An interview with vegan chef Ella Mills behind the successful brand ‘Deliciously Ella’
According to news sources like The Economist, veganism is on the rise. Consciousness is increasing not only around keeping a healthy diet, but also around the welfare of animals and reducing greenhouse gases to stop climate change. Ella Mills was ahead of the curve when she launched ‘Deliciously Ella’ in 2012 – a food blog about cooking plant-based dishes, and cutting out gluten, sugar and soy. By using social media channels as a powerful tool in building a global wellness empire, she reached millions of people with her message.
Deliciously Ella in numbers:
1 deli restaurant
4 cooking books published
6,0000 stores where her products are on display
1.5 million instagram followers
15-20 millions instagram page impressions per week
Ella, for those who are getting to know you, what was the reason that you started blogging about eating healthier and vegan-based?
It was all an accident really. I got very unwell in 2012 when I was at university with a condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome that affected the functioning of my autonomic nervous system – I struggled to control my heart rate and blood pressure, as well as having digestive issues, chronic fatigue, a host of infections and a selection of other symptoms. I spent a few months in and out of hospital, followed by months and months in bed taking a host of medication, which sadly didn’t work. I hit a real rock bottom, both mentally and physically, about a year later and started to look at other avenues to explore.
I became interested in the power of diet and lifestyle and began experimenting with plant-based cooking. I shared my creations on a blog initially, deliciouslyella.com. Somehow that took off, it grew organically but quickly, and transitioned to social media, then an app, then four books, then a deli in London and now four ranges of food products in about 6,000 stores across the country. It’s been quite a whirlwind!
“I hit a real rock bottom, both mentally and physically, about a year later and started to look at other avenues to explore”
Today, you have almost 1,5 million followers on instagram, a platform which has helped in sharing your message. But you’ve also been vocal about some of the drawbacks of social media – which are they in your view?
I think you just have to be clear about what social media is. It’s a snapshot into something or someone; it’s a place to share ideas and inspiration; and a space where like minded people can come together and create communities of shared passions, all of which is brilliant. What it’s not is a blow-by-blow account of someone’s life and therefore it should never be used as a tool for comparison between yourself and a stranger on the internet.
[instagram] is not is a blow-by-blow account of someone’s life and therefore it should never be used as a tool for comparison between yourself and a stranger on the internet.
Could you share some tips to someone thinking about starting a business and using social media as a positive marketing and awareness tool?
It’s an incredibly exciting time to start a business, for the first time you can build awareness and a customer base for free. We didn’t have a marketing department until this year, at which point we were already in about 5,000 stores with our products – everything we’d done had been through community building online.
“I think the personal touch is essential – it has to be genuine and authentic, and what you share has to be useful to your audience”
Our Instagram page now gets between 15-20 million impressions a week, it’s such a powerful tool for us and the most unbelievable way to personally engage with our readers, who are the heartbeat of our business. I still run all of our social media, we don’t have anyone that works on that side of the business and I don’t know if we ever will, I think the personal touch is essential – it has to be genuine and authentic, and what you share has to be useful to your audience.
Your husband is also involved in your business; how do you find working with him?
My husband is my business partner and the CEO of Deliciously Ella. I love working together, it can have its drawbacks, mostly that it’s hard to ever switch off, but creating a family business and getting to travel the world and build something we care about together is incredibly special. He looks after the business development, oversees the finance team, our supply chain, operations etc. I work as our brand and creative director, overseeing everything that you see, feel, taste and touch. This means our roles are pretty separate, which is key I think.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced along the way, and what have you learnt from them?
There’s so much to say here in terms of what I’ve learnt. Firstly attitude, be prepared to put everything into this, you have to be happy to work 24/7 and put every last drop of love, passion and energy you have into it. There will be moments where every option feels impossible and the world appears to collapse around you, at this point you can’t collapse – you have to be the one to find the way through. Surround yourself with the best people you can, put your ego to one side, and acknowledge where you can help your business and where you can’t – where are your skills, and more importantly where are your weaknesses. Work as a team, listen to everyone and empower your team every day.
“You have to be happy to work 24/7 and put every last drop of love, passion and energy you have into it”
Engage in your community, every customer is essential to your growth, treasure them, take time for them and remember what they want matters most. Most importantly, have a strong why – know why you do what you do, most businesses just know what they do but knowing the why is where the magic is. Start with ‘why’, it’s really helpful!
How can you become a vegan in a responsible way?
I think it’s about doing what feels sustainable and therefore enjoyable, but we definitely all need to eat more plants. Scientists have said that switching to a vegan diet is one of the single biggest things we can do to stop climate breakdown and they estimate that if the world moved to a plant-based diet that we could cut total global greenhouse gas emissions by 23% (half of that benefit comes from trees re-growing on the 3.1 billion hectares of farmland land that wouldn’t be needed). It’s also crazy to note that since the year 2000 an area of tropical forests the size of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal put together has been cut down or burnt for livestock grazing and feed, with the last two years being the highest on record. Deforestation is now the leading cause of wildlife extinction.
We’re also currently killing about 56 billion farmed animals a year. The stats are incredibly eye opening, not to mention how beneficial upping our veg intake is for our own health. It’s not about committing 100% to being vegan, it’s just about starting to enjoy and incorporate more plants into our lives.
“We definitely all need to eat more plants”
You are now a certified yoga teacher. Was that a natural evolution of your wellness business? What results do you feel you can credit to doing yoga so often?
I did my training August 2018 and loved it, it was the most amazing experience – I learnt a huge amount, it feels like the start of an exciting new journey. I started practicing yoga about six years ago when I was ill, I wasn’t physically able to do a lot as I had a condition that was affecting my heart rate and causing chronic fatigue so I started with restorative practices and found they had such a powerful effect on my mind. I’m really enjoying teaching classes and bringing it into Deliciously Ella. It’s important to me to show that feeling good is a holistic, 360 approach; it’s not just about what’s on your plate.
What’s next for Deliciously Ella? How will you stay relevant as a business in the future in the increasing landscape of competition?
So many projects! We’ve just launched a podcast and have just finished season 1, so planning season 2 for a January launch; we also just launched a new frozen range of natural, plant-based meals (I am so excited about this!), so working on expanding the distribution for that as well as a few new products and starting to looking at bringing the business overseas.