In her Detroit office, Stacy Goldberg, RN ’97/MPH ’99, points to a giant table overflowing in a colorful potpourri of product samples—everything from organic gold tea and flax cereal with chia seeds to gluten-free crackers, sunbutter spread, and gluten-free flour. Goldberg rifles through the stash of healthy options, caressing the crinkly wrappers, plucking an energy bar, hydration drink, and chip package out of the pile like they’re gold. With her dark brown eyes lighting up behind her glasses, she says, “We’ve got foods that taste good.”
“We” is the bustling infant enterprise Savorfull. Launched in June 2012, it’s one of the many new businesses springing up in Detroit, helping to create a vibrant entrepreneurial community in the city. As Savorfull CEO, Goldberg sets up manufacturers of healthy foods free from common allergens and artificial ingredients with retailers, eateries, and other clients seeking such products.
Goldberg’s primary goal is to dispel the notion that “free-from foods” taste like cardboard. And long term? Within five years she says she wants to be recognized as the leading food-product nutrition expert in the free-from world. “I envision people being able to go into stadiums, schools, their workplaces, and major fitness centers and have a healthful, free-from choice that tastes good.”
Tweaking the recipe
When Goldberg, now 37, was a senior in high school, her father was diagnosed with high cholesterol. At that point her mother began cutting back on fried foods, cooking more lean meats and vegetables, and incorporating healthier oils into the family’s diet. That experience spurred Goldberg to focus on a career in nutrition while she earned her nursing degree at U-M.
During a clinical rotation at the Oakland County Health Department, Goldberg educated pregnant, low-income women about nutrition, which sparked a light bulb, she says. “I liked learning about food and understanding the relationship between pregnancy and nutrition.”
She went on to earn a master’s degree in public health specializing in human nutrition, and spent a dozen years as a practicing nurse and nutrition consultant. Her clients included individuals, corporations, gyms, and athletic clubs. But Goldberg ultimately realized that counseling wasn’t scaleable. She wanted to reach more people. She wanted something bigger.
That’s when another light bulb sparked. Almost every phone call Goldberg was getting seemed to be from patients suffering a gluten, peanut, or dairy allergy, or from individuals looking to live a free-from lifestyle. She sensed an opportunity exploding from a consumer perspective. In fact, the market for gluten-free foods alone is expected to hit $42 billion over the next few years, according to the consumer market research firm Packaged Facts.
Non-genetically modified products will be the next big trend, Goldberg predicts. “We don’t have enough information to tell us that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) aren’t harmful, so we need to be on the proactive side.” As a result, she researches and sells non-GMO products to clients (like yoga studios) who prefer GMO-free fare.
A taste for business
Initially, Savorfull’s business model was focused on online nutritional counseling, then on a monthly subscription-based model that delivered samples of free-from foods to consumers’ doorsteps. The business began to evolve when Goldberg became part of Bizdom, an entrepreneurial business accelerator started by Dan Gilbert, chairman/founder of Quicken Loans Inc. Savorfull was one of two businesses out of 300 selected for business support and mentoring. As a result Goldberg enjoys access to the resources of Bizdom and the Quicken Loans family of companies. Bizdom, meanwhile, has an equity stake in the company in return for a share of the profits.
As the Savorfull concept developed, Goldberg found success selling to the business sector, with a client list of corporations, food service companies, restaurants, schools, and yoga studios. So she revised her plan and recast the company in the matchmaker role, marketing herself to smaller producers that might sell their products at farmers’ markets, for example, and offering them access to a larger distribution channel. Savorfull’s clients now include company cafeterias, fitness facilities, medical systems, and retail outlets. Goldberg also partnered with vending companies seeking to provide free-from products in their snack machines.
Since founding the business, Goldberg has gained unique access to the world of food production, visiting facilities that manufacture the products she carries. “I’ve learned it’s not as simple as you think to take a food from recipe to production,” she says. She has found errors in nutritional labeling and says a food producer has to be extremely savvy to include every nutritional element on its packaging. The items she selects for Savorfull tend to have shorter shelf lives since they’re minimally processed, so thorough testing is a must. Cross contamination is an ongoing hazard if food producers are not cleaning equipment properly.
These are just some of the challenges Goldberg faces as an entrepreneur and nutritional consultant in the free-from food business. She works most days, plus weekends and holidays, making sales calls and meeting with large companies and organizations to assess their nutritional needs. She researches, sources, and purchases healthy items from a wide range of food producers and resells them to her growing client base.
Currently she’s working with Eurest/Compass Group, the food service company that runs the cafeteria owned by Dan Gilbert, to find healthy foods. Goldberg also has a presence at the Eurest Compass Group Cafeteria, where the Savorfull retail section is located. As the face of the company, she manages Savorfull’s social media profile, blogging and tweeting and pinning about the free-from food industry. Her staff includes four interns and her mother, Phyllis Canvasser, who is chief operating officer and co-founder.
Spend just a little time with this energetic entrepreneur and you soon see she personifies the healthy lifestyle she advocates, exercising an hour a day, participating in vinyasa yoga, pilates, barre, walking, running, playing tennis, or biking. At home, healthy meals are the norm, but as a busy working mother, Goldberg remains a realist. “I try to make healthful choices but I don’t say ‘no’ all the time or use food as a reward.” What she does do is shun food with artificial sweeteners, colors, or dyes. And though she tried veganism for a while, she found it didn’t agree with her body. Instead, she considers herself a “flexitarian” and an advocate of clean eating.
Through it all, Goldberg continues to clear the path toward a free-from, healthy world of food. When clients seek her advice, she revisits that matchmaker metaphor and suggests this simple strategy: “Marry the foods that love you back; break up with the ones that don’t.”