Deliciously Ella by Julia Dettmer | 3rd December, 2021 | Personalities
With her laid-back charm and plant-based cooking, the U.K.’s favorite food influencer Ella Mills is inspiring a whole generation. She’s creating apps, cookbooks and healthy snacks, and has even opened a restaurant. Take a rare peek behind the scenes and into the world of Deliciously Ella.
Fans of clean eating regard this power woman as a superstar. The blog she started back in 2012 has grown into a food empire and developed a huge following. Describing its humble beginnings in an interview with GG, Ella Mills says: ”I was really ill, lacking in direction and totally unambitious when I wrote the first recipe on our original website.“
All she intended at first was to document her new diet and share her experiences online. The change had become unavoidable, because of a neurological condition called postural tachycardia syndrome (PoTS). Ella, who at the time still went by her maiden name Woodward, was diagnosed with the condition in the second year of her studies at St. Andrews University in Scotland. The 21-year-old spent months in the hospital, was put on steroids and beta blockers, but no medication seemed to work. After spending 18 months in bed watching trash TV, feeling mentally and physically drained, she decided one day that she couldn’t go on like this. Something had to change. So she started researching how proper nutrition affects the body and read up on all kinds of other people who had improved their health by changing their diet. She banned sugar, gluten and animal products from her kitchen. “I felt I had nothing to lose by trying something else,” she explains.
Up to that point, she had shown no particular interest in healthy eating, had never tried kale or quinoa and has described her old self as a “Haribo and Ben & Jerry’s junkie.” Ella admits that she was not even very well prepared: “I couldn’t cook, so I started a recipe website to record my experiments.” The whole thing began as a personal project, but her fascination with her new hobby grew so quickly that she started sharing more and more recipes online. Two years ago, Ella revealed that her page had been viewed more than 130 million times in the previous four years – a far cry from the personal project it had started out as.
Ella’s culinary creations struck a chord with a whole generation of millennials interested in cooking. It changed their lives, as well as Ella’s, and Deliciously Ella was born. Vegan and gluten-free doesn’t sound like much fun: no animal products (which also rules out honey), no wheat flour, no sugar. At first glance, it looks like anything at all mouth-watering is out of bounds. But if you spend a little bit of time looking into the meat-free alternatives, an exciting world of new products opens up. And Ella helps people discover it.
But what is it about the influencer that so fascinates her target audience (currently two million followers on Instagram alone)? What distinguishes her from famous TV chefs and other food bloggers? Her personal story gives Ella particular credibility. From bed-ridden sugar junkie to vibrant culinary queen no longer reliant on medication – it’s a modern fairy tale come true.
Unlike many other influencers who have devoted themselves to veganism, the culinary autodidact is no hardline missionary, her approach is relaxed. Ella’s name and face are her brand, and she demonstrates her recipes with a winsome casualness. Despite this, the now roughly 170 videos are professionally produced, with Ella providing the explanatory voiceovers herself. Her loyal community loves following her recipes, and so each new video attracts thousands of clicks in the first few hours after posting.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the brand ambassador is extremely attractive. Ella doesn’t use a lot of makeup and is a natural in front of the camera. The way she goes about things makes following in her footsteps look easy: If you want to look like me, eat like me. It’s a message that has proved popular in today’s world of self-optimization, of various health crazes and body positivity.
The community grew rapidly. Soon, the small number of readers her blog initially attracted had turned into thousands of fans clamoring for cooking classes and workshops. Ella responded by investing her earnings straight into the development of her Deliciously Ella app, which rocketed to the topof the iTunes charts and transformed Ella from an amateur blogger into a businesswoman overnight.
Her first book “Deliciously Ella: Awesome ingredients, incredible food that you and your body will love” sold more copies in its first week than any other newly released cookbook in the U.K. What makes her books so successful? They are not hastily thrown-together lists of recipes, but genuine reference books for vegan cooking. Every chapter includes a few pages of explanatory notes, so that you understand what is inside the food you prepare. The great success of her debut motivated Ella to embark on a resolute expansion of her brand. Business acumen and knowing how to market yourself were something she had picked up from her parents. Her father Shaun Woodward is a well-known U.K. politician, while her mother Camilla Sainsbury is the heiress to one of the biggest British supermarket chains.
