We had the good fortune of connecting with Christina Paganelli and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Christina, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
This is such a fun question for me and it happened by accident. 17 years ago I was diagnosed with 2 life threatening diseases at the same time, the worst of which was Stage IV Thyroid Cancer that had aggressively metastasized into my lungs. In a way, you could say that for every day after this massive health crisis, I have been living on borrowed time. Taking risks is something I thrive on, and what makes me perfect for the role of entrepreneur. This past year has been incredibly fulfilling, memorable, and unique. What nobody sees are the challenges come with the territory. Between Feb and Dec, I have added a new role to chief cook and bottle washer, that of transport driver. To haul my goods and ensure they arrive for my manufacturing runs in California and Alberta, Canada, I drove in between both. In late March, my vehicle unexpectedly quit in the middle of Yellowstone, at 3am. It was an alternator, and the emergency phone was ¼ of a mile back. Only one problem, I was stalled in grizzly territory and they had just woken up from their long winter’s nap. So, there I stayed @ -20 celcius, in my vehicle until day break, and I could flag someone down for help. Most people would never travel like that again, but I did, 7 more times between USA and Canada this year, to ensure our goods made it to their respecting manufacturing plants. Not only did this event re-define my passion for business, it encouraged me and others to continue their passions. I feel alive! A perspective that, I think, only a select few would see.
I figure, nobody else will work hard, if I don’t. Although, I don’t expect anyone else to risk their life, I do aspire to inspire people to want to work, suppliers to want to trade with me, and people to tell my brand story as casually and as authentic as it rolls off my tongue.
This is what the American dream is, isn’t it? Didn’t our settlers risk their lives in the pursuit of happiness? I’m Canadian, I’ve been in the USA for nearly 10 years, and my stories of surviving cancer and overcoming adversities are the character behind me, but I also have a brand story, which is just as fun and equally as scary. In 2012, I came to Southern California to launch my products at Whole Foods Markets in a new super premium juice cooler program, rolling out across the USA. I packed my family, left my home, and made the journey. I thought it would be similar to what I had already been doing, establishing a business unit in a local region and then multiplying the sale model, so on and so forth. Only this time I would be in the mecca of the organic industry. When my products hit the shelves, so did my competitors, and hard. They were industry giants with deep pockets. I had to dig deep and think fast on how to keep significant, and fight the good fight. I used what I knew, authenticity and sustainable business modeling, I didn’t overspend, and grew it organically, to 5 regions and some other key retailers. Flash forward to 2015, and we all know business isn’t a straight line, so adversity came for me again when one of my suppliers filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This move fatally impacted my ability to supply the shelves at a vulnerable time when Amazon was re-organizing the retail chain. So, for the past 5 years I coached competitive swim to keep myself sane, working with children and teens, hoping to use my assets to inspire others, while waiting for the right time to relaunch and return to my passion.
It’s not every day that a product and a brand, get a second chance at the big dance, and in 2021 I was able to re-launch the same products at Whole Foods Markets. Different world, same product, same brand name, same kick ass spirit behind the brand. In my opinion, this was the biggest risk of all. Given my strength, I usually don’t dwell in self-doubt, but I’ll admit thoughts of “will they like me”, “will the products be old news” crept into my head. In fact, my products must have been ahead of their time in 2012, because they are bang on trend right now. I decided before the launch, that I would do what I know, draw on experience to navigate the tough waters, and I would have to do most of it myself until I eliminated the risk of a start-up. I will be closing this year out with more than $150k in revenue, and I don’t have any employees yet, but a very well defined business with rich history and a collection of experiences. What I can tell you is that there are very good people working very hard in this industry, and that there is a pathway for small business right now that is very special. All of it involved risk. And all of it involves, trying, and when you think you can’t try anymore, try again. There is always a way. You know what they say, the bigger the risk, the greater the reward.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Drinkme® is a North American manufacturer and distributor of a line of award winning, delicious, fresh and frozen, COLD BLENDED, whole food smoothies crafted for people who believe in holistic nutrition for the whole body. Drinkme® was founded in 2007 by Christina Paganelli, who began making kale-based smoothies as a way to maintain her health and wellness from the side effects of radiation treatment for thyroid cancer and the medication she was taking for multiple sclerosis.
Background in Science.
Christina envisions a world where everyone has access to simple, everyday options that provide life changing benefits.
I want the world to know why we are different from a juice. We need fiber to cleanse the body. This is not a health statement, we’ve known for years that a balanced diet includes fiber. So I want to world to know the importance of ensuring we are keeping regular, this way toxins cannot create a poor environment in our bodies which can lead to disease. I really see fiber as an important and essential part of everything we eat in a day. I wanted to provide it in an easy and convenient way.
Starting a business from the ground has had so many challenges. Not to mention carving out a niche in a category. My products require an explanation and this can be an expensive undertaking for a brand. Educating and converting the end users and retailers on the value proposition is tough. I have found it much easier this year, than 10 years ago, when it was way ahead of it’s time. Now, the market is aware of what a smoothie is.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I have had the pleasure of touring the entire state, when I do store tours. I love the coast in particular. Every night would need to have a sunset ritual. As for the city, I love the diversity of each little pocket and culture. it’s like there are little mini cities within such a large metropolis. I would say my favorite places are the art galleries, the Grove, and for sure the natural landscapes. I am so fortunate to live in south bay and a day at the beach is a skip and a jump. I do love fashion district to, but you cannot beat dinner in Malibu watching the sunset over the ocean. There is a little restaurant called the Sunset Restaurant, wonderful food and view.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Well I would like to dedicate this to John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Markets because in reading his book I found his story wasn’t a fairy tail either. He almost failed at building it until he recognized the supply chain was everything. I really took his words seriously this year, and directly worked on the supply chain myself. Not only negotiating, the accounts, but delivering on the goods too. It has been the only way I could have navigated the waters in 2021 as a small business that depends on the supply chain functioning. The key word is small. In this very strange world, the supply chain doesn’t have much capacity to cater to small businesses. That’s why I rolled up my sleeves and did it myself.
Instagram: @christinapaganelli, @drinkmebevco