Well before whole foods became commonplace in the American vernacular, Denise Devine WG ’90 had the scoop. Sweetening an idea from her time in Wharton’s MBA program, she founded Devine Foods, Inc., in 1997 and created her own line of all-natural, whole-food based beverages, foods, and desserts. Today, as CEO of her award-winning small business—with an office in Media, Pennsylvania and a plant in Pittsburgh—Devine is ready to put the cherry on top of several years of research and development.
“Our products, when we started, were so far ahead of the market,” Devine says. “And the market has changed drastically within the last six months to a year.” Applying unique technology and some of her 19 patents, Devine is starting public distribution of several products. This spring, she launched Simply Devine, a non-dairy, nutrition-packed, soft-serve frozen dessert that claims to have the silky quality of premium ice cream. Test markets include Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia.
She also plans to re-release Fruice, a Devine Foods beverage that was introduced in the late 1990s, but was hobbled by distribution and production woes. Hailed by culinary professionals, Fruice combines whole grains and fruit to create an organic, wheat- and dairy-free kids’ smoothie with the tasty appeal of juice. The bonus: Without sacrificing sweetness, it gives kids the fiber and complex carbohydrates that the simple sugars of juice cannot. The four flavors—So-Good Strawberry, Perfect Pear, Playful Peach, and Cheerful Cherry—will come in juice pouches featuring a Bullwinkle-style “Fruice Moose.”
Devine’s line of healthy treats was inspired by her own children, now ages 19, 16, and 6. As she saw them filling up on juice, her maternal instincts told her there had to be a better way to coax nutrients into kids. Devine took her interest to the International Food Network in Ithaca, New York. Working with chemists there, she invented a composition with a pleasing taste and texture from the insoluble parts of fruits, vegetables, and grains—think pulp and peels—and a precise combination of acidic ph; foods milled to the micron; and a natural binding agent.
Next she applied for her first patents and quietly began fundraising. Among her investors is the Pennsylvania business incubator, Ben Franklin Technology Partnership. Terrence Hicks, vice president for investments and entrepreneurial services at BFTP describes Devine as “tireless in her efforts” with “a true passion for what she does.”
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial in spirit,” she says. “Penn taught me to think big.” Her alumni activity led to a joint program between the Wharton Women’s Network and the Women’s Investment Network, which Devine co-founded to support female-led, high-growth businesses in greater Philadelphia.
Named one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business in 1999, Devine is a recognized children’s health advocate, speaking and writing on children’s nutrition. In 2000 Devine Foods was named emerging small business of the year by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.
With five products in testing and four set for distribution, she is ready to respond to the consumer demand for nutritious, convenient foods.
Devine’s goals to improve nutrition in childhood may yield benefits over a lifetime. Her technology is being adapted for nutraceuticals—natural health supplements—and she is working with the USDA on a calcium-rich, non-dairy beverage for school-age students. The concept “really blossomed,” and could lead to a smoothie for school lunches, a shake for college cafeterias, and a shake-style nutritional supplement for elderly adults.
“Over the years, my motherly instincts have [been] proven to be correct by real research,” she says. “I just feel like somebody’s got to beat that drum, and I’m happy to do it. I’m very happy to use my business skills to create something that may have a meaningful social consequence as well.”
—Jennifer Baldino Bonett