Young entrepreneur, Nicole VanQuaethem officially launched her business, SimplyNic Nutrition, in January 2017, but her journey that lead to this business began many years earlier. After starting university, Nicole found herself wanting to know more about food. Like a lot of students living away from home for the first time, she realized that her culinary skills and recipe repertoire were limited. She was also faced with health challenges that were affecting her quality of life. She began seeing a holistic nutritionist and actively learning more about food. After completing her undergrad in Global Development at the University of Western Ontario, her interest in local food and access to it lead her to complete her Masters in Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph with a focus on culinary agri-tourism. This personal and academic journey lead Nicole to a passion that linked her interests in nutrition, local food and food access and turned them into a business. To bring the nutrition side of her business to life, Nicole also became a Registered Holistic Nutritionist from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and a Culinary Nutrition Expert at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition.
Her research quickly revealed an unsettling trend: rural communities have higher rates of disease. Of course, there are many factors that contribute to this trend, but most of them require systemic change to address. Nicole believed she could help people achieve better health outcomes with two basic tools: real food and basic recipes. An article published by the Canadian Public Health Association noted that “exposure to fast food outlets is argued to be a primary contributor to unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyle,” and fast-food restaurant density can intensify the situation. As an example, Tillsonburg has roughly 47% more fast food restaurants than Ingersoll although the population is only 8% greater. “It all comes does to what people have the easiest access to,” says Nicole.
Nicole believes that helping people make long-term change can be as simple as helping them understand macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and honouring what each body needs for basic human function. “There is definitely an increase in health consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that the average consumer knows where to begin when they are ready to change some of their lifestyle habits.” Unfortunately, this desire to change is met with an overwhelming amount of misinformation. From quick fix diet trends to biased documentaries and processed food that is engineered to be addictive, it stands to reason that consumers would find it nearly impossible to navigate the industry. “I find this can be especially true for young women,” says Nicole, “and I’m guilty of it myself. We see these beautiful people in blogs or social media saying they follow a certain diet and suddenly that’s the diet that people start following- whether it’s a healthy choice for their unique body or not.”
This is how the dream of SimplyNic Nutrition was born; a business model with a philosophy that changing your nutrition habits should be easy and accessible in a form that was non-judgemental. “It’s still uncomfortable. Most change is uncomfortable,” says Nicole, “but introducing people to new recipes helps to build a relationship with their body and with food that maybe they didn’t have before.”
To achieve this goal, SimplyNic Nutrition offers a variety of workshops, menu planning services and wellness coaching. Nicole focuses on helping her clients understand how your body gets its nutrition and what nutrition it needs for basic human function. “I find when I focus on food and nutrients and how they aid our daily activities rather than talking about restriction and how that can change what bodies look like, clients are better positioned to make long-term changes. The goal is always to help people learn how to make their own choices and to feel confident in building these lifestyle habits.”
After one year in business, Nicole is ready to refocus and grow. “Wellness is not just about eating nutritious food, but taking a whole lifestyle approach,” says Nicole, “What I want to stress is wellness and health are multifaceted. You can’t just have a green smoothie everyday and be healthy or have an illness and automatically be seen as unhealthy. You don’t have to have a six pack, do headstands and eat acai bowls to be healthy either. What you need to do is to eat well, sleep, relax, socialize, do things you love, move your body, indulge in moderation and the list goes on. Doing all these things, and physically and mentally feeling well, are what matters in the end! Define what wellness means to you.”
In recognition of a strong business plan and passion for her work, SimplyNic Nutrition was awarded the Oxford Young Entrepreneurs grant in March 2017. “One of the priorities of the grant is to recognize and support young entrepreneurs who may have left Oxford County and have returned to start a business. The grant supports youth retention in that we want to be able to honour the fact that these young entrepreneurs are helping to building a vibrant economy. SimplyNic Nutrition is a great example of the new ways that entrepreneurs can turn a passion into a viable business model,” said Lindsay Wilson, CED Coordinator with Community Futures Oxford, “her model is also a nod to the knowledge-based economy and the really creative ways that millennials are leveraging their education and experience in entrepreneurial endeavours.”
Read more information about how Community Futures Oxford supports young entrepreneurs.