Unbenounced to a young Kailey Gilchrist, Nona Vegan has actually been in the works for generations. Inspired by her grandparent’s recipes and her parent’s drive, Kailey was born with huge aspirations. Entrepreneurship was in her genes, with her father, sister and brother all starting their own businesses, thus she always accepted that this would be part of her life. “I always wanted to be an actor or dancer or musician and then have a business on the side.” With her mother’s supports, they began composing names and ideas for this future venture, keeping them all in a binder in her kitchen. But when tragedy shook Kailey’s whole world, it took looking at her past to find her new future. Her motivational story and determination are what inspired us to feature Nona Vegan as our #BrandsOnQ.
Kailey and her mother were best friends all throughout her life, comparing themselves to the heartwarming mother-daughter relationship in Gilmore Girls. “We were so close, like freakishly close”, and this relationship only continued to grow as Kailey entered university. Nearing the end of her degree, though, Kailey received the tragic news that her beloved mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer. “She was fine at Christmas, New Years…and then she passed away February 26th. It was a month and a half of the fastest decrease of a human, ever.” Evidently reeling from this horrific and unexpected tragedy, Kailey threw herself into any distraction she could find. While working towards finishing her degree, she also made meals for her sister, who was not wanting to cook much at the time. “I would make her weekly meals. Then I moved to Toronto and was working at health food store, still cooking up a storm…”
Cooking became her passion, followed closely by her love of vegan cuisine and helping others, which inspired her to take advantage of a glaring gap she noticed in the health food market. Encouraged largely by her sister and the health food store she was working at, Kailey began creating ready-made, healthy and delicious sauces in 2013. Just as quickly as the idea came to her, the business took off. “Someone literally asked exactly for it one day at the heath food store. They were looking for a vegan, gluten free, soy-free alfredo sauce and I said ‘I’m working on it!’, and she was one of my first customers.”
Since then, it has been Kailey’s loyal fan base that has helped grow Nona Vegan. As a local entrepreneur, having her face on the bottle has helped sell the product and encourage support from the community. Also, Kailey has noticed that in Toronto, where Nona Vegan was founded “people love local food.” All of this support culminated when a Facebook fan suggested that Nona Vegan should enter the local Mac and Cheese fest.
Originally unsure of entering the fest as a health food brand, Kailey convinced her team that it might be the perfect opportunity. “I had a think on it and decided that this was a group of people I could never reach. I can never access these people. So even getting their feedback would be helpful.” Although Kailey claims that the event was a disaster on their part, having never catered to an event of that scale, it turned out to be the perfect marketing initiative. Walking away with the title of best of fest, this award winning sauce finally had the non-vegan seal of approval, giving her sales team something to brag about.
Another amazing way that she has seen support is through customers sharing their Nona Vegan meals on Instagram. “Instagram is great because I’m getting that community feedback that people are actually buying it, using it and enjoying it,” which in turn helps create stunning and natural content for the Nona Vegan page. “It’s hard when you’re running everything else in the business, but people are creating beautiful content for me and I just need to re-gram it.” Plus, we all know that food photos are the hottest ticket to a popular Instagram post these days. “People love food pictures, that’s so trendy right now” which has totally benefited Kailey and her business.
Her passion for her message of getting something easy and healthy into people’s homes will translate soon to a larger scale, as Nona Vegan looks at getting into hospitals and university cafeterias. “The sick, vulnerable populations are eating boxed foods. That’s what we’re feeding them. I’m really passionate about this.” This passion has also led to a lesson for businesses looking to break out: “Diversify your audience, start that right away. People did say that at the beginning, I just didn’t listen. People go to retail first because it’s sexy, your brand is on the shelf and that’s such an attractive thing to have, but diversify your offerings right away.”
Her other piece of advice is this: “Have a really strong why behind what you are doing.” After overcoming a variety of challenges in the three years since her business was created, she has learned that “you’re going to be challenged over and over and if you don’t have a good reason, you’ll just flop.”
But what makes Nona Vegan really stand out from the crowd? It’s not the glass jars or the health benefits that has helped carve out a path for this delicious sauce company, it’s the love. The love for her business, the love for good health and the love for her family. “It’s my mama’s recipe, so I think that’s really special!”