Like many small businesses, the Zen of Slow Cooking — which creates gourmet slow cooker and Instant Pot spice blends — started as an effort to solve a problem. How does a busy mother of three juggle schedules, homework and family time, yet serve delicious, healthy dinners?
For Meg Barnhart of Lake Forest, Illinois, the answer was: get a slow cooker. She did meal prep during the school day, freeing afternoons for the kids. Meg found her chopping time Zen-like, and the blissful aromas worked magic on her family.
Realizing she was on to something, Barnhart partnered with Jane McKay, a young mom with a background in food science/recipe development. Immediately clicking, they launched a food blog in 2012, which then blossomed into a business.
They started by mixing spice blends for their recipes, quickly selling out at the local farmer’s market. Leveraging the growing “speed scratch” home cooking trend, they expanded into wholesale and retail markets.
From the beginning, their intention was three-fold: to simplify family dinner… to create healthy, wholesome products… and to use their business as a force for good.
While COVID has hurt many small businesses, Zen sees its customer base growing — as parents homeschooling their students and college students living off-campus look for fast, tasty cooking options.
Business as a Force for Good
From the start, Zen was a social-impact business. Committed to creating an inclusive economy, Zen of Slow Cooking partners with a social enterprise to provide employment for adults with developmental disabilities.
They outsourced their packaging to Planet Access Company, which employs adults with developmental disabilities. (Search, Inc. — a not-for-profit that helps such adults live full lives — awarded Zen its Trailblazer Award for community job creation).
In addition, Zen supports a wide range of causes close to their mission — health and wellness, cancer research, Fair Trade, sustainable business practices — as well as numerous local charities.
In 2017, Zen was granted B Corp certification. Certified B Corps are for-profit companies that meet higher standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. And in 2020, they became a Certified Women Owned Business.
Creating Healthy, Mindfully sourced Products
They currently offer eight “Zen Blends,” including Smoky BBQ (their best-seller) and Coq au Vin (their most widely searched recipe), two whole spice infusions, and beverage mulling spices.
Zen sources its ingredients meticulously, starting with non-irradiated spices, free of additives and no/low salt. It purchases saffron from Rumi Spice, a Certified B Corp that’s bringing economic stability to Afghanistan by sourcing spices from native farmers.
Zen Blends have earned Non-GMO Project Verification, reaffirming the company’s mission to produce clean, high-quality products. Their ground spice blends are sold for $3.50 per pouch online. All ingredients are listed on the packaging, along with a shopping list and recipe.
A True Business Partnership
Although Barnhart and McKay are separated by more than a decade and now, an ocean (McKay who is British, returned to the U.K), their partnership continues to flourish.
“When I met Jane, I knew she was the right person,” says Barnhart. “A shared work ethic, vision and value system are key to a strong partnership — and those were our guiding principles from the beginning.”
“Meg’s focus is bringing Zen to more home cooks; mine is bringing more innovation into the kitchen,” adds McKay, who is continuously developing the new recipes found on their website.
“We complement each other’s skills — and we share a passion for great food and social causes.”
The duo continues to attract new opportunities. For example, in 2017, their Sichuan blend won the Specialty Food Association sofiTM award for best seasoning/spice product. In 2018, Barnhart won the association’s Leadership Award. And in 2019, they won over Walmart, bringing Zen blends to 1,200 stores nationwide.
Zen of Slow Cooking keeps spicing up mealtime — helping home cooks as well as those in need. Zen Blends are sold at Whole Foods, Walmart, World Market and grocery and specialty stores nationwide — plus on Amazon and thezenofslowcooking.com
Recently, a trio of Zen blends were added to WW’s (formerly Weight Watchers’s) online shop: www.thezenofslowcooking.com
Company Name: Lekas & Levine PR
Contact Person: Joanne Levine
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Address:1606 Turf Court
State: IL 60030
Country: United States