Diabetes risk in family spurs ventures for couple

Husband and wife Ed and Ann-Marie Stephens founded their first website, TypeFreeDiabetes.com, after compiling information for family members who were diabetic.
“Our families are stricken with Type 2 diabetes,” Ed Stephens said. “All of my three older siblings have it, and Ann-Marie has family members with it.”

Both Ed and Ann-Marie Stephens are chemical engineers with backgrounds in product development for large national companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Frito-Lay and Avon. They decided to create a website that would contain dietary and nutritional information in addition to products for diabetics, everything from shoes and cookware to meters and portion-controlled dinnerware.

“We wanted a one-stop shop for people who have diabetes,” said Ann-Marie Stephens, who is a former senior vice president at Circuit City Stores Inc. “We wanted it to be a lifestyle site. People are always looking for a place that will help them figure it all out.”

The couple founded Henrico County-based Blue Horizon Development in 2004 and spent three years conducting research before launching the e-commerce site TypeFreeDiabetes.com in 2007.

“We have been executing a phased rollout of our concept,” Ann-Marie Stephens said. “Phase one was the information and education center of the site. Phase two was the e-commerce portion, which started in 2008.”

They had considered opening a bricks-and-mortar location but decided to go the Internet route instead. “On the Web, we didn’t have the overhead,” she said.

In 2010, the couple also launched PrecisePortions.com, a site for the sale of their porcelain dinnerware system for weight management. They saw portion-controlled dinnerware as a strategic area for their company.

“At our hearts, we are innovators,” Ann-Marie Stephens said.

In addition to portion-controlled dinnerware, PrecisePortions.com includes healthy recipes and charts containing nutritional information regarding vegetables, meats and starches.

The stylish design the couple used for their plates, bowls and glasses is easy to understand because of its subtle visual cues for portioning. The weight management system is dietitian designed to ensure it meets dietary guidelines from the American Dietetic Association.

Dietician and nutritional consultant Bernadine Scott of Detroit said she enjoys consulting with the couple on PrecisePortions.com.

“They are excellent to work with,” she said. “They are receptive to ideas because they want accurate information.”
She finds that people often have challenges with portioning when they are trying to lose weight or stay on a healthy diet.

“Most people want a simple tool to work with,” Scott said. “Before (PrecisePortions.com), portion-control plates have always been plastic ware. These look elegant. I like the idea that a person could use them every day.”

In 2010, TypeFreeDiabetes.com experienced top-line revenue growth and was able to double its profits of 2009. “PrecisePortions.com sales are going well too,” Ann-Marie Stephens said.

Most of the company’s sales for both sites are concentrated in the United States, but PrecisePortions.com also is selling in Canada. Dinnerware for the site is manufactured in Ohio.

The Stephenses are looking at a few strategic partnerships for their portion-controlled dinnerware line. “We are in talks with a large corporation that is interested in providing this product to its employees,” Ed Stephens said. “We would like to connect with high-profile health and wellness gurus, as well.”

Brian Leach, president and CEO of Richmond-based Unboxed Technologies, began using PrecisePortions dinnerware with his family after Leach consulted with the Stephenses.
“It’s interesting to see how the lines (on the plates) influence your portion control habits,” he said. “It has been educating our children on portion size.”

He finds the Stephenses to be very focused on the consumer.

“They are very passionate about trying to get it right and making a difference,” he said.

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