Ericka Mabrie & Alexa Lombardo join us to talk all things healthy snacks! Who knew you could eat Lotus seeds! They founded Zippy Pantry, a new place to find your favorite snacks and we talk entrepreneurship and yummy foods to try!
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Alice: Welcome. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Ericka and Alexa: Thanks for having us.
Alice: Yeah, we are so excited to have you. Okay, so we kind of started off with somewhat softball easy questions. What is your favorite show that you have binged during COVID?
Ericka: Definitely Bridgerton.
Alexa: Definitely. Hands down. No questions.
Ericka: I watched it with my Mom. I watched it with Alexa. I watched it with multiple friends. I think I have seen it at least thirty times.
Alexa: Literally. One of those things in Netflix, I can find a new show or I can watch Bridgerton?
Ericka: You are right. You are right. It has definitely become the comfort show of COVID. I think that the period piece just makes you feel like you are not here. No one is wearing masks, everyone is wearing these great dresses.
Alexa: Plus Rege is so hot.
Ericka: There is so much fun.
Alice: I have only watched it once but now I am inspired. I need to watch it now.
Ericka: I think especially you, you would love it with all of the costumes–
Alice: Oh it is great.
Ericka: — with the accents.
Alice: It is everything. Those are the snacks that I want. All of those period foods can. Can I fill up my pantry?
Ericka: Maybe we could do that – a Bridgerton collection for the second season, the snacks.
Alice: Do not even tempt me. Can you talk about a favorite story from a trip you have taken before COVID.
Ericka: It is so hard because I feel the concept of a trip is so foreign to me now. Let me think. Last year I took a little trip with my family and we just spent about a week at a beach house. So it is nice to be all together and get to get to see everyone and feel somewhat normal and just connect with my family because I have not seen them in a while. So that is really what my favorite memory from a recent trip.
Alexa: I took a trip to– I went to Amsterdam for the first time last year with actually one of our other really good friends who worked with us at Naturopathica when we were working there together. And it was just like very spontaneous, very last minute, and we kind of just went with the flow and we had just the best time.
And I just remember walking around and really feeling– it was a very pivotal time in my life. And I just remember at one point I grabbed her and I was like, I can literally feel the joy in my heart it was so powerful. I was just so happy. And I just grabbed her and I was like, I am overwhelmed by the amount of joy I feel right now. And it was in November of last year so it was the last trip I took before COVID happened. The last real trip, international trip, I took before COVID. So it was great. I am glad I got to have that trip. But times have definitely changed. There are still moments like that, but they are a little few and far between.
Ericka: We are trying to figure out where we should go when this is over and we are vaccinated.
Alexa: We are planning lots of trips.
Alice: Okay. Where is the first place you would go?
Ericka: We were talking maybe Berlin, we were talking–
Alexa: We have been talking about Copenhagen–
Alexa: –Japan. Japan is definitely. I do not know, that might actually be the first but it depends, though. It depends on when the world reopens. I became a British citizen during COVID because my mom, I finally made my mom, y mom was born there, I finally made her get her British passport and so I could get mine.
Alice: That is so cool.
Alexa: And so now I can go whenever and I am like, maybe we will just go there at any point in time. So, I do not know, we will see.
Alice: Amazing. Wow. And can you talk about where you guys are living now?
Ericka: Yeah. We are both in Brooklyn now in Alexa’s apartment currently. So I live in Bed Stuy.
Alexa: And I am in right on the border of East Williamsburg and Bushwick. So right near Roberta’s actually.
Alice: Cool, okay. Oh cool. Great. And what is your favorite part about Brooklyn? Do you guys have a favorite restaurant? I know you are all, you are both foodies.
Ericka: My favorite restaurant… Probably I love Sottocasa in Boerum Hill if they have my favorite pizza. But my favorite restaurant in the city is got to be the Loring Place in the West Village. Miss Alice you already know I am obsessed with that place. I do not need any excuse to go there. Well, why I live in Brooklyn is that it is so open. I love all, I love the trees, I love the friendliness of the people, I love the slower pace. For me, it is a good balance because I love living in New York, but living in Manhattan is really not my speed. So it is good to be able to come home to Brooklyn.
Alexa: I actually moved back to the city in December of last year or of 2019 not 2020, and so it is interesting because it changed a lot in the three years that I was gone. But I knew that I wanted to move back to Brooklyn. I just, again, I just love the openness of it. The buildings are shorter so it just feels like–
Ericka: You see more sky.
