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Wholefoods & Wholesome Folk: Deliciously Ella

Published: 22/05/2024

We spoke to Ella, founder of Deliciously Ella, about her journey from ill health to recovery and success.

Hey Ella! Your journey is inspiring. Can you share a bit about your background and what led you to start Deliciously Ella?
In 2011, following my second year at university, I suddenly became very unwell. I spent the next few months in and out of the hospital, having countless scans, tests and procedures. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, alongside a few other syndromes.

It was a chronic, relatively invisible illness that meant I spent most of the next year in bed or confined to my house, taking all sorts of drugs, peaking at 25 different drugs a day, none of which made a tangible difference. I was only 21 at this point and it took me to absolute rock bottom.

That was when I began a period of research into what else could help me, looking at the science of nutrition, and the latest research on how our food choices impact our health. So, in May 2012, I changed my diet overnight, swapping my standard western diet – lots of quick, convenience foods, not much fruit and veg – for a wholefood, plant-based diet.

Twelve years ago, the question of whether your diet could affect your health was not at all part of the mainstream conversation about health in this country, and I was met with a huge amount of scepticism. It also meant there was a lack of resources, and I couldn’t find the healthy, delicious, plant-based recipes I wanted, so I set about creating them myself and Deliciously Ella was born. I couldn’t cook when I started, so I was very much jumping in at the deep end!

Going back to the beginning, what was the aha moment that made you say, “I’m going to start my own business”?
Initially, I was focused solely on improving my own health, but then it was all about supporting the community that started building around Deliciously Ella. Initially, the intention wasn’t to build a business and everything I did was very organic, responding to requests for supper clubs and cooking classes.

After my first book was published everything changed, it became the fastest-selling debut cookbook ever and we’ve sold over 1.5 million cookbooks since. I met my husband and business partner a few weeks later and that’s when we decided to take what I’d created in the brand and scale a business of fully natural, plant-based products. He quit his job and we’ve been working at full speed ever since! Our first products launched in mid-2016 and we’ve since sold over 90 million products.

We’d love the inside scoop. What challenges did you face when starting your own venture, and how did you overcome them?
The whole journey has been riddled with challenges and failures, no one succeeds without making mistakes along the way and we’ve certainly made our fair share of them! Scaling a team, navigating lockdowns and Brexit, and dealing with rising ingredient costs have all made the last few years very difficult.

Starting a business is a journey. What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself along the way?
That I can do a lot more than I thought I could. I was never an ambitious person; I never saw myself as a founder or entrepreneur. I struggled with imposter syndrome most of my career, it’s taken a good ten years to let go of that outlook.

When it comes to your brand, what three words do you think best capture the essence of Deliciously Ella?
Natural, healthy, plant-based. Everything we do is about getting more plants, to more people, more of the time. We want to help people eat real food again, moving everyone away from ultra-processed foods and showing it’s possible to create a successful business only using kitchen cupboard ingredients.

For those diving into the world of Deliciously Ella for the first time, what dish or snack would you recommend they start with?
Snack wise, I’d go for oat bars or dipped almonds. They’re both so delicious and everyone loves them. Recipe wise, I find our pastas are big hits with people who are new to plant-based cooking, something like our mushroom and walnut ragu. It’s hearty and full of flavour.

Founders often have a soft spot for a particular product or recipe. What’s your personal favourite from the Deliciously Ella lineup
It’s so hard to pick one, we’ve developed about 3,000 recipes in the last twelve years! I’d probably go with our ‘Netflix curry’. It’s a Sri Lankan-inspired curry that’s deeply flavoursome, really easy to make and packed with veg. We initially developed the recipe for our restaurant, it then went into our cookbook and became an instant favourite, so I chose it to make for Zac Efron on his Netflix show ‘Down to Earth’ (hence the name!).

How do you think your brand contributes to the broader conversation about health and well-being? Specifically in the gluten-free arena.
We’ve spent the last decade showing people that healthy living can be both simple and delicious. In a world of fads, I think that simplicity has really stuck with people and our community has continued to grow.

We’re all about positive vibes here. What mantra or piece of advice keeps you going when things get hectic?
I focus on the 1% premise. I find myself easily overwhelmed when life gets busy, especially now that I’m juggling both the business and two small children. Focusing on moving just 1% closer to where I want to be helps me distill my goals down, creating manageable daily focuses that, over time, make a huge impact. It’s similar to the old Chinese proverb, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’, or Richard Branson’s ‘A big business starts small’. Essentially, there’s no such thing as an overnight success, instead, focus on a brick-by-brick mentality.

The world of wholefoods and healthy eating is ever-evolving. How do you stay on top of the latest food trends?
Honestly, we don’t, we’ve always forgone trends and stayed true to the mission of getting people eating more plants. I believe passionately that health isn’t about trends, it’s about looking after your mind and your body for the rest of your life, so any habit you take up needs to be something that you enjoy and therefore feels sustainable.

Last but not least, Suma seems like such a natural fit for Deliciously Ella. What made you think, ‘Yep, these are the folks I want to partner with’?
Fulfilling our mission to help more people eat more plants wouldn’t be possible without our wholesale distribution and working with a wholesaler who shares our beliefs is such a bonus. We knew that we had to work together to bring Deliciously Ella’s products to our shared community.  

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