MOMtrepreneur Manufactures Line Of Weight Loss Dishes
Since resident re-launched her “Portionware” company in 2009, she says its slow, organic growth could serve as a model for other Mahwah mom entrepreneurs
According to its designer, Mahwah resident Jennifer Cronenberg Panepinto, the idea behind Portionware is simple: busy eaters should be able to measure how much food they are eating, without feeling like they are restricting themselves while doing it.
In the early 2000’s, while pursuing her Master’s Degree in design at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Panepinto was dieting in preparation for her upcoming wedding. “One night I was eating out of measuring cups, and the idea dawned on me,” Panepinto said. She wanted to design a set of dishes that could measure food and help people control portion sizes, but also look nice, like normal dishes, and “not make you feel like you were punishing yourself.”
The 1994 Mahwah High School grad turned her idea into a reality, and developed Mesu, a porcelain set of bowls with measurements built-in as her thesis project at SVA. After graduation, she and a few partners launched Mesu in the commercial marketplace.
Panepinto was on The Today Show, Extra!, and even sold her bowls several times on QVC. “It was all very fast-paced, and business was going well. We tried to be everywhere,” she said.
Over several years, Mesu sold over 15,000 units. However, in 2007, when the company ran into manufacturing problems and Panepinto became pregnant with her first child, she and her partners decided to dissolve the company. “It was really just a case of life getting in the way,” Panepinto said. “And, looking back, our growth was a little too fast-paced for me. What we were doing was a little forced, and at the time, closing it made the most sense.”
Panepinto, who lives with her husband Robert and now 5-year-old son Bobby in Mahwah, said she was not going back into the bowl business after closing Mesu. “I really thought I was done,” she said. She started working as a graphic designer at the Toys R Us corporate office in Wayne, a job she still holds today.
However, in 2009, she began receiving emails from past customers asking where they could get her product, and why the company no longer existed. After “a lot of thinking,” Panepinto decided to give in to customer demand.
“I rebranded and launched a new company during the holiday season of 2009,” she said. “But this time, I did things the exact way I wanted to.”
Panepinto redesigned her bowls, changing them from porcelain to plastic, which allows for the bowls to be available in a variety of colors, and cuts down on the possibility of manufacture error. “Porcelain is a natural material, so it can sometimes be hard to get it to be an exact measurement,” she explained. “It’s easier to effectively do that with plastic, and we need our bowls to be exact measurements.”
She also changed the name of her second-generation product to “Portionware,” which she said is much more reflective of what the product actually is. The redesign also led to a significant price cut, to $29.99 for a set, instead of the $50 her company charged for the Mesu bowls.
Now, Portionware is being sold through Panepinto’s website, and other websites that sell home, weight loss and kitchenware products. “Our biggest seller so far has been DailyCandy.com, which has sold the product four times,” she said. Portionware is currently for sale on the site’s “Deals” section for $20 each.
“It is slower than last time, but we are growing,” Panepinto said. “It’s at the point where it’s not a hobby, I make money from this. But, it’s going at a pace that I am comfortable with.” Last year, Panepinto sold 6,000 units of Portionware.
Recently, the company has been recognized by the American Diabetes Association, which has started to sell Portionware on its website. “That is really exciting,” she said.
Moving forward, Panepinto says she does have plans to expand. She said she will continue to look for new sales opportunities for Portionware, will add more color options to the design (she currently sells three colors – blue to green, red to orange and clear), and expand the number of products it manufactures. She is currently working on the design for a similar children’s product that she hopes to launch by this holiday season.
“I think last time around, I learned that if you want to do something you love, you can’t beat it to death with a stick,” Panepinto said. “You need to nurture it. I learned that you can live your dream, just not all at once. For me, running the company at this slower pace, and letting it have a more organic growth pattern has been perfect. I haven’t had to force anything.”
Panepinto said she loves, and uses, Portionware, and really believes that it has brought down her “eating stress level.” This time around, she has no plans to stop the company. “I really think I am making my mark on the world, however small, and I’m happy with it. I love what I’m doing, love my product, and I’m proud of it.”
Find out more about Portionware at its website.
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