Leslie Danford is the founder and CEO of Vitaminis, a clean-label functional food and beverage brand. She has always been passionate about nutrition, but she is not a foodie. For her, it’s like a math equation, and it’s important to cover all of your nutritional bases. In 2020 she combined her personal interests with her formal business training to launch Vitaminis, the first scale brand in functional food and beverages for families. Previously she worked in beverages and consumer products at large corporations. She earned her MBA from Harvard University and her BA from the University of Chicago.
We had the amazing opportunity of chatting with Leslie Danford to discuss her road to entrepreneurship, Vitaminis Brand and her future plans:
What inspired your career shift and then to create a food and beverage brand?
I’ve always had the urge to start a company. I was quite entrepreneurial even as a seven-year-old. I would write books and then have my mom photocopy the pages I had written and drawn on. I would borrow the money for the photocopies and then try to sell them on the street.
However, I think it was getting laid off that really pushed me to finally start a company. When I worked in beverages as far back as 2015, I started taking notes about companies that I would start or ideas that I thought someone should pursue. I had this list of ideas on my computer, but I didn’t really act on them until I got laid off.
Vitaminis is described as the first scale brand in functional food and beverages. Could you explain what “functional food” means and how Vitaminis is different from traditional juices or beverages?
I think of functional nutrition as tailored nutrition specifically designed to deliver a particular function. Instead of focusing on the inputs, you’re focused on the output, like immune system support or gut health.
Speaking of how Vitaminis is different from traditional food and beverages, first of all, I would like to highlight that Vitaminis has no added sugar or mystery ingredients.
Also, many supplement forms on the market today are not in the form of natural foods or beverages; they are in pill form, which includes a lot of additives that make them easier to manufacture or hold together, or they are in gummy vitamins, which are filled with sugar and can cause cavities when they stick to your teeth. Vitaminis is different from those.
And it is also different from traditional juice shots on the market. It doesn’t require refrigeration, so you can keep the products in your pantry. You don’t have to drink them right away. It’s easier for retailers to store them as well.
Moreover, it doesn’t have strong flavors like ginger, turmeric, and pepper, which many other leading juice shots have. It doesn’t require any mixing or preparation, like other liquid vitamins that might come in large bottles or powdered drink mixes that you have to mix before consumption.
So, the product is very convenient and easy to enjoy, which makes it stand out from what’s available today.
How does Vitaminis simplify the approach to nutrition and make it accessible for people?
Vitaminis offers pre-measured shots; every shot is a serving. So there’s no need to mix, measure, or prep. You don’t have to worry about taking too much or too little; they’re portable and don’t require refrigeration. You can toss them into your purse or a lunchbox, or you can put them in your carry-on bag since they’re less than 3 ounces.
They’re also made with very clean ingredients—100% vegan, allergen-friendly, gluten-free, non-GMO, and dairy-free. So you can take them without having to worry about aggravating various dietary restrictions. You can also use them in many different ways. You can take them straight, mix them in smoothies, or even use them to take your other pills or medicines if you want to do that. So it really simplifies things and can fit into lots of different methods of use, making it very accessible for a wide range of people. They’re easy to swallow and suitable for ages 4 and up, all the way to 100 or more. I think that’s what makes it very unique.
The Immune Support and Gut Health juice shots are at the core of Vitaminis. Can you share more about the key ingredients and nutritional benefits these shots offer, especially in terms of immune support and gut health?
For Immune Support juice shots, the key ingredients are vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium, each playing a vital role in the immune system.
Vitamin C encourages the production and activation of white blood cells, which are essential for defending the body against infections and diseases. It also acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing harmful free radicals in the body, thus protecting immune cells and maintaining their effectiveness. In terms of skin, which serves as a barrier against germs, vitamin C promotes collagen production, enhancing the skin’s resilience to infections and environmental threats.
The second ingredient, zinc, offers several benefits for the immune system. Zinc plays a crucial role in the development and functioning of immune cells, including white blood cells, which form the first line of defense against infections and illnesses. Additionally, zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and mucous membranes, acting as a barrier against pathogens. Adequate zinc levels are associated with a stronger immune response, essential for fighting off colds, flu, and other infections.
