Not Just Co. uses straight-forward, New England approach to make healthy eating simpler

Gwen Egan, news staff

Not Just Co. is a pantry staple company working to make healthy, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian eating easier for everyone. 

Jacqueline Grady Smith and Catherine Smart founded Not Just Co. in 2018  in Boston. The two taught cooking classes together for two and a half years, in which they would have conversations about how to improve the process of making dinner every night. 

“The company started because I approached Jacqueline when she was six months pregnant in the Boston Public Market,” Smart said. 

Smith and Smart both grew up in New England, with Smart coming to Boston to pursue a master’s degree in gastronomy at Boston University in 2007 while Smith grew up in Massachusetts. The two raised families in the greater Boston area and believe that this, along with their other experiences, taught them what it takes to run a company. As their business has developed, Smart said they’ve been embraced by the Boston food community.

“We’ve both traveled, and we’ve both seen the world, but I think we fundamentally both really feel like there’s a solid ground here that we can build the company on,” Smith said. “We can be a part of the community. It’s a little bit no-nonsense, and I feel like we really relate to other people like that.” 

Despite these similar experiences, what makes their business partnership work is their difference in background. 

Smart is a former food journalist and private chef. Smart is heavily involved in the Boston food scene after years of experience working for her master’s degree and later in the food industry itself. 

“In addition to [Boston] being a part of the brand and really being grounded here, we really benefited from the support of the food community,” she said. 

Smith comes from a background in business operations. She has experience in the food industry through work as a buyer for Whole Foods Market. Smith and Smart’s difference in experience helps their business function.

“It seemed pretty clear to us that our skill sets were very complementary and that we both add a lot of value without being too much on top of one another,” Smith said.

Right now, Not Just Co. produces Not Just Pasta Sauce — the 10-veggie pasta sauce that started it all — Not Just Pesto, Not Just Caramel and Not Just Salad Dressing. All of these products are gluten-free and vegan. 

For Smith, the focus on gluten-free eating was especially pertinent to her experiences with food. 

“Everything is vegan, and we did that not because we’re prescriptive, but because we want more people to be able to access it. I’m gluten-free, not by choice, so that was important to me,” Smith said. 

Not Just Co. also has a blog on their website, aptly titled, “not just a food blog.” This blog contains recipes for different meals and articles on topics related to food and the food community. 

When looking toward the future, the entrepreneurs said they’re looking to provide more meaningful gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options for their customers. 

“We shy away from anything that’s diet culture or prescriptive,” Smart said. “But at the same time, we do try to have healthy, wholesome meals, and it’s an ongoing process, building out this database on our food blog … We just want to make it seem really easy and accessible.” 

One of their most popular recipes is chana masala, a recipe that also happens to be vegan and gluten-free. 

Smart said they’re geared toward expanding their products to include different variations and hopefully will be finding a retail space for a Not Just Co. store in the future. 

Additionally, they’re trying to minimize the company’s carbon footprint. The company’s packaging is carbon-neutral, as it plants more trees than the number of trees harvested to make the product. Smart is working to reduce Not Just Co.’s overall environmental impact as it begins to include more products and exists in more retail spaces. 

“We just switched our manufacturing facility and we’re exploring how much more we can be using local products,” Smart said.“We are very cognizant of greenwashing and don’t ever want to be over promising.”

Both women also hope to expand the food blog into something that can contain more recipes for different families’ needs while not overwhelming whoever is cooking dinner that night. 

“We’re definitely not a media company; we’re a food [Consumer Packaged Goods] CPG brand,” Smart said. “Content not for just the sake of content, but because we really want to be putting good, educational, informative, fun, relatable things out into the world.”