Himalaya: Listen. Learn. Grow.
Investigating Vegan Life With Patricia Kathleen
Today I am speaking with Isabelle Steichen. Isabelle Steichen grew up in Luxembourg and moved from Europe to the US in 2013. She also transitioned to a plant based diet the same year and her decision was driven by ethical, environmental and heath reasons. As a long time passionate vegan, certified in plant based nutrition from e-Cornell, as well as the founder of the Plantiful Podcast, she is now combining her startup background with her desire to spread plant based eating with her new business Lupii. Lupii is here to help people live plantiful lives through the power of the small-but-mighty lupini bean, which is not only good for humans but also for mama nature. www.getlupii.comThis series features conversations I conducted with individuals who have dedicated their work and lives to Vegan research, businesses, art, and society. This podcast series is hosted by Patricia Kathleen and Wilde Agency Media. TRANSCRIPTION* Please note this is an automated transcription, please excuse any errors or typos [00:00:00] In this episode, I had the opportunity to sit down with founder, certified plant based nutritionists and podcasters Isabella Steichen key points addressed where Isabella's company, Lupi, a company producing products based on the powerful Lapine Bean. Isabella and I also discussed the various terms and subsequent conditions involved in the plant based food industries and how this translates to the current state of the worldwide covered 19 pandemic. Stay tuned for my fascinating chat with Isabella Steichen. [00:00:39] My name is Patricia Kathleen. And this series features interviews and conversations I conduct with experts from food and fashion to tech and agriculture, from medicine and science to health and humanitarian arenas. The dialog captured here is part of our ongoing effort to host transparent and honest rhetoric. For those of you who, like myself, find great value in hearing the expertize and opinions of individuals who have dedicated their work and lives to their ideals. If you're enjoying these podcasts, be sure to check out our subsequent series that dove deep into specific areas such as founders and entrepreneurs. Fasting and roundtable topics they can be found on our Web site. Patricia Kathleen ICOM, where you can also join our newsletter. You can also subscribe to all of our series on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Pod Being and YouTube. Thanks for listening. Now let's start the conversation. [00:01:36] Hi, everyone, and welcome back. I'm your host, Patricia. [00:01:38] And today I'm sitting down with Isabella Steichen. She's the founder, a certified plant based nutritionist and podcast. Or you can find out more about the information we talk about today. And her company on Get Lupi dot com. That is g. T. L. You p. I dot com. Welcome, Isabel. [00:01:56] Hey, it's nice to be here. I'm excited. Thank you for having me. [00:01:59] Absolutely. I'm excited to talk to you as well. I like your company. We talked off the record briefly about it. The Web site presence and everything else. I think it's really cool what you're doing with it and for everyone listening. I will read a quick bio on his web before I do that. A roadmap of today's podcast, in case you would like to forecast the trajectory of our rhetoric. We'll first be looking at Isabelle's academic and professional background and personal plant based journey leading up to launching her company. And then we will directly turn into unpacking Lupi and the plant. It's a plant based protein for planet based people. The company itself has products will unpack that. We'll also get into the logistics of the who, what, when, where, how and why for all of you nerdy entrepreneurs and founders out there that care about those back end deals. And then we will also look at the ethos of the company and the impetus for launching it. And within that, we'll look at rhetoric regarding the responsibility, environmentally stable questions, as well as the questions we're getting. The pandemic of covered 19 and how those interplay with a lot of the ethos around companies like this. And then we'll wrap everything up with goals that the company and Isabella herself is looking to towards for the next one to three years. As promised, a quick bio on Isabel before I start prepping, peppering her with questions. Isabel Steichen grew up in Luxembourg and moved from Europe to the US in 2013. She also transition to a plant based diet. The same year. And her decision was driven by ethical, environmental and health reasons. Since moving to New York City, Isabelle worked closely with founding teams for various early stage RBC backed startups in the food and tech space. Her first role was at Kitchen Surfing and on Demand Chef Service Startup, where she launched the business in new markets and scaled the OnDemand chef team. Most recently, Isabelle ran the operations and customer service team at SOYER, a Brooklyn based education software company. As a longtime, passionate Vegan certified in plant based nutrition from Cornell, as well as the founder of the Plentiful podcast, she is now combining her startup background with her desire to spread plant based eating with her new business. Loopy Loopy is here to help people live. Plant four lives through their power of the small but mighty Lapine Bean, which is not only good for humans but also for momma nature. So and again, the website is Get Lupi dot com. [00:04:31] So Isabelle, before we launch into Get Lupi, I'm hoping that you can kind of draw us an academic background and early professional life as well as like your plant Vaisse journey and how that all kind of led you into launching Get Lupi. [00:04:52] Yeah, totally. So as you mentioned earlier, I actually grew up in Luxembourg, which is a small little country in Europe, and