As Neilly’s hits Whole Foods and beyond, York County-based founder stays resilient
- Julie and Albert Ndjee’s company, Neilly’s Foods, manufactures rice mixes and other healthy-focused foods. Their key to success so far? Facing growing pains with grace.
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Julie Ndjee faces the same challenges every few weeks, it seems. She and her husband, Albert, are on the phone trying to figure out the reoccurring question: Where is the rice?
When the duo started Neilly’s Foods in 2008, they wanted to make healthy foods convenient for growing families. With two daughters of their own — the company’s named after their youngest — they focused on creating sauces, rice mixes, and frozen products that bring people around the table.
Taking on some of the biggest companies in the ready-made food industry has its challenges. Julie and Albert have become experts on shelf space, pitching products, and serving up samples at grocery stores.
Their work over the years paid off, and the York manufacturer now touts that their products are on the shelf in Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Giant Food Stores, Walmart, and others all across the country.
Some would look at that success and think that Neilly’s has made it.
“Every stage of the business has its challenges, especially as you get bigger,” Julie says. “What gets us through is knowing our old challenges are going to help us get through the new challenges. We know we can make it.”
Supply-chain issues around the globe have impacted so many businesses. For Neilly’s, it means keeping an eye out for rice that’s simply waiting for a driver to deliver it across states to their facility off Interstate 83. It often means Julie and Albert can do nothing but be patient.
“Everyone is going through this problem, so people are very understanding,” Julie says. “It doesn’t always make it less frustrating, but we work with a lot of compassionate people. They want to see us succeed, and they get that we are doing what we can.”
Some of the challenges have been for the better. Neilly’s had to transition its rice from a plastic container to a white coated bag. It hurt to make that change at first, considering they’d just purchases a machine that labeled those plastic containers.
But the bags are less expensive, easier to ship, and, in the long run, have been a good change for the company.
“The biggest thing for us has been staying true to our values,” Julie says. “The packaging matters to us, but what matters more is the product inside of it. It matters that we can still deliver what we promise, which is healthy meals that are easy to prepare.”
A sense of gratitude
Julie believes that ignorance is bliss.
If they had known how hard it would have been to start their business, take on big manufacturers, try to get on store shelves – they may have never done it.
But she has learned to look at their challenges with optimism. Being an entrepreneur takes courage, she says.
“I don’t know if we’d be able to appreciate what we have today without what we’ve gone through,” Julie says. “From the product, our customers, our community, our children and family – it has made us appreciate what we have, who we are, and the community we live in.”