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Conversations with Maleeda Wagner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maleeda Wagner.

Hi Maleeda, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
It started with an idea to make a plant-based lasagna for a group of friends. Each one of them came back with rave reviews, even the ones that weren’t vegan!

Inspired by the love, we continued making it and sharing it with more people, evolving the recipe and collecting more feedback. Next, we hired an accomplished chef to help us create a final product. We starting selling direct to consumers – and sales went viral. Our chef then helped us develop eight additional products – which we’ll launch over the next 18 months. We are working to roll out into retail stores in California and nationally.

Working with Erin has been amazing. We are both moms, and we are both female leaders that have been working for other companies for years. Sunday Supper is allowing us to create a brand and a work culture that reflects our values and brings our personal vision to life. That is what is super motivating. My goal is to inspire more female founders and leaders and more Asian American founders and empower more women across the board.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has been pretty smooth! We were able to start with a famous Italian LA chef, Celestino Drago, to create our gold standard recipes and quickly start selling Direct to Consumers online through our website and GTFO It’s Vegan. And it is a great proof of concept! We continue to get online orders and positive feedback. For me being the CEO, I know the frozen category so well from my background at Nestle, but I didn’t expect to be focused so much on fundraising versus the day-to-day business in creating the product and working on our digital campaigns. It is true that what you hear about start-ups – the highs are incredibly exhilarating. Then, you have some days that you question yourself. Overall, it has been more of the high days, especially recently as we are gaining more investors and traction in the market and hear that there is so much love out there for the product.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
What sets our team apart is that we are all food lovers and wanted to create a delicious, high-quality product…that happens to be plant-based. Through product quality, we think we can get more people to choose plant-based meals more often and thereby amplify our vision. We have all had individual decades-long careers. Richard was the CEO and founder of Surface Magazine and has extensive experience building premium brands and experiences. Florian, Erin and I are all CPG marketers for over 20 years in a number of categories. Both Florian and Erin have worked in startups before. I’ve been working in food for over 14 years and have brought a number of products into the market for Lean Cuisine, Hot Pockets, Stouffer’s, and Butterfinger. Unlike a lot of other startup brands, we have the experience under our belts and the know-how to do things efficiently as it relates to product creation, leveraging consumer insights, and efficient media spends. I’m most proud of our team – we have the right skill set in place to make Sunday Supper a lifestyle brand.

We also are donating a portion of our proceeds to Support + Feed, which is headquartered in LA as well. We are all about their mission of combating food insecurity with access to nourishing foods that are plant-based.

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
I think the most important lesson is about relationships and your personal network. I take a lot of pride in the relationships I have created over the years, and nurturing those friendships and ties has proved to be super helpful. I have reached out to colleagues from years ago and then been connected with an investor or advisor or someone passionate in the plant-based food space. And in general, my passion for the category, food, and connecting with others makes it fun! It’s nice to have an excuse to reconnect and catchup with people that I haven’t seen since before the pandemic. And I enjoy talking to other founders too and being able to help each other out. What is incredible is how willing people are in the founder-led and plant-based community to share resources. That is something I don’t remember experiencing in bigger companies. We are lifting each other up and building something new.


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