went to elementary and high school there. And then I moved to France to go and get an undergrad degree. And then also I went to grad school in France. So I studied political science and econ during undergrad. And I actually did a study abroad here in the United States during undergrad. I went to Hamilton College, which is a small liberal arts school upstate New York. So I got kind of a feel for this state then for American education while I was there. [00:05:32] And then I decided to go back to Paris and pursue a master's degree in urban planning. And so urban planning is like all about city design and thinking about how people behave and live in urban spaces and knowing that, you know, the world is moving towards more urbanization. That was something that I was always really interested. I'm passionate about and thinking about cities from a holistic perspective. And so that's what I went to school for. And then I ended up moving to the states in 2013. So right when I finished grad school, that was motivated by the fact that I had met my husband's undergrad. When I studied abroad of Hamilton, I met him. He's American. He went to school here. We started dating. And we did long distance for a while. [00:06:20] And then I you know, I had studied urban planning and had actually specialized on North American cities. So it felt like moving to New York was a great way for me to bring or kind of start my professional career, but also be with the person who I love. And so I ended up moving here and I worked in urban planning for about a year or so. I worked for a nonprofit that was managing one of the neighborhoods around Bryant Park, as well as the park itself. And I really loved the team there and I loved the mission. But I felt I felt that I wanted something very different. And I had a few friends that were working for startups. And so I started getting really curious about that. You know, the education space in Europe is different, but also the professional space when it comes to startups innovation. It's just very different. I think it's very much based on how kids are raised in Europe. And I think there's just maybe different incentives around innovation, but it's just not as evolved as it is in the States. And so I was very intrigued by that. [00:07:27] And I ended up getting my first job at an early stage tech food startup called Kitchen Surfing, as you mentioned in the bio. It was. Did the service change the business more? I mean, to change the business model a few times. But it was in a nutshell, like an On-Demand chef service. So we were basically deploying chefs on a weekly night and sending them to people's homes and having them cook meals there with like 30, 40 minutes and then move on to the next person's home. So it was this really interesting tech enabled food startup that was very specific to the New York City market, actually, because nowhere else, I think, in the world. Is there a need for like this, like rapid service that that exists in New York. So was there for a while and helped to scale the team and expand the business into new markets. And really, I would say that was I called the startup bucket there because I really loved being part of the early stage team. I loved how I saw that anything and everything I was doing had a direct impact on the outcome of the business and the trajectory of the business. And I was employee, I think there were seven or eight there. [00:08:37] And so I saw the team grow and double and triple in size and move from like a townhouse and go like Brooklyn, which is very far from Manhattan to, you know, a fancy office in Soho. And so really saw the company go through very different stages. [00:08:55] And that really made me so much more excited even about being part of a startup. And just seeing the direct impact of your work on an everyday basis like that. And so I ended up spending my career on the last year years for various different startups, mostly actually in the tech space. And most recently I was with Sawyer, which is an amazing online platform and software company for education businesses. And I learned a ton about product development and tech and coding and things like that that I never thought I would ever be exposed to. [00:09:34] And so I think that would be the second piece that I love about startups is that, you know, you get hired for a specific role, but really you do a lot of different things and you grow in two different roles throughout the life span of the company and really evolve and learn new skills. And that's something that. I truly appreciate. I like the fact that you can really acquire very new skill sets when you're exposed to things that, you know, just come up like they do in a startup. Well, you have to be nimble and adapt and have a growth mindset. And so. Yeah. So that's a little bit about my my professional background in a nutshell. And then you asked about my plan based journey. And I think it's very much linked to my whole trajectory, especially since I moved to the States. I decide to go Vegan when I moved here. And it wasn't coincidental in the sense that I had been playing or playing with the thought of totally cutting out animal products for a while. [00:10:37] But I grew up in a I wouldn't say very traditional European family. And I had a French grandmother and cheese was an essential part of our culture. And so where a lot of meat dishes. But I personally always struggled with the concept of eating animals and why we were making a distinction between the animals that we loved, like our dogs and cats and the animals that we did end up on our plate. And so I always wanted to be vegetarian or be getting. But growing up with my family, that just was not an option. And then when I moved out from home to France for undergrad and grad school, I pretty much was vegetarian because I was cooking for myself. And then I started just