Visit any farmers market, festival, or bazaar in the area and there’s a good chance you’ll find Ann-Marie Stephens or her husband, Ed, working a booth. However, there is far more to their story than the exotic herbal mixtures and infused oils they offer to inquisitive visitors.
Ann-Marie and Ed started the company Precise Portions more than ten years ago, focusing on making healthy eating easier for everyone, but with particular attention to at-risk populations who were prone to being overweight and Type-2 diabetes. Both Ann-Marie and Ed had high incidence of occurrence in their families, and Ed lost both his mother and his sister to diabetes.
As chemical engineers who worked for companies such as Frito Lay and Procter and Gamble, the husband-and-wife team understands the science behind the blood chemistry of what people eat and how it plays out over the long-term.
“When we started ten years ago, the whole idea of portion control was more like a script,” said Ann-Marie. “A dietitian would hand someone a paper plate that literally had lines drawn on it with a magic marker and say, ‘Okay, this is what your plate should look like.’ The fixation was on the plate and people really didn’t have great tools to properly manage their eating.”
The lightbulb went off for Ann-Marie a couple of years before starting Precise Portions. During a customer discovery interview, a diabetic patient told her that when she eats, she feels alone because she was the only person in her family that had to eat a specific diet. She was embarrassed to eat at the table with her grandchildren and children.
“When she spoke to me, it was so gut-wrenching,” said Ann-Marie. “It’s something people really don’t think about, and it’s something that apps don’t think about—that feeling of aloneness that people with diabetes sometimes experience. They’re like, ‘I can’t enjoy this anymore. I’m embarrassed. I want to be like everybody else.’ So, that woman actually inspired most of the way we do our work.”
The result was an online retail experience that Ann-Marie refers to as her “garage.” The couple created a website that was a store for everything diabetic. “The power of the concept was, you could come to this website and everything in this store would be curated for each individual visitor,” said Ann-Marie. “The store would have absolutely nothing with more than six grams of sugar. That would be like your spaghetti sauce. We would also select snacks for you that would all have more than two grams of fiber. All of those little details that day-to-day people don’t pay attention to because they don’t really understand how to design nutritional intake for optimal outputs in their bodies.”
The store tested sugar-free gift baskets, sugar-free desserts, as well as diabetic shoes and socks. The store did very well, but the data showed the weakest link was nutrition. “That’s where we had the highest demand and the most interest,” said Ann-Marie. “When we looked around, there weren’t very many people or companies focused on the healthy eating nutrition solutions for persons with diabetes. That’s how we built Precise Portions.”
Initially, the Stephens’s thought they should make the site a bit broader and more focused on healthy eating for the mainstream. “I don’t know if that was the smartest call,” said Ann-Marie. “We probably should have stuck with diabetes and just drilled down further into it, which is what we’re doing now. We’re coming full circle and we’re building out a new company called WelFore Health and we’re doubling down on creating a complete platform. But now, instead of a retail store, we’re going with an AI (artificial intelligence) platform that will provide machine-learning as a way to scale our solution to the masses.”
While the new platform is being built, anyone interested in eating healthier and potentially losing weight, lowering their blood pressure and sugar levels, and feeling more energetic can get started at preciseportions.com. There is a free online “bootcamp” that provides detailed information on how the program works and why it’s important. Those who wish to become fully immersed in the program can sign up on the website and create a profile that will help the Precise Portions team create specific plans just for them.
“We give you a meal plan for your lifestyle,” Ann-Marie says. “That’s why it’s so personalized. It’s just for you.”
The ultimate goal of the program is not only to help individuals, but families as a whole in the process. “What we’re seeing is generational—the behavior of one generation is passing on to the others,” Ann-Marie says. “What we would like to do is create an intervention the whole family can enjoy, that the whole family can embrace.”