Years ago when Mary Drennen and Tiffany Vickers Davis were colleagues at the now-shuttered Cooking Light, they used to roll their office chairs over to one another’s desk, planning and daydreaming of what they might like to do in their next careers. Would they be private chefs to movie stars? Could they achieve world-domination creating one spectacular recipe at a time? Would it be possible to edit cookbooks from beach chairs on a remote Greek island?
Fortunately for healthy eaters everywhere, those tete-a-tete conversations eventually evolved into Nourish, a health-conscious meal-delivery service started in 2014. Headquartered here in Birmingham, Nourish meals have heretofore been mostly available as part of a subscription service. Regular customers—located anywhere from Mountain Brook to San Francisco—have fresh meals arrive weekly, direct to their front doors.
Years of recipe development at Cooking Light gave the duo a powerful knowledge base of what Nourish customers would actually order and enjoy. “What we realized over the last five years—which is what we built—was a direct-to-customer model, only sold online, in a subscription format,” Mary notes. “That client is planning ahead—they are going to have six Nourish meals in their fridge and they are covered—this is only about 1 percent of the population.” Through those early years, they were able to test theories and ideas. After all, many people say they want to eat healthier, but when faced with say, a vending machine full of honeybuns and cheese crackers, consumers might not always make the wisest food choices.
Five years of production and data collection led Mary and Tiffany to the conclusion that their subscription-based service, while very successful, could only touch a fraction of their potential customers. “The 99 percent of people we are missing are the people who are going to the grocery store two or three times a week, or maybe even every afternoon to figure out what they are going to have for dinner,” Mary says. “They are non-planners—Tiffany is one! She goes to the store every single day! So, we have been working on our model to see how we can adjust our delivery and reach them.”
Enter The Pig.
Beginning in January of this year, Nourish began selling fully cooked side dishes in three local Piggly Wiggly locations: Crestline, River Run and Mt Laurel. For Mountain Brook native Mary Drennan, this is something of a dream-come-true. “We know Nourish meals will add value to people’s lives,” she says. “We wanted to start with a small product line that we could get into the store that would already be approved to sell, that would be the vegetables we produce in this FDA-approved production facility.” Piggly Wiggly shoppers can find a rotating variety of perfectly proportioned sides like dairy-free creamed spinach and toasted pecan greens beans to round out their dinner plans, or augment that rotisserie chicken already in their grocery cart.
The response to these products has already been such a success, causing the duo to amp up delivery more frequently. They laugh with one another explaining that it is not uncommon to have friends text them from the grab-and-go section of the store, alerting them to empty shelves. While both women are very involved in every aspect of the business, they joke that they can’t always stop what they are doing to deliver a cart full of mashed cauliflower.
Moving into a new facility in the recently rebranded entrepreneurial and innovation hub of downtown called The Switch will officially propel Nourish into the next chapter of their successful operation too. “The new facility will be USDA-certified, meaning we can sell meat-based products produced in that facility,” Mary says. “So, we already know that our chicken salad will be the first item we produce that will be in stores.”
Tiffany is quick to add, “We know our chicken salad is the best in the market. (It’s) very fresh. We cook the chicken right here. We make our own mayonnaise—grapeseed oil, lemon juice, mustard, egg yolks—that’s why we feel like it is the best on the market because it is not incorporating anything else into it that isn’t produced right here. In fact, we make seven varieties of chicken salad, and they are all incredible.”
Production capacity in the new facility also means that they can move toward producing a wider variety of entrees for consumers. In regard to the retail landscape, Tiffany adds, “All grocery stores are reworking the way their stores are laid out. Grab-and-Go is now the largest section in some stores, and that is where you will find Nourish sides. You will also be able to find these sides in the cold case, under the fresh cut meat by the butcher. Think about it: you might select some great steaks for the grill, and pick up some Nourish sides there too. They are super fresh, still just five ingredients. They are what you would have made but you did not want to take or did not have the time to make it yourself.”
Make no mistake about these women, and certainly don’t underestimate their business acumen. It is well-honed and fine-tuned to where they operate seamlessly together. Sitting down to be interviewed together, they easily finish one another’s thoughts and rein each other in when one starts to head down a rabbit hole of conversation, recognizing the beauty in this ebb-and-flow of work life. They just simply work well together.
As Mary adds, “Last year, on the subscription side, was a really hard year for us. We built a brand-new website that didn’t go nearly as well as we wanted it to and then it took us ten months to get that launched and it is still not where we want it to be.” Tiffany continues, “So we pulled back on our marketing until the new website was ready to go. That was a hard year but we were putting all the pieces into place to go into the Piggly Wiggly. And then we got the call about the new production facility space. Bam bam bam.” Mary finishes, “The website launched on the 17th of December, we signed the lease for the new space the first week of January, and then our first Nourish products hit the shelves at The Pig January 3rd. Everything snowballed all at once.”
Mary looks over at Tiffany and then says, “That is where we operate at our most efficient—when we are pushed to the very edge of our capacities—that’s where we shine. It is an entrepreneurial mindset. You can just run all cylinders and really thrive with that mindset. It is when you start to slow down that you get nervous and second-guess yourself.” Tiffany just nods and you know that they really are doing just that, running on all cylinders and poised for even more success.
The response to Nourish sides arriving into three local locations of The Piggly Wiggly has been beyond the expectations of Mary and Tiffany. Instagram photos of the first deliveries had their account blowing up with requests from other Piggly Wiggly stores across the state, wanting to know when they could start selling their sides. Right now, they are committed to fine-tuning their presence in these three stores but will add the Clairmont and Homewood locations within the year. Tiffany, a Homewood resident and loyal shopper at that location notes, “We have brand recognition there so it makes sense to be there sooner rather than later.”