getting more and more into researching, you know, the sustainability aspects and the economic aspects of animal agriculture and realized that especially in the states, it's a it's a you know, it's up a scale that is just very hard. In terms of animal ethics. [00:11:40] And so I put all of that together and I decided to go vegan when I move to New York because I felt culturally more free to express that part of my identity in a in a city that is so diverse and so open minded, where so many people follow different diets. There was no judgment associated to me eating plant based or being Vegan. And so took that leap. And then I really went on a journey, I want to say, because I started learning more and more about it and I started this podcast is like a side project to my full time job. And my husband, who, you know, is grew up in a very traditional American diet, ended up going vegan a few years ago, totally kind of motivated by by by himself coming coming to it more from the health angle. And so I ended up doing a plant based nutrition certification to learn more about plant based eating and health and put all of that together. I realized that, you know, one of the things that I want to do is how people empower them to make more mindful choices when it comes to our food, mindful choices for themselves, for their health, but also for the environment and the sustainability of our planet. And so it all kind of came together and culminated with me launching Lupi because I was able to bring my startup background, an early, early stage company background, and combine that with this deep passion that I have for her to plan a space. [00:13:12] Yeah, well, so here in lies. I always wait for my guests to drop it first. I try to see how long I can go. But you did enter into mix the two terms and you said that, you know, you became Vegan. [00:13:26] And I always use the term plant based, particularly with people who have companies such as yourself, because that seems to be the chosen term. But before we get into any more dialog about how the two of us see or don't see the term, similarly, how do you define Vegan and how do you define plant based? [00:13:44] Yeah, that's a great question. So I would call Lupi a plant based company, because we are making foods out of plants and we are not here to prescribe any ethical convictions on people. I do think that veganism has an ethical connotation. And I would refer to myself as being an ethical vegan in the sense that I'm trying to avoid plen animal based products in all areas of my life. So I don't wear leather or wool and I don't eat any animal products. And that's very important to me. On a personal level. But that I feel is very much a personal choice. And what we do with Lupi is help people who are trying to eat more clients, include more plants in a sustainable way into their diets. And so I think that's where I see the distinction. I see that there is an ethical connotation of veganism and a more healthy connotation of plant based eating. I am both right. I'm a fan base leader. I care about it for health perspectives. But I also from a health perspective. But I'm also vegan. I want to add here that these terms and terminology can be problematic at times because it seems very binary. It seems like, you know, my co-founder, Ali, always talks about how she like I actually don't want a label because I find that limiting the sentence. And I think she's very right about that, because I think you need to think about this as a spectrum and not as a binary choice. And so I think what turns a lot of people off is when you hear Vegan, you think you have to be like militant or do everything in a prescribed way. And I just don't think that that is what veganism should be about or plumpness eating should be about. [00:15:35] Yeah. And likewise, on the other end of that pendulum is people who feel comforted by the umbrella. You know, plant bases become one of the top 10 key marketing terms for every industry, like fortified with vitamin D was in the 80s, you know, and so people are saying things are plant based on their label if it has any kind of a vegetable in it. [00:15:56] And it could be a product that is strictly not Vegan. And worse, it could have preservatives. It's starting to become this very wishy washy, untrustworthy term. And so I think it's it's it's cool for me because I love the opportunity to make people redefine themselves and to look into how people are defining their terms. And it's causing a lot of questions to come out. And so and I didn't you know, having one term to describe 16 things is really complicated. So having Vegan plant based in 50 more doesn't bug me. But not having people question or define themselves, I think is where a lot of the inconsistencies are coming from. So I'm glad that you did. And since you used Lupi as an example, let's kind of climb into what it is you and I talked about my first observations when I hit your website. I was, you know, immediately presented with iconography and we call it art back in the day. But pictures and photographs that for me had this kind of throwback feel to the 70s, you have a great deal of representation of different ethnic groups and generations and things like that. And it's all based around this product that you have. So can you start off by telling us what the products are that you create and then we'll get into the logistics of the company? [00:17:15] Yeah, totally. Yeah. So. So Lupi is here to help people live plant for life. So whatever that means for you, no matter if you're trying to be 100, some plant base or if you're just dabbling. We want to be here for you and we want to be inclusive in that way. And so I think when you point out how the website speaks to you from this inclusiveness perspective, I think that's something that feels really that we feel very strongly about, is that we don't want to