How a Self-Proclaimed 'Junk Food Vegetarian' Launched a Superfood Cookie Line
If you don't follow any dietary restrictions, you probably gasp at the idea of eating anything but a traditional cookie with all the fixins—but as someone who absolutely despises real sugar and tries to avoid dairy, I can tell you some of the best cookies I've consumed have been either paleo, gluten-free or something outside of the norm.
That said, it only makes sense I fell hard for CompletEats, a vegan, gluten-free cookie line, sweetened with dates and packed with superfoods. I discovered the line a couple of months ago at Foundermade, a giant conference showcasing the newest, most innovative consumer brands. I met the line's founder Lauren Chew, who then proceeded to send me a generous helping of her cookies, including her specialty holiday treats (I highly recommend the Peppermint Cacao Chip superfood cookie).
After basically bulldozing through the bites (I initially limited myself to half a cookie per day, and then just ate one a day as a midday snack), I figured it only made sense to interview Lauren as a new fan of her products.
Keep reading for the entrepreneur's unique career path, and her transformation from "junk food vegetarian" to health-conscious consumer—and check out her treats online or in various San Francisco health stores (5% of cacao peppermint sales go to Oasis for Girls, a non-profit for young women in SF).
Sweety High: How did you get into the vegan cookie business? And what was your original career trajectory?
Lauren Chew: I started my career after college managing residential and commercial solar and energy storage projects for a large company, and, afterward, for a startup in San Francisco. If you had told the 23-year-old version of myself what I'd be doing right now, I would've told you you were nuts. I was vegetarian at this time but I was what you would call a "junk food vegetarian"—lots of frozen Trader Joe's meals, processed food and ice cream.
San Francisco opened my eyes to a variety of different lifestyles and diets, and my stepmom—who recently took Dr. McDougall's seminar in Costa Rica and committed to a plant-based diet as result—introduced me to the concept of vegan baking with whole food ingredients. I'd been baking for years at this time but always with eggs, butter and granulated sugar because this is how my grandmother baked. I never thought that baking with whole food ingredients could be tasty. I started my business by baking in my kitchen and approaching my first customers, which were local, independent grocery stores such as Rainbow Grocery, who embraced what I was doing and put my product on their shelves.
SH: Are you personally vegan or just appreciate the market for vegan baked goods?
LC: I would consider myself to be 80% vegan and 20% vegetarian. I haven't consumed any meat products in 13 years. I think the key to trying to eat more plant-based is that it's accessible and flexible. For most people, it isn't realistic for them to give up meat or seafood entirely, and that's okay. However, if they can eat entirely plant-based for one day a week, the environmental impact would be huge.
In addition, it's about changing people's perception about what a balanced and nutritious meal looks like. There are a lot of misconceptions about plants and how they don't provide enough protein for example. Did you know that if you compare the percent of calories from protein, broccoli actually has more protein than ground beef?
SH: When it comes to vegan products, what are your favorite substitutions for traditional ingredients?
LC: With the advent of the Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers, I think everyone is really obsessed with turning plant-based ingredients into something that tastes, looks and has a similar texture to meat or seafood. While I support this trend and think it encourages people to consider additional options on their plate, my approach is that plants do not need to mimic animal products, and that's not my expectation. I also fully realize that I'm not the target market for these products since I do not consume them.
That said, I love adding nutritional yeast to vegan Caesar salads and macaroni for the cheesy taste and a boost of protein and B vitamins.
In terms of baking, flax seeds, chia seeds, tofu and bananas make a great egg replacement. As my friend Mimi once told me, as long as the food tastes good, people will eat it. The greatest compliment I get is when non-vegans tell me my cookies don't taste vegan.
SH: I have the same question but for paleo products…
LC: If you wanted to sweeten up a recipe, definitely use dates and dried fruit. We use them in our Cherry Almond and Banana Bread flavors, which are our most popular flavors. You can also use coconut sugar, monkfruit, maple syrup—and for non-vegans, honey is a great option.
SH: What makes CompletEats stand out from other vegan baked goods?
LC: Our commitment to quality and clean-label ingredients—our products are almost exclusively sweetened with dates and almost all of our ingredients are sourced from California.
We're also committed to giving back. For me, Oasis for Girls is a very important cause, and I think it's so incredibly important for women to support other women.
SH: What was the biggest challenge of launching your own business?
LC: Launching my own business has definitely put me outside of my comfort zone. I don't have a self-promoting personality, but when you own your own business, no one is ever going to sell your product and story like you will.
SH: What's been the most rewarding part of your entrepreneurial journey thus far?
LC: It's definitely been creating and building a brand that brings value to people's lives. I received a phone call from a woman who found my cookies on a United flight and called to tell me how much she loved my Cherry Almond flavor. She asked where she could buy them in San Francisco near her apartment, and after she hung up, she told me she went immediately to her local independent store to pick some up.
SH: Is there anything else you want people to know about you, your business or eating clean?
LC: I created my line of products to show people that eating plant-based can be easy and convenient, but it's also inclusive. Just because I've made certain lifestyle changes doesn't mean I expect everyone to make the same choices. I think it's really important to not only listen to what agrees with your own body but also to do your own research in terms of what lifestyle works best for you.
SH: What's next for you and for CompletEats?
LC: We're working on launching another line outside of cookies including some more seasonal flavors next year since our Holiday Seasonal Peppermint Cacao Chip flavor has been a huge hit this holiday season. I am really excited for what the future brings!
If you love dessert as much as we do, click HERE to get the lowdown on cookie butter cake!