Mandell '01 and Bert Cohen '02
to sneeze at
it comes to niche marketing, these Kellogg School alums are
saying a mouthful
seven million Americans who suffer from food allergies, finding
a tasty and safe store-bought snack can be tough.
the need for allergen-free packaged foods that don't skimp
on flavor, Scott Mandell '01 and Bert Cohen '02 (pictured,
l to r) launched Enjoy Life Foods, a Chicago-based bakery
dedicated to improving the lives of its customers one treat
at a time.
and Cohen hatched the idea for Enjoy Life Foods in 2000, as
Kellogg School students. In Prof. Art Frigo's Entrepreneurship
and New Venture Formulation class, they formulated a business
plan they would ultimately pitch to a mock panel of venture
whose mother is on a restricted diet because of multiple sclerosis,
suggested producing a line of products that would be free
of common allergens like gluten, wheat, nuts and dairy.
researching the assignment, Mandell and Cohen realized there
was a tremendous opportunity. According to the National Institutes
of Health, at least 30 million Americans suffer from some
sort of food intolerance, and an estimated one in 133 suffer
from celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by
the intake of gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley
and possibly oats.
too much sense not to move forward with it," says Mandell.
of 2001, Mandell left his job at American National Bank to
redevelop the business plan, buy equipment, assemble an advisory
board and hire employees to develop recipes for a variety
of products, including cookies, bagels and snack bars.
the plan was to outsource production, but realizing the importance
of keeping their products away from contaminants like gluten
and nuts, they decided to construct their own facility.
Life Foods moved into a bakery/warehouse on Chicago's West
Side in March 2002. Mandell and Cohen hired a marketing director,
a director of operations and plant workers, and shipped their
first products in November. Cohen, who also worked at American
National Bank, resigned from that situation and joined Mandell
full time. Today, the company employs 20 people.
says four main attributes separate Enjoy Life Food from the
competition: taste, nutrition, quality and purity. All the
products are produced in a dedicated contaminant-free facility,
are vegetarian and certified kosher, and are free of the eight
common allergens responsible for 90 percent of food allergies.
doesn't taste good and doesn't meet our quality control standards,
we don't want our brand behind it," says Mandell.
customer base is people with celiac disease, but the products
also have gained a following among people on restricted diets
prescribed to treat autism, attention deficit disorder, diabetes
and multiple sclerosis.
Mandell oversees all facets of the business, primarily focusing
on sales and marketing. As CFO, Cohen manages the finances
Mandell peddled Enjoy Life Foods products himself around the
Midwest. Today the goods are available in the Midwest, on
the East Coast and throughout Canada, at natural food groceries
including Whole Foods.
says one of the company's biggest challenges is keeping production
costs down, given that the firm's ingredient costs are two
to three times those of non-natural manufacturers.
are willing to pay a premium, but it's limited --- they can
bake for themselves," says Cohen.
and Cohen expect demand to grow over the next few years as
more doctors start to understand and diagnose food allergies.
They plan to answer that demand with many new products, possibly
including a line of frozen food.
growing quickly, but in a methodical way," says Mandell.
they thoroughly enjoy the hands-on, entrepreneurial nature
of running a business, Mandell and Cohen derive the most satisfaction
from knowing that their products improve the lives of customers.
daily basis we get letters from moms with kids who never got
to eat this stuff before," says Mandell. "That kind of feedback
gives us a big shot of adrenaline."