There are multiple philosophies that I follow and have created my brand around. I believe that they will ultimately lead us to success and happiness regardless of the pandemic. As Karuna means compassion, I find immense importance in caring for yourself and the world around you. I was able to show compassion during this time to our community by offering my wellness beverages as donations to hospitals and essential healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Zeng, PhD, MBA.
Angela Zeng, PhD, MBA came to America from China in 1996 and initially struggled with the excess of highly processed foods and lack of plant food in western diets. After becoming a doctor of Pathology, she was determined to provide a true plant-based alternative beverage. Using her belief that Food is Better Medicine™, she created a brand that merges ancient plant remedies with modern science to promote overall health and wellness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have always believed in ancient far Eastern remedies based on plants, using ingredients like mung bean sprouts and Ashitaba leaves. I was raised in China, where, as a young girl I would try to heal my own ailments using herbs and plants found in nature. I continued to experiment and research, which led me to study biochemistry at Fudan University in Shanghai where I got my first taste of entrepreneurship, opening the first flower shop at Fudan University, and running it all on my own. Shortly after that, I came to St. Louis in 1996 and continued a path of rigorous academics, attending Saint Louis University Medical School and Washington University before completing my post-doctoral studies at Northwestern University. In 2017, I made the decision to explore what many other producers in the beverage industry refused to think about. Through my brand, Karuna Wellness Beverages, I’m doing something very unusual in this culture by using food as medicine.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
Getting into whole foods, perseverance, unique points — story to success
I think that the most interesting story so far would include my perseverance and success with my national presence in Whole Foods. I first presented the Detox, Empower and Rejuvenate drinks to the store team leaders. I stopped by each of the stores every other day to get a chance to talk to them and understand their thoughts on the beverages. They were brave to try these drinks and share their honest feedback. I did store samplings to get customer’s feedback which definitely thickened my skin! The customers told me what they enjoyed and what I needed to change. I learned to say “thank you for your honest feedback” often and really grew to appreciate my customers’ thoughts and opinions. This led to great retail success at Whole Foods which I would have never imagined!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Since the start of this pandemic, many businesses have decided to hold off on their innovations and marketing. Many leaders pause as if to say ‘why move further with new products when times are already this hard?’ Instead, they should be asking themselves, ‘what does a consumer need once we are out of this pandemic?’ For my brand, the answer is: nutrients… whole plant ingredients, put together in tasty low-sugar recipes that offer health and comfort.
We see comfort food sales picking up because people want foods that make us “feel good” when life seems uncomfortable. I have been working on a new project to support the idea of comfort and familiar flavors. It will contain fiber-rich gluten-free oat shells and ginseng to promote energy. Inspired by Japanese Mochi ice cream, this delightfully silky, whole grain smoothie is a superfood for your heart and gut. I am excited to launch it soon.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am inspired by everyone around me. As Karuna’s philosophy is compassion, I truly believe that everyone can be a mentor while also committing to continuous learning. Being humble is also important — I never want to act like I know everything because I feel that everyone else may know things that I don’t know! I am especially grateful for my consumers because their input and ideas inform our new innovations.
For example, we designed our bottles with tightly fitting lids to seal in nutrients. My customers let me know the bottles were too hard to open. Their feedback is invaluable — together we make Karuna better!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
I am sure every parent has the same challenges, including having young children who cannot stay home alone, finding a babysitter, needing the comfort of knowing your child is safe with whomever watches them. I realized that while running my business and being a woman business leader, I am also going to need to be a babysitter and a teacher or whatever else was needed of me. In the beginning, I thought, “I can handle this!” But it became challenging very quickly. I also realized that my kids’ needs do not follow a schedule.
As a mom, you are so used to meeting your children’s needs, but they will also constantly come to you because you are their comfort during these times. I am used to being a working mom while they are in school all day — so how do you handle the stress of being with them all day?
Because they are lacking the social interaction they normally get at school, we as parents are faced with new and more interactive demands from our children that we never had to handle before. We also must understand that they are doing something completely new with their learning and they are mentally exhausted.
Moms learning to handle these new challenges have to recognize that we are not ‘’superwomen’ and we also have to learn to cope with a new normal.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
While these times have been challenging, I have found comfort in my business. I am thankful that I have my brand. I love to develop new products so when I am stressed out, I can go back to the fun things and work on developing new innovative ideas! I also find relief in learning. I am constantly working to learn something new. Right now, I am focusing on how to launch in a new market, create new products and successfully utilize new platforms.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
If you compare me to other food and beverage entrepreneurs, I am much older than most of them. While with age comes experience, I would have never imagined the constant challenges ranging from A to Z. Especially in a pandemic, you don’t have the luxury of writing a business plan and simply following it! But you also quickly learn to deal with problems when they arise. During the hard and unanticipated times, especially from this pandemic, there are many times that I want to quit and say, “I’m done.” However, I have learned that I’m more in control than it may seem on the surface — as long as I keep working on the future and staying positive we can prevail. Entrepreneurs hold the power of not quitting…and staying focused for the long term.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
First of all, you can’t address these challenges until you understand that challenges are bound to happen and they will always happen. It is important to stay optimistic and have a flexible mindset.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
I make it a priority in the morning to wake up and take 10 minutes to think about what my ideal schedule is for the day. And then I think about my kids’ schedules. It’s important to find the balance of what is best for you both. Whether it’s taking your kids out on a run, or making lunch, you can anchor a plan but have the mentality to be flexible. Have an idea of what your day might look like but also be prepared for it to change.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
I love to be as close with nature as possible, I am a nature person. Maybe it’s from my research, but I believe that our life is always full of risk. Regardless, I am going to keep doing the things that I like to do and that I enjoy. I believe that people should continue to do the things that bring them serenity in ways where they can still feel comfortable.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
There are multiple philosophies that I follow and have created my brand around. I believe that they will ultimately lead us to success and happiness regardless of the pandemic. As Karuna means compassion, I find immense importance in caring for yourself and the world around you. I was able to show compassion during this time to our community by offering my wellness beverages as donations to hospitals and essential healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also believe that is important to feed the soul with meditation and practicing what brings you comfort. I feed my soul by remaining one with nature and crafting environmentally conscious and sustainable actions. It is also important to care for the body by consuming plant-based, superfood nutrition. By following this philosophy, you can heal the body from the inside.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I offer support to my family through this time by understanding all of our needs and implementing parts of our daily lives that remained constant before the pandemic. For example, I know that connecting with nature and being outdoors is important for one’s health and brings me comfort and happiness. I try to make sure that my family is able to get outside and do outdoor activities as much as possible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The other day, I heard a quote from the New Zealand Prime Minister. I do not follow their politics but she shared, “It takes courage and strength to have empathy.” This quote really resonated with me because at Karuna, our philosophy is compassion, and I believe that it takes courage and strong beliefs to practice compassion too. Being a person of compassion is very hard to do and takes strength but it is incredibly important in our world.
How can our readers follow you online?
Your readers can follow Karuna on Instagram @mykaruna and on Facebook @MyKarunaBeverages. They can also follow along with our blog on our website (https://mykaruna.com/) which offers recipes and information on staying healthy and happy during these trying times!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!