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Miguel Amado
Updated on Nov 22nd, 2022
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Thistle Interview 2023: Prepared Organic Meals, West Coast

We chat with Christina Gutiérrez-Williams, Director of Culinary Development at Thistle, about their mission to develop sustainable plant-forward meals that are better for you, and the planet.

Tell me a little bit about Thistle. What is the history of the company and the products you offer?

Thistle is a modern, tech-enabled food and nutrition brand that delivers fully prepared organic, healthy, and delicious meals to the doorsteps of customers throughout the West Coast of the United States. Our mission is to help time-strapped people by providing healthy, tasty food at their doorstep. We’re also committed to improving the sustainability of our planet and food systems as well.

We are dedicated to providing nutritious and sustainable plant-forward meals that are really ‘craveable’. As a subscription service, we want to make sure that our meals really strike a chord with people, so that they continue receiving our meals week after week. Another important aspect of our business is to make sure we are accessible to people as a convenient option.

Our meals are designed with science in mind, meeting certain amounts of macronutrients for all of our different meal types, which include breakfast, lunches, dinners, snacks, cold-pressed juices, wellness shots, and other interesting add-on items.

All of our breakfasts and snacks are completely vegan but for our lunches and dinners, we do have options to add a sustainable protein. We offer organic chicken, turkey, pork, and we will be launching a sustainable line of trout and shrimp as well.

CEO of Thistle, Ashwin Cheriyan has said, “We wanted the better-for-you and better-for-planet choice to be the default choice.” How do you bring together these two things in the kitchen?

Having vegetables be the center of our plate is the main way that we accomplish that. We believe eating more plants is the best way to improve public health outcomes, both our customers’ and the planet’s health.

More specifically, we try to always focus on vegetables and fruits produced in-season. Rather than ship fresh vegetables from thousands of miles away, we source vegetables and fruits that are local to the communities we serve.

By doing this we are improving the natural resources in our local communities as well as providing people with really nutrient-dense meals.

Right now, we are at an interesting point: it is the end of summer and the beginning of fall, so we’ve got a lot of tomatoes, summer squash, fresh herbs, and eggplants featured on our menus. As we move further into fall we are starting to slowly incorporate apples, pears, and some harder winter squashes.

What do you think is the difference between your service and others on the market?

Most of our competitors are meal kits where customers get the ingredients in a bundle but they’re still expected to spend 30 to 40 minutes preparing their meals. Our meals are fully prepared and ready to eat, making it super convenient for our customers and they only require 3 to 5 minutes of heating.

Another key differentiator for Thistle is our science-backed nutrition. We want our customers to trust that we’ve done the research and can assure them that the meals they are receiving are as clean and nutrient-dense as possible. We also pay careful attention to macronutrients and all of our lunches and dinners have a minimum of 20g of protein, including our vegan dishes.

How does Thistle accommodate food allergies for customers?

We do honor all of the main allergens across Thistle’s menu. While many of our meals contain tree nuts, peanuts, soy, or shellfish, not all of them need to contain those. When customers sign up with Thistle, they are prompted to fill out a survey indicating any dietary restrictions or ingredient preferences.

We make sure to swap with either an ingredient or a dish that our customers can consume and will always honor those main eight to nine allergens.

We have a lot of customers who can’t or don’t eat soy, so as an example we’ve found one interesting, very similar substitute made of lentils called Adashah. We use that in a lot of our current meals as well as a substitute for tofu.

When people outside the US think of food in America, not the healthiest options always come to mind, but that has been changing over the last few years. Do you think this trend has impacted Thistle and how do you see that change?

I definitely think this idea of ‘healthier food’ is growing. People are recognizing not only the negative effects it’s having on our public health as a country but also the link between the food we eat and the wellbeing of our planet, our natural resources, water sources, and animals.

From when I started at Thistle in 2016 until now, we’ve seen a larger cohort of customers shift to our vegan plans, which is becoming more and more popular.

We also try to be really welcoming to a lot of people. Some customers eat meat and may not feel that they can give up meat altogether. We want to meet each customer where they are and so Thistle provides them an opportunity to start incorporating more plants into their diet without it feeling like a sacrifice. We believe food should be a celebration.

What were the biggest impacts and challenges you have had to face during the pandemic?

Fortunately we were lucky not to have stopped our operations when COVID-19 hit. We tried to simplify our meals in minor ways so that they wouldn’t be as complex to execute and so that we could enable smaller teams in our production facility.

How do you keep Thistle’s menus exciting week after week?

We’ve been able to lean a lot more into really interesting initiatives, such as partnerships with like-minded brands. We are currently collaborating with several brands on new Thistle dishes, including a new snack we’re developing with Harmless Harvest’s coconut yogurt.

Now that people are at home more, quarantined or not, and making food for themselves is a necessity, do you have any tips for those “newbies”? Are there any ingredients that might pop up that they might not be familiar with?

We’ve been using Instagram a lot more to connect with our customers and regularly post recipes to try with their Thistle meals. We also share them on our blog.

There are a couple of things we’ve found that our customers have really been enjoying. One example that comes to mind is this really delicious Elote dip that is made with corn, paprika, and garlic and it’s creamy from the white beans too. We took this dip traditionally served with vegetables and made it into a creamy corn chowder.

That was a fun inventive dish we presented to our customers to give them the opportunity to be a little more creative in the kitchen. We do hope people spend more time in the kitchen and learn new things!

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