Incubator Pitch Competition winners. These up-and-coming Black women business owners are sure to inspire and motivate other young Black women entrepreneurs, and all of us, to pursue their own business ventures.
Meet Nathalia Johnson, managing director of Essential Foods Jamaica Ltd and 1st Place Awardee from Florida A&M University.
What inspired you to start your business?
I actually got the idea for this business from my father. Because of my training in Food Chemistry, he asked if I couldn’t find a way to solve the problem of people biting on pimento grains in their food and come up with a product that would allow them to have an easy way to add this flavor to their meals. I took his suggestion and got to work formulating and developing the products, and that was the start of Essential Foods Jamaica Ltd and Thalia’s.
What has the entrepreneurship journey looked like for you so far?
The entrepreneurship journey has been both difficult and rewarding, and at times required patience. The process of developing the products took some time, as about 6 months to a year was spent mixing and formulating the products to get a prototype, and then another year spent fine tuning the products and packaging, satisfying regulatory requirements and organizing production. The next steps which involved approaching stores required persistence and definitely caused me to step out of my comfort zone. I did hear ‘no’ many times but eventually getting the products into store locations was a great feeling. The journey also included attending many trade shows and events, introducing and spreading the word about the products to customers as well as operating at times with limited capital.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a young female entrepreneur?
One of the most rewarding parts has been the feedback I hear from customers who absolutely love our products, and some of whom say they can’t function in the kitchen now without it. Hearing that the products we created from scratch resonates with customers, is definitely rewarding.
Where do you see yourself in one year? How about 5 years?
In one year, I hope to have expanded our infused cooking oil line to include other flavors and types of oils. I’d like to begin distribution in the U.S., select supermarkets, ethnic grocers, and online. In 5 years, I would love to have Essential Foods supplying delicious, flavored oils and other ethnic food products to its customers through online sales and sit on the shelf of at least 4 major grocery retail chains in the U.S. We would also have begun distribution to at least 3 other countries outside of the United States and Jamaica. The business should also be properly systemized and organized within the 1-5 year period.
What advice would you give to other female founders just starting their business?
I would tell them that you have to have an iron stomach when going into business to be able to withstand the risk and the uncertainty and the potential criticism that you are going to face, as well as to develop the ability to bounce back easily from any rejection that you encounter, refocus and keep moving forward.
How would you describe your experience in the WOC Incubator Program?
It was a great experience being able to interact with like-minded, aspiring business owners as well as other outstanding professionals in their field, and gain access to the critical knowledge provided in the program, and exposure to certain business principles that before I was completely unaware of.
What did you learn during the WOC Incubator program that will help you grow your business?
The design thinking approach taught in the program is something that will help my business moving forward. The idea of curating and designing a product around the core desires of the customer is something that will guide our modifications to existing products and development of products we create in the future. The business model canvas that was taught also caused me to think much more deeply about my business, and the customers we are serving and structuring what we do to better reach them.
What’s next for you and your business?
The next step for us is completing any improvements to existing products based on the design thinking approach, the creation of new products for addition to our line and begin sales in the U.S. market through online and brick and mortar locations.