Alexa: –easier. But I do not know, I mean definitely in my neighborhood, the restaurant that I probably freak with the most is Roberta’s. And it is delicious but I do not know, I feel like I have not gotten to explore it as much as I would have. Because of… But in Manhattan, one of my favorite restaurants closed because of a bunch of Me Too drama which was The Spotted Pig, which was a really great tavern.
Alice: The Spotted Pig closed?
Alexa: Yeah. Well, they was embroiled in some, in a lot of scandal.
Alexa: Mario Batali and google it, it is a lot. And then they had some chefs that went in. It was not the quality went down. But it was always a great vibe in there. And then I do not know, I just have not really figures out my new favorite spot yet, but I am a creature of habit now. I used to be I have to go to the best new restaurant and now I just love to find a cozy place where I feel comfortable. So I end up going this year, the places I have gone to the most is actually the Standard East Village, the Standard Cafe is my jam. I find a corner booth or a corner table, and I just sit there for hours. And whether they have had outdoor dining only or they would open in for dining periodically, I just it is really great and lovely there and they know me and it is my spot.
Alice: That is so nice. That is so good to have that feeling and that familiarity with people.
Alexa: Yeah, especially these days.
Ericka: All cozy.
Alice: Can you guys talk a little bit about your food journey and coming to Zippy. So you guys have had very different backgrounds. Ericka and Alexa, you both worked in the beauty industry. Can you talk a little bit about that transition?
Ericka: Yeah. So for me, I think my food journey started with my family and I come from a lot of bakers, and a lot of home cooks, and so was always around food, always had… Every time I would go over to my Nana’s house, there will always be food. And she would always offer, always ask for dinner, and there was just always delicious food.
And so I started baking from a really young age and I am into that a lot, especially with my aunt. But then when I went off to to college, then I was on the Dining Plan and going to Leo’s and was just not feeling the best after just eating dining hall food. And I lived on this amazing floor where a lot of people love to cook and a lot of people were teaching me because I had really been baking up until that point. And so that was when I really got into it making more meals for myself and I also entertaining and hosting and be able to share food with people. And so I think that was what I love the most about making food is sharing it with, sharing with my friends, and with my family.
And then once I graduated, I ended up working in the beauty industry. Was that L’Oreal for a bit and really loved the ethos of making people feel good and making it easy for people to take moments for themselves. And at that point in the industry, at that time in the industry, we were seeing this shift in beauty going towards a more holistic wellness approach that involved supplements, but also just involved food.
And so just starting to see this overlap between food and beauty and health and wellness. And so was that a smaller more holistic health company for a while and I think that just started further to maintain this different kind of attachment to food.
Alexa: Exactly. And that was where we met but I will kind of go back a little bit for me. I grew up in a similar environment where I was just surrounded by food all the time. My parents, my mom was half English & half Ukrainian, which meant there were always really rich meals around. And my dad was half Irish, half Italian. So there was always pasta and meatballs and so no matter what, there was always a lot of food.
And my parents were kind of they were the matriarch and the patriarch of the family. So every holiday was at our house and my mom was such a homemaker. So she was always baking and she was also a school teacher so there was always, it was almost like she took that on as a project. And so she would be making stuff for others. But also she was always receiving extra cookies as gifts and so there was just always food around.
And for me eventually, it actually became a little bit problematic. And when I got to Georgetown and there was just food available all the time, I actually struggled with eating and experienced eating disorder behaviors. And still it is not something that ever goes away and I had to actually, it is something that I actually had to really start to think about like, okay, I do not necessarily have to live the way that my family lived. And food does not need to have the same… I can kind of carve out my own relationship with food and it was definitely a real struggle for me for a while. What is my relationship with food? And I had to really define it for myself. And I do not have to necessarily like the same things that my family likes.
And so my my relationship with food got really tumultuous for a while and I did not necessarily like the same things that my parents liked. And I did not love cooking and I did not love baking and all of that. And so it was weird because that was the stuff that I grew up around. But I really loved snacking and I really loved eating smaller meals.
And so I had to really figure out like, okay, that is something that is not intuitive for my family and how do I marry these two things but make my parents feel comfortable with that? And so it was definitely a process and then eventually, after figuring it out for myself, and it is definitely still a journey and it never kind of goes away, but you learn and you work and you work really hard at it.
