Plant Sumo Interviews

JANE McKAY

Zen Of Slow Cooking

I am originally from Ilkley in West Yorkshire and I enjoyed a varied career in IT in London before having my family. That’s when I found my myself on the other side of the pond and became a partner and COO at Zen of Slow Cooking (a Yogini Brand). Zen is a Chicago based certified B Corp which I co-created with my business partner, Meg Barnhart, in the 7 years I lived there. We manufacture perfectly portioned, no nasties spice blends and infusions for the slow cooker, pressure cooker, and one-pot meals and in addition sell pre-prepped meal kits. (think Hello Fresh, Gousto etc.) What’s new in the last 12 months? Despite the pandemic we are growing in all channels. Our uplift has come at a time when more folks are seeking inspiration in their home kitchens. I think we’ve all felt the fatigue of home cooking everyday over the last 9 months. Finally as we work virtually through the pandemic I added a puppy to our family, a 16 week old Cavachon called Fino!

Company Profiles

What Is The Book (Or Books) You’ve Given Most As A Gift, And Why?

Moro , The Cookbook. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts , Maté, Gabor

What Purchase Of $100 Or Less Has Most Positively Impacted Your Life In The Last Six Months?

Cuisinart Grind and Brew Automatic, Bean to Cup Filter Coffee Maker, Glass Carafe DGB625BCU

When You Feel Overwhelmed Or Unfocused, Or Have Lost Your Focus Temporarily, What Do You Do?

Controlled deep breathing. What is the next step I need to take.

What Is One Of The Best Or Most Worthwhile Investments You’ve Ever Made?

Other than my children, my business - Zen of Slow Cooking

How Has A Failure, Or Apparent Failure, Set You Up For Later Success?

We moved to France and we loved our house but had little genuine connection with anyone. When we left I felt relief. The next move 3 years later was to Chicago and I embraced the opportunity, said YES to everything once (despite being terrified) and opened my heart to a city and it's people. We stayed 7 years and didn't want to leave.

What is the most significant thing that someone much younger than yourself has taught you?

To be yourself

Tell us about your business. What does it do and what value do you add?

We are a women owned business manufacturing spice blends featuring global flavors, with a bigger desire to bring people together over the shared meal. Our blends are derived from our love of slow cooking and helping home cooks find simplicity in the kitchen. We are health focused and provide hundreds of tried and true recipes via our blends, website and blog. We have an ongoing social mission to help underserved communities in society through a number of give back initiatives and our inclusive economy work model. We have employed a group of adults with learning disabilities for over 5 years at Planet Access Company; to kit our e commerce shipments. We are a certified B Corporation, aligning to high standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

What is a useful skill someone could learn in one minute?

How to fold a Christmas tree napkin for a holiday table (usefulness can be debated)

What is the most surprising thing you've seen in your industry?

Mushroom jerky

What's your favourite colour?

Green

What's your favourite holiday destination?

St Ives for a week of camping and boarding in Spring.

What's something exciting you're currently working on/learning that only a few people know about?

A project with a well known international health and wellness company.

What are you NOT Very Good at?

Resisting Chocolates

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Protein yogurt, almonds and walnuts

What Are Bad Recommendations You Hear In Your Profession Or Area Of Expertise?

Just send an email....

In The Last Five Years, What New Belief, Behavior, Or Habit Has Most Improved Your Life?

Discovering what it means to reconnect with myself and connect with others - life's work, regularly seeing a therapist, exercise classes.

What's your favourite vegan meal?

A vegan pie I just created! Sweet potato, curry, squash, kale and chickpea. I love pastry 🙂

If You Could Have A Gigantic Billboard Anywhere With Anything On It — What Would It Say And Why?

If you feel buried, begin to uncover yourself and push off from here. Find a resource or a friend to help you.

What Advice Would You Give To A Smart, Driven College Student About To Enter The “Real World”? What Advice Should They Ignore?

Find a mentor and study their work or business and ask a thousand questions. Don't be afraid to take a year out if that's what you want.

What Careers Advice Would You Give To Your 21-Year Old Self?

Be picky if you can. Treat job hunting like a full time job.

Where do you see your industry in the next 5 years?

Much more meal solutions focused - the art of assembly. Grocery stores will adapt to the experience for the shopper. Perhaps the aisles as we know them will be redefined.

Tell us about someone you admire and why you admire them?

My business partner. She is an honest, hard working, thoughtful, and creative partner and friend. She behaves like a mentor with such ease.

What Is A 'Hack' You Have For Success That Most People Don't Know About?

Using tomato paste instead of tinned tomatoes is great for thickening up slow cooker sauces

What one song can you listen to every day non-stop?

The Sugarhill Gang - Rappers Delight

How has Covid-19 changed your industry?

It has increased online grocery shopping. Buyer annual category reviews are out of whack.

How has Covid-19 changed your company?

It hasn't really, we are a virtual team. Our Amazon growth has been huge.

What one thing in life do you consider to be overrated?

Reality TV

Are you vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or something else entirely?

Flexitarian

What's your star sign?

Capricorn

About the Author

Heather-PS

Heather Wilkinson is a globe-trotting content creator and PR enthusiast who’s finally put down roots in her native UK. When she isn’t working, you’ll find her pretending to care about Minecraft for her son’s sake, while secretly reading the latest Ace Atkins novel (or sleeping – her second favourite past-time).