Natural Foods Merchandiser

40 Under 40: Shannon Swanson and Liane Weintraub

Shannon Swanson and Liane Weintraub
Malibu, Calif.
Ages: Swanson, 35; Weintraub, 39

From the time they met a dozen years ago, Shannon Swanson and Liane Weintraub felt like sisters. They bonded instantly over their love of food and family, but it wasn't until more recently that a phone conversation launched them into a new career. Swanson, of the iconic Swanson Frozen Foods family, had graduated from the legendary Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, worked under Wolfgang Puck and opened her own catering business in Southern California. When she became a mom, she struggled to find fresh food to feed her daughter, so she started making her own baby food.

Weintraub's background was in journalism, but through reporting she'd developed a commitment to the environment and protecting children. "As soon as we voiced it, we knew it was what we had to do," she says.

"We were on the phone, two years ago now," Swanson recalls. "I said, 'Let's do it.' The rest is history."

Their organic babyfood company—Tastybaby—was a manifestation of their shared philosophies on more than just food. "Tasty is a whole way of life," Weintraub says. "It embodies making the best possible choices at any given time, that there's a social sense behind all those choices, and there's an attitude of fun that permeates through the whole thing. It's not only doing the right thing. It's doing the right thing in a great, festive, celebratory way."

With both of their children not only choosing, but getting excited about organic, fresh produce, Weintraub and Swanson know their efforts are already paying off.

What are the biggest challenges facing the naturals industry? Swanson: I think the biggest challenge is getting middle America, the people who shop at regular supermarkets, to really understand the value of the natural foods industry. As we've been traveling and promoting, we've seen that people don't really understand what the true benefits are. When they look into it, they become converts. But it does take a lot of education.

What would you like to see change in the naturals industry in the next five years? Weintraub: I think one of the things that Tastybaby has been influential in has been revolutionizing how the naturals industry presents itself from a packaging and look-and-feel standpoint. I think [naturals' packaing] will be changing, and I think that's something kind of exciting.

What do you enjoy most about what you do? Weintraub: I like getting people excited about feeding their kids. It's the level of enthusiasm I have for organics, and when we get other people excited, it's really thrilling.

What was your inspiration when you were getting started? Weintraub: Certainly my own children, and for Shannon, her own children. Our friendship.

What are you most proud of? Swanson: The feedback we're getting from loyal customers and parents of children eating our baby food. We're helping parents celebrate their children and the blessings of eating that high-quality food.

What's the one natural product you can't live without? Weintraub: Besides our own brand, I would say that my kitchen is probably better than 90 percent organic food. I can't even imagine not having that access or that option.

What's next for you? Swanson: Tastybaby is going to expand into some family foods. And Tastybaby is a part of Tasty brand, which is really set to be a lifestyle brand that promotes health and well-being. We're going to be expanding into products that aren't necessarily food, including organic clothing. There's a lot on the horizon.

What keeps you going on a tough day? Weintraub: Shannon. The two of us really support each other a lot, and there's something really wonderful about being partners with your best friend. Everybody counseled us it would be the worst mistake. It would jeopardize our friendship. It hasn't been that way at all. Each of us has tough days at different times, and the other one is the cheerleader for the one who needs it. It's been an incredibly productive and special relationship.

If Ben & Jerry's named a flavor after you, what would it be? Swanson: Tasty Ladies.

What are you afraid of? Swanson: I think I'm afraid of not doing my best, of letting someone down.

If you had one piece of advice for natural products retailers, what would it be? Weintraub: It would be to look beyond the typical beige packaging that one traditionally has seen with products in this category. Just because something looks mainstream or conventional doesn't mean it isn't of an equally high quality as any other natural product. Just because it has the eye candy appeal of a soft drink or some kind of snack food doesn't mean it isn't both natural and organic, and even planet-friendly. That's one of the things we run into a lot.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 36

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