alienate people and we want to meet people where they are. We launched Lupi in January. So we are we are celebrating company and we launched our first suite of products, which are two would be bite's. [00:17:53] And so to be by it's this little scrap or Secombe in three different flavors currently taking your lemon cranberry peanut butter counted and with better cinnamon raisin or the three different flavors. [00:18:05] And that's the first product of hopefully many. So how we see Lupi is we see it as a platform for this incredible ingredient called Luchini B, which is kind of underrated and undiscovered here in the United States. So it's an ingredient that is originally from Europe, from the Mediterranean region in Italy. And Greece has been consuming lapine beans for, I want to say centuries. But it's something that I had been researching and thinking a lot about. How how does nobody interstate's know about this being that happens to be to being with the highest concentration of pompous protein. When I know that a lot of kids are struggling with nutrition and specifically with protein when it comes to eating Clockface. And so we are here to hero this ingredient and build a platform for it through. Through Luby and through what we are doing. [00:18:59] Very cool. So when you went into product development, seems tricky. [00:19:04] It seems like a completely different beast when it comes to, you know, Vegan worlds and things like that. How long did it take you guys to source everything that you needed to from the manufacturer and distributing and things of that nature? Are you in? I mean, brick and mortar, everyone, you know, it hasn't really been a hot topic for it over the past couple of months due to reasons of the pandemic. Are you in brick and mortar stores or did you start with a completely virtual presence? [00:19:31] Yes, these are great questions. So starting with your last question, first, our initial launch strategy was only focused on physical distribution. So we were in about 40 accounts in the New York City area, mostly independent health stores and independent grocery stores. And then we were selling directly to office spaces as well as yoga studios engines. And so a lot of that has been obviously put on hold due to what's going on in the world. And to react quickly, shift gears and focus on our online distribution. [00:20:03] And we always have the website. We always had an online storage was in our focus as it is a very distinct channel. And so we just took our playbook for it out the window and created a new one and focused on that. And so we are now available mostly through the Web site. And then we saw on some other platforms like Amazon and Bubble and some some other online retailers. In terms of your question of how long has this all, how long does this all take? So I want to maybe put it together and like the different steps and pieces. So I had been really fascinated by this ingredient. [00:20:40] And I really mean that, like reading everything and talking to everyone who knew anything about it. Well, both people in the States as well as abroad for a few years now. And I have been playing around with it in my kitchen and making different variations of recipes and loopy, loopy bites originally was actually two rounds and it were this little around balls that I'd made them all types of different flavors. [00:21:06] And I did sell them for a split second at a store. I'd like a Vegan. She started at Vegan specialty store in Brooklyn and down the street for me, just to kind of test like, was there a market? Was there interest? And it all kind of came together in fall of 2018 where I decided to leave my last full time job. And through various kind of opportunities, I was connected with a startup studio in Manhattan called Human Ventures and Day. They like to invest in two entrepreneurs and businesses that have a positive impact on humans on the planet and the environment. And so I we connected with a founder, Heather, and clearly I saw that there was an opportunity for us to work together. [00:21:51] So I basically started working with them and and kind of took this idea. That was Luby before it was Lupi. [00:22:04] And it's a bunch of market research and made everything a little bit tighter and then realized that if I wanted to launch a food business, I needed to get some expertize from the food world and food space. And so luckily, I was introduced to Ali, who's today my co-founder. I'm through a kind of connection. We both I remember when we grab coffee for the first time on a Saturday morning, we were both, like, not really thinking much of it. And when we met, it was kind of like love at first sight. We we share a passion for eating the both plant based leaders. And she was ready to leave her job and jumped into this with me. And her background is in traditional CPG. She's worked for Pepsi and for a few other bigger companies and the more corporate space and has been mostly focused on branding and marketing. So my ops experience in startups and her experience and branding and marketing was a great combination. So we got together and that's when we really started functioning the recipe and scaling it from my home kitchen to a commercial kitchen to then a Coke hopper. And that's when we started building up the brand and the supply chain. [00:23:19] So we did find over the last year, you know, we officially start working together in May of last year. And so for six months, we were just heads down focused on all of these moving pieces. And then we ended up launching come January 1st of this year. [00:23:34] Fantastic. Congratulations. Did you guys take funding or was it bootstrapped? [00:23:38] Yeah, we did. To take some Creecy funding from Human Ventures to UPS to do that. And they were super excited about the idea. So they invested. But, you know, we are a scrappy early stage startup. It's