The last main ingredient in immune support is magnesium. Magnesium helps regulate the activity of immune cells and reduces inflammation. Also, magnesium supplementation can improve immune function and reduce the risk of respiratory infections.
As for Gut Health juice shots, there are two main ingredients there, and one of them is fiber. Fiber offers numerous benefits. It promotes digestive health by adding bulk to the stool and facilitating its movement through the digestive system. Additionally, it can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Fiber aids in weight management by promoting feelings of fullness, thus reducing overall calorie intake. Furthermore, it supports healthy aging, with some studies showing that a higher fiber intake is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
The other main ingredient in gut health is probiotics, specifically a probiotic called Bacillus coagulans. This probiotic is known for its ability to survive in the highly acidic environment of the stomach, allowing it to reach deep into the intestines. It promotes a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which, in turn, helps enhance immune system function, making it a valuable complement to immune support shots. Probiotics also play a role in weight management by promoting healthy digestion and metabolism. A healthy gut microbiome is also linked to reduced symptoms of allergies and improved mental health. Thus, there are significant benefits to promoting a healthy gut microbiome with the fiber and probiotics found in Vitaminis Gut Health.
Many people struggle with getting enough vitamins and minerals in their diets. How does Vitaminis help individuals bridge the gap in their nutritional intake?
This is definitely true, and there are many reasons for it. Many people suffer from allergies, and as a result, they may not be able to consume yogurt, which is a good source of probiotics. They might also have other food intolerances that limit their dietary options. Consequently, these individuals may benefit from additional vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Other populations, such as pregnant and nursing women, may not be getting everything they need due to the additional strain placed on their bodies. Picky eaters, whether they are children who refuse to eat fruits and vegetables or older adults who struggle with flavors and textures, may not be getting a diverse range of nutrients in their diet. All of these individuals may need to explore other convenient, tasty, and easy ways to meet their nutritional needs, and that’s where Vitaminis comes in.
Vitaminis is convenient; you can drink it straight or put it in a smoothie. It’s pre-measured, tastes delicious, and is very clean and allergen-friendly, making it an easy choice for many people. Furthermore, it offers several benefits compared to other supplement formats, including gummy vitamins that are often filled with sugar and can lead to cavities.
Additionally, many people struggle with chewing and swallowing gummy vitamins, while pills can make some people nauseous. Many populations also face difficulties swallowing pills. In this regard, Vitaminis provides a simple solution for those who are struggling to get enough vitamins and minerals to meet their nutritional needs.
What challenges have you faced in launching and growing Vitaminis, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge has been explaining to the established, whether it’s a retailer, potential investor, or even trade partners like packers or suppliers, what exactly my product is and why it’s going to be successful.
But one thing that has not been as difficult is convincing consumers because I think consumers see the value, especially those who would like to start supplementing their diet. They want better nutrition but haven’t found a great fit with pills, or gummies, or aren’t getting enough from fruits and vegetables. That’s been one thing that has helped—demonstrating consumer demand and showing that the feedback and support from members of the established industry are evidence that it really is going to work.
What message or advice do you have for individuals and families who are looking to improve their nutrition and overall health? How can they incorporate Vitaminis into their daily routines for maximum benefit?
I would just say, do what works for you. There’s no perfect answer, no number one solution, but give some thought to how you’re feeling and what sorts of foods you’re getting in your diet, like fruits, vegetables, and protein—those good things. Think about where you might have some gaps and then do what works for you. If it’s putting a Vitaminis in your lunchbox and that helps you remember to include it in your diet, great. If it’s pouring it into your daily smoothie that you’re making, that works too. If it’s keeping it near your pills and using it to wash down your morning medicines, that also works.
My advice is really just to do whatever works for you. Vitaminis is just one more option for you to consider as you’re rounding out your nutritional needs, and we are excited to help with whatever we can to make it as easy as possible for those trying to meet those needs. Because we know that food is medicine. Food is health. What you put in your body and how you take care of your body to meet your nutritional needs has a huge impact on your health. So, we’re here to make it as easy as we can, in whatever way we can.