Nicole L’Huillier Fenton and Steve Redmond are the faces behind Skillet Creative, a primarily food-focused branding and
marketing firm based in Burlington that cooks up gastronomic enthusiasm throughout the local community. Fenton, who grew up up in Rutland and currently resides in Essex with her husband and son, has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Redmond grew up in Colchester, where his mother still lives, and settled in Hinesburg with his wife and two boys, Teddy and Charlie. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in graphic arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. The pair recently sat down to discuss their marketing firm and all things food.
Q: How did you two meet?
Nicole: We met through the Vermont Specialty Food Association, but the concept for the business came about [at the Fancy Food Show — an annual, international specialty foods show]. It’s an amazing show and you can see that Vermont represents really well with incredibly high quality products in such an international setting. When we were coming back, there was some wine, a layover and a good conversation about how we had an opportunity here to create something really great and unique for this industry.
Steve: It was the first trip we did together and the first Fancy Food Show I had ever been to. It built excitement and energy behind the industry. When we went to the show, I remember thinking this could be our home, our space, our people, and how great would that be?
Q: What is the food like at the show?
Nicole: There’s so much food. By the end, my stomach is so confused. In two steps it was lobster bisque and then a hundred-year-old vinaigrette. It’s so bad, but so good. You have to pace yourself and remember that you don’t have to eat everything you see.
Steve: There are a lot of food samples there. We felt like dogs. It was like, ‘Bird!’ then ‘Cheese! Chocolate! Carmel popcorn!’
Q: At Skillet, how do you brand food labels?
Nicole: Because we’ve worked in this industry, we continue to grow our knowledge base of what people need. We can work at any level the clients need us to, but we can also tell them what they need to do to be successful in this industry.
Steve: The first thing is to understand the client utterly and completely