just Ali and myself. And then we have a really amazing person on a team, Meghan, who is doing all of our social and so much more. And we were getting some help with fulfillment. But that's basically it. We're still a really small team and trying to be really, really scrappy. [00:24:09] Absolutely. [00:24:10] I'm wondering with especially with startups, you know, it feels like because of the scrappiness, you're talking about this kind of Alleycat mentality. A lot of people have. [00:24:22] I find that younger the company, the more apt and prone they are to addressing, you know, a conversation or a dialog between their company or their product and customers regarding Kofod and and in particular, you know, plant based Vegan companies have this very delicate but important narrative with that, because, you know, the analysis, regardless of where you stand on the history of the epithet or the pandemic or any of that which this podcast is not endeavor to look into, what it has done for the majority of civilization has caused people to reanalyzed food sources and and health and really look at what health is in this latter day and what it means to someone and your company being this company based on this very healthful product. You know, the Lupino being and I'm wondering if you have had a chance to you and your co-founder, Ali, if you guys have spoken about messaging that for your customer moving forward. [00:25:25] Yeah, I mean, I think health is is an essential part of what we are trying to do with Lupi. You know, what makes us different is not only that we're using Lapine beans, which are these incredibly powerful, which fish Latricia's and little beans, but also the fact that we're using the whole being an albar. There is no other protein bar that it's using the whole bean. And why is that important? Because you get all the fiber so you don't get something super process of a stripped of nutrition. You get the real whole ingredients. And there has been a trend over the last few years and I see a trend. But really, it's a movement towards eating more real food. And that's really what we're spending for. So all of our bars in five or six ingredients, you can identify all of them. They are simple. They are, you know, straightforward. There's nothing hidden in it. And so I think that that's really essential. And we we have found that our consumers really, truly resonate with the fact that it's a wholesome product, that it's made out of whole real ingredients. In a way, it's something you could make in your kitchen at home. And I think that's one of the value crops when it comes to the pandemic. [00:26:33] I think what's interesting this time around is that, you know, people are suffering obviously economically and financially, not only from a health perspective, but it's very different than what happened, for example, in 2008, I think, where, you know, there was a lot. [00:26:50] It was a big economic impact on people's lives. Then people will stop spending money on certain things in those times. What we've seen here is there's actually been a focus of consumers, of spending money on healthy, real, wholesome products. And it's almost like people are rewarding themselves and they are investing into their health. And I think it's one because we are in 2020 and people. There has been a shift. Like I said, in terms of people's mindset around eating better, we'll hold some food and realizing it can be delicious and convenient and still really good for you. But also, this pandemic, you know, it is health related. It is all about how, you know, how can you protect yourself as much as possible from the impact. And I think investing into your health, eating good food, taking care of your sleep and your stress levels is something that you can do and you have control over. And I think consumers are really resonating with that understanding. [00:27:49] Yeah, absolutely. And to that end, I'm wondering, have you guys looked down the road in your goal of making? Have you thought about future products or future flavors on the product? [00:27:58] Has it was any of that ever written into, like the beginning plans of what you're doing? And if so, can you enumerate on what they are? [00:28:04] Yeah, totally. So, yes, we have a lot of ideas, a lot of thoughts and a lot of things in the making. Obviously, you know, we are Starbucks, so we we're always changing things and adapting to the environment. We're definitely thinking about a few new flavors in the future. So that's definitely in the pipeline. We have been talking and thinking about other products, and I think that will be very much driven by what our consumers want because we want to co create this company and Lupi and the products with our consumers. But the cool thing is Luchini beans are very versatile and they can be adapted and used in different applications. So there's definitely a lot of opportunity there. [00:28:49] Yeah, it's an exciting time for you guys. And as things, you know, as hopefully as as a cure comes forward from the pandemic or an immunization, at the very least we can return and, you know, we can start looking forward to new products from you guys. That's going to be exciting. Isabel, we are out of time. But I want to say thank you so much for speaking with us about your company and all of your Vegan knowledge. I really do appreciate it and appreciate your time today. [00:29:19] Thank you so much for having me. It was really awesome talking to you. [00:29:22] Absolutely. For everyone listening, we've been speaking with Isabel Steichen. She's founder, a certified plant based nutritionist and podcast. Or you can find out more about her and her company on Get Lupi dot com. Thank you for giving us your time today until we speak again next time. [00:29:39] Remember to eat clean and responsibly, stay in love with the world and always bet on yourself. Such as?