So everything has come full circle: Deliciously Ella products – mueslis, vegetable crackers and snacks – are today stocked throughout the U.K., in the 600 branches of Sainsbury’s, but also at rival chains Tesco and Waitrose. And they are, of course, also available on the Ella website.
Ella doesn’t celebrate her successes alone. Her husband Matthew Mills, the CEO of their company, has been by her side since the time her career really took off. They got married in 2016. Now 31, Ella regularly posts family snaps featuring Matthew and their two daughters Skye (2) and May (1).
”We’ve put everything we have, physically and emotionally, into the company.“ ELLA MILLS
Her fans naturally love the fact that the millionaire business woman has a completely ordinary family life. It makes her even more likable. Successfully juggling the company and family life takes a lot of effort, though, Ella admits: “It’s chaos, but completely brilliant. We learned early on that drawing clear lines between work and home was always going to be a challenge, so we lean into the blurred lines – our work is our life in so many ways, and our girls mean absolutely everything. You can’t have it all though. This chapter of our life is dedicated to work and family life, there really isn’t space for much else.”
One example of Ella constantly striving to improve her offering is her app. It was completely revamped based on user feedback and relaunched with a new look this fall. “The app embraces a holistic approach to health, which I have found to be the most effective and sustainable way to feel my best – across plant-based foods, movement, mindfulness and sleep,” Ella explains.From nourishing 20-minute pasta dishes, salads and brownies to 15-minute cardio classes you can squeeze in before work, and longer, rejuvenating yoga flows – there’s something there for everyone. And with its new name “Feel better – by de,” the Deliciously Ella app now reflects its new, expanded mission.
An essential component of the new app is the mindfulness category for which Ella has also put together a dedicated sleep section. “The community wanted more ways to find calm and clarity in their days and improve the quality of their sleep,” says the app’s creator. There are also tools like calming sounds, guided meditations to help you fall asleep and yoga flows. In addition to this, a desktop version of the app has been released so that users can access the recipes and classes more easily on larger screens.
Apart from writing her six bestselling cookbooks, the app, the website, a podcast and the products she has developed herself, Ella has also been busy managing her London restaurant, Plants by de. It opened this past summer on a small, quiet street that runs parallel to Oxford Street and is located in a typical London brick building. As you enter, you immediately feel Ella’s understated and authentic energy throughout. The color scheme consists of natural hues, the interior design is mostly wood and the crockery is earthenware. You can purchase all of Ella’s delicacies here as take out, or eat in, and try the moist chocolate cake – egg-free, of course.
The coronavirus crisis slowed Ella’s drive a little and presented her with some challenges: “I was nine weeks pregnant when it started, and our older daughter, Skye, was only nine months old, so we really had our hands full! We had to close our café (Editor’s note: The café was in the same place as her restaurant that opened six months ago). We lost a lot of business with our food products, as High Street and travel hubs were shut. We had to cancel international product launches, move a book launch and cancel a big book tour.”
Nevertheless, in the great scheme of things, she concedes, they were really lucky, as she managed to lead her business out of the crisis with a clearer vision. The couple also spent unforgettable moments with their daughters. “Focusing on each day, rather than looking to the future really helped,” says Ella. Deliciously Ella has indeed emerged stronger from that very challenging period. At the end of August the Mills announced a milestone in their company’s history on Instagram. They wrote: “Today we bought our investors out of our company, which means that as of a few minutes ago, Deliciously Ella became a fully owned family company again.” Back in sole control!
Next on the agenda are product launches in retail chains throughout Europe. During our interview, Ella says proudly: “This feels like the start of our next chapter. We’ve put absolutely everything we have, physically and emotionally, into the company and knowing that its future is now fully in our hands feels incredible.” She adds that these days, many businesses are created just to be sold off, to make a quick buck. She and her husband prefer doing things the old-fashioned way and look at their company as a long-term commitment – and as their life’s work.