Too Good Too Handle
Fisher MBA candidate launches popsicle startup focused on good ingredients
Tart berry ginger. Raspcherry. Watermelon rhubarb. These distinctive flavors are entering the Columbus food scene in an unexpected form: popsicles. Produced by the local startup Too Good Eats, these popsicles are carving out a niche in the health food industry in Columbus.
Founded in 2016 by Fisher MBA candidate Anique Russell and her husband Ali, Too Good Eats specializes in healthy and natural frozen pops. In addition to selling the pops in physical retailers such as Hills Downtown Market and City Folks Farm Shop, Too Good Eats offers catering for group events and even a subscription service for personal consumption. In addition to being vegan-friendly and gluten free, the pops have carved out a unique position in the market considering they lack artificial coloring and flavoring and are predominantly made from locally-sourced organic ingredients.
Shifting her focus to healthfulness
Following her graduation from Central State University in early childhood education and special education, Russell began working at a charter school in Cleveland, after which she came to teach at Columbus City Schools. However, the death of three of her relatives due to health-related conditions made her question the impact she wanted to have on her family and community.
“In those traumatic events—three within a certain time period—I was very motivated for my child to really change the health legacy that has been started for generations in my family,” she said. “I was constantly thinking about how I’m not the only family that is having these types of issues. We have generational health crises, so how can we truly be a change agent for other people?”
As such, while teaching at Columbus City, she began to ideate and set the foundations for the venture that would inevitably become Too Good Eats. As Anique and Ali’s son progressed past the baby food stage, Anique was looking for a new way to feed him in a healthy, but “grab and go” fashion. Having realized smoothies were too messy, they focused their efforts on frozen pops, realizing that this would serve their mission of “changing the way families choose healthy.”
"My son inspired the company... I want him to see the hard work that goes into starting a company out of passion.”
Focusing on social entrepreneurship
In order to better learn about the sphere they were entering, Anique completed the SEA (Social Enterprise Accelerator) Change Program, which teaches social entrepreneurs about balancing profitability and social missions. It was at this time that she decided to leave the teaching profession to dedicate herself entirely to the business.
“I started to understand what my patterns were,” she said. “I would get to work, show up as a teacher, do everything I needed to do as a teacher, but any free period, any time that I got to think about growing this business, that’s what I did. It was then that I had to think about my life five to ten years from now: Where do I want to be? Do I still want to be a teacher, or do I want to run a business? In 20 years, do I want to see what Too Good Eats’ full potential would be? I don’t think I would have been able to do that still in a career that wasn’t a business career.”
To answer these questions, she left her job as a teacher to work on the company and enrolled in the full-time MBA program at the Fisher College of Business, allowing her to apply her education to her business in real time. While Ali was responsible for more of the back end of the business, including sourcing and pop making, Anique took over the front end, working on media and retail expansion. With an understanding of their competitive position, she began looking into partnerships with gymnastics studios and workout centers. In addition, she found shelf space in traditional retail markets as well as farmers’ markets, including the one in Clintonville. To appeal to its younger target customer, Too Good Eats even launched a subscription service.
Beating the odds through frozen pops
“We want people to see Too Good Eats as not just your average popsicle,” Anique said. “The research says that the consumption of specialty frozen foods does not decrease in the winter months. […] It just changes where people consume the popsicles at. We launched a subscription service to really encourage people to incorporate our pops in their everyday lifestyle because it’s a healthy choice. That was another way of trying to get people to see frozen pops in a different light.”
Despite the success Too Good Eats has faced in this expansionary phase, it has certainly faced the challenges of being a startup, especially as a black-owned business. Despite Columbus having a strong entrepreneurial community, the black representation in this realm is severely limited. It was often difficult in the early stages to access funding and working capital to reinvest in the growth of the venture.
“When it comes to the food space, there may be a lot of black owned restaurants or caterers,” Anique explained. “But when it comes down to actually having products in stores and especially healthier products, [...] we’re working against a lot of odds here.”
As Anique will be graduating from her MBA program in May of this year, she plans to enter into internal consulting full time, as Ali will then leave his full-time job to dedicate all of his time to the business. In looking towards the next steps, Anique wants to focus on increasing brand awareness in the Columbus community and expanding distribution partners. By strengthening their brand and presence in this manner, they hope to grow to become a nationwide name.
Ultimately, Anique and Ali want to serve as role models for their community and family through Too Good Eats.
“My son inspired the company,” she said. “Not once did I ever think, ‘Oh man, this is a lot of work, I have a kid.’ It really was the opposite […] I want him to see the hard work that goes into starting a company out of passion. I want him to grow up and understand that [his] parents started Too Good Eats because they wanted to change how [he] saw fruits and vegetables—they wanted [him] to grow up to have a healthy lifestyle.”
To learn more about Too Good Eats and try out their gourmet frozen pops, visit toogoodeats.com or @too_good_eats on Instagram.
story: jaret waters design: lily wang photo: anique russell & folchi creative llc