I entered adulthood and I sort of figure out what works for me. And I ended up in the beauty industry as well and you know the beauty industry, I think as Ericka said, started to really have a lot of overlap with food and I found that to be actually really comforting. The fact that beauty and food were intertwined because I always felt like for me, beauty, especially when it came to my skin, there was always, no matter what creams I put on, it was always what I ate and how I was sleeping and my mental health, that was what was showing up on my face. It was not no matter what cream I put on, it was not any of that. And the amount of concealer I needed was determined by what I was eating or how I was sleeping. So that was, as you know, this wellness movement came to be more predominant. I was really responding to that.
And actually I worked for Lauder and then I worked for Unilever for a while for some of these bigger brands, and when it was sort of the emergence of clean beauty and sort of this larger wellness movement came about, I actually left. I started my own consulting business and then I started consulting for Naturopathica, which is where we met. And there, we were just seeing this trend become more than a trend and become sort of a way of life for a lot of people and seeing this opportunity become even bigger.
Alice: Wow, that is awesome. And how did that translate into Zippy and what actually is Zippy Pantry? So all our listeners can learn about it.
Ericka: So Zippy Pantry is an online marketplace that has emerging brands and is really supposed to be an antidote to all of the the conversations and the anxiety that people can have around food. So we want the experience to be fun, and inclusive, and accessible, and really bright so that everyone who who visits the site can find a snack for a pantry staple or new beverage to try that they like and really feel joy around eating,, and joy around discovering these new brands.
Alexa: So what we found is that the wellness industry can actually be really stressful. And healthy eating and can be really overwhelming and it can be really hard to figure out. What are the right products for me? What is the right diet for me? And diet culture has just become really confusing and also very whitewashed and very sort of one note and can feel very exclusive.
And we wanted to just blow all of that up and make it feel way more inclusive, very welcoming and inviting no matter where you are in your journey in terms of health, wellness, or healthy eating. For everyone, if you like to cook, if you do not like to cook, if you are new to healthy eating, or if you have been eating healthily for years, and no matter how you define it.
So some people define it based off of certain dietary needs, some people define it based off of the allergies that they have, some people define it just based off of the foods they like. And so we wanted it to be however you define what healthy means to you.
Now we have a certain set of ingredients standards and then we have a certain set of packaging standards because not only do we want our products to be healthy for people, but we want them to be protective of the planet and we want them to be at least rooted in ideals of or goals for sustainability. Now, that is not necessarily completely possible right now, but there is a sustainability journey for all of our products so that we are kind of protecting the planet. So we definitely try to uphold those goals but we do not enforce them upon people. And that is the difference with Zippy.
Whereas when you look at some of these other sites, it can feel pretty intimidating and that elicits feelings of guilt or shame or fear. And that is not what we are about. We are about fun, and joy, and really making healthy, accessible, and enjoyable.
Alice: And I find that really fun about your website, too. It is really easy to search like I am gluten-free so I can press the little button and see all of the snacks and pantry items that I can eat, which is really fun. But like all of those different options that you have of vegan, I do not know the other ones because I need to eat more healthy snack.
Alexa: Oh it is true. If you are all of those things, right you can be gluten-free, paleo, vegan and you can filter by, you can select all of those filters simultaneously and then we will show you what we have. But our assortment is pretty tight because we really were very selective in terms of the brands. We only support emerging brands and none of our brands are really available at a national scale yet because we really want to be a launch pad for our brands.
We invite them onto Zippy and in the hopes that they will get picked up by a Whole Foods or a Kroger and they will be seen by them and then they will end up at a more national distribution level. But they will be on Zippy first and that people will find them and love them. And we want to support our brands, we provide them with guidance when people give us feedback. We have really strong relationships with our founders and that is another big part of what we do.
An important aspect is this idea of community and we did not even really talk about that because what we are is first and foremost in marketplace. But even bigger than that is this idea of a community and we select every product based off of a vetting process that we go through but also we have a community of our “taste buds” who are our taste testers. They are a group of they are dietitians they are foodies, they are food experts but they taste test every product, they tell us what they think. So there is this authenticity there, but then we also give feedback to the founders. So every product that you see on the site is really thoughtfully chosen and also to fit certain dietary needs. So we try to have a really balanced assortment and it is not driven by by newness. We do not bring on hundreds of new products all the time. It is a tight assortment and we do not have a ton of products that you will find elsewhere. You can really only find them in certain places.
Alice: Yeah. I mean, I have never heard of Pulp chips before or Cactus chips. It is very exciting. What is the strangest product that you have tested or tried?
Alexa: Oh man. I do not know. Maybe like the [inaudible]
Ericka: Yeah, the amaranth cactus sticks.
