CEL students cook up plans for start-up NourishSTL

Olin’s CELect program offers students an opportunity to engage in management consulting projects for start-ups and early-stage companies. Our team members worked as consultants for St. Louis-based startup NourishSTL.

Founded by Rhonda Smythe, a registered dietitian, and Colleen Clawson, head chef of Milque Toast Bar and Baba Xavi, NourishSTL provides ready-to-eat meals made with locally sourced, farm-fresh ingredients. NourishSTL products range from snacks and essentials to hearty meals, soups and stews.

At the start of our project, Smythe told us they wanted Nourish STL to enter the mainstream grocery market. Our work focused on analyses of operational changes, finances and marketing to help the company achieve this goal. Our team consisted of James Dutton, James Bambury, Hongjin Lyu and me. Each of us had a specific area of expertise, and we delegated our work based upon how we felt our contributions could be the most efficient and impactful.

Our collaboration also played a key role in our success. By working closely with Smythe and with one another, and by providing transparency and flexibility throughout the project, we were a highly effective team. We worked with integrity, excellence and creativity, upholding all of Olin’s core values.

Our conclusions were based on hard data, provided value and had a forward-thinking outlook. For example, one modification we implemented was to change the pricing of items to adequately reflect the premium value of the product. We suggested a 120% markup on 32-ounce packages, a 140% markup on 16-ounce packages and a 30% markdown for wholesale. Given that NourishSTL’s profitability was a concern, we believed that these changes would have an immediate positive impact on cash flow. Our market research also showed that these markups would have little effect on customer willingness to pay.

We developed numerous other recommendations for the company, and one of the things we most appreciated was Smythe’s receptiveness to our suggestions. She immediately implemented several changes based upon our feedback and, likewise, we remained flexible based on her feedback. Our team held Zoom meetings twice a week, one as a group and one with Smythe to ensure our shared direction, and we also communicated frequently through Microsoft Teams.

Our experience in this course had a tangible and immediate impact. Much of what we learned can be applied to our future careers and business endeavors. One highlight from our experience was being able to meet as a team with Smythe, despite COVID, in the kitchen where all of her food is made. In a time of isolation and Zoom calls, having this experience made the work feel “real.” Anyone interested in business, consulting or entrepreneurship should take this course.

Top photo courtesy of NourishSTL.

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