Alexa: The amaranth cactus sticks. Those were interesting. they are really these crispy cactus sticks. They are really good. My favorite product. that is not that weird, but they are mind-blowingly good are these cactus chips that you would not believe that they are cactus. But these Tia Lupita Cactus chips, they are not that weird though. I do not know, I am trying to think… That is the best weird product because they are cactus chips and you would not believe.
Ericka: I think the strangest thing I tried was we have this fish jerky and I never seen or heard of fish jerky before. But I really like seafood a lot.
Alexa: You know what I bet people would think it is weird, but we do not think it is that weird anymore, is mushroom jerky. Oh my god.
Ericka: It is so good.
Alexa: Oh my god. That is so good. It’s sold out everywhere so we do not even have it on the side anymore.
Ericka: Not right now.
Alexa: But oh my god. Because they were on Shark Tank: Pan’s Mushroom jerky. It is literally my favorite thing in the world now.
Ericka: It is so good.
Alexa: it is so good.
Ericka: It’s so good. And it tastes so much like met and I am not a huge meat eater and so I am not a big jerky fan, but I can finish a bag of that in five minutes. It is so good.
Alexa: Yeah, we have got some cool jerky, kelp jerky. Either one. Yeah. Yeah.
Alice: Well, that is–
Alexa: Jerky. It is what is for dinner?
Alice: We all have to try that sometime when it is back to [inaudible]
Ericka: Yeah. We will send an email about it.
Alice: Oh perfect.
Alexa: You will hear about it.
Alice: Why should people shop at Zippy?
Alexa: I feel like there is a few reasons. I think first of all to support emerging brands and to support I think this idea of building a community that is for people, by people, and supporting actual individuals behind these brands and their stories. This is not big business. This is not venture-backed. These are people who are actually trying to solve problems. They care about the products that they are putting out there and a lot of them, we have twenty-five percent of our brands are founded by people of color, twenty-five percent of them, or I think it is more than that. Now, what is it, thirty? Thirty percent?
Ericka: It is thirty.
Alexa: People of color. Twenty-five percent are made from up cycled ingredients meaning ingredients that would have been thrown into the trash that they are repurposing and turning into product. Over seventy percent are female founded. These are real people, real stories behind these brands, and we are giving them a shot at increased exposure and we are giving them real feedback. We are just committed to the community around us. We are highly, highly engaged with the groups in Brooklyn who are supporting local food systems. This is not a multinational organization. We are real people and we care about real people. So that is reason number one. What else would you say?
Ericka: What else would I say? I think those are exactly what I was thinking, too, is that just there are real people who are so passionate about food. And I think that every couple of years or so, scandals come out about big food and it is like, these are founders who are not taking shortcuts, who really do want to make healthy eating more enjoyable, that really want to introduce or foster real food and make connections with people. And so I think that it is that personal touch that really makes Zippy different and just knowing that you are supporting individuals. And I think that we have seen with COVID that small businesses have been so negatively affected and people are looking to shop small and looking to lend their support to their communities more. And so this is a perfect way to do that.
Alexa: I think the other thing is that when you reach out to anyone at Zippy, you are getting a member, I mean our team is four people. We are all women. You are getting one of us and you are going to get one of us reaching out to one of the founders and you are going to get an answer from one of us instantly. You are getting real answers from real people who really care. So I think there is this level of high-touch service and thoughtfulness that you are not going to get elsewhere and it is because of the pride that we take in what we are doing. But also this element of we actually do want this to be a community and we do want this to be something where you can feel like you are part of that community. And so any time you engage with this brand, we want it to feel like you want to keep engaging. And so every interaction we hope to make meaningful.
Alice: That is amazing. And how can people find out about Zippy and how can they see all the pantry foods that they need to eat?
Ericka: They can absolutely check out zippypantry.com. That is our website where you can see all the snacks. You can sign up for our email list, our newsletter to get the latest on what we are doing, new launches, founder stories, ingredient spotlights, all of that good stuff. Or follow us on Instagram @zippypantry. And we also have a Spotify channel where you can hear our favorite Tunes. It is Zippy Pantry or Zippy Pantry radio. And you can also soon find us on TikTok. We are going to be testing that out soon. But as E said, zippypantry.com and @zippypantry on Instagram, our main channels. And we really take pride in our content. We have a lot of fun making it. It is highly unpolished but that is what makes it real.
Alice: That is amazing. Wow. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was great to get to talk to you both.
Ericka: It was awesome talking with you, too. Thanks so much.
Alexa: Thank you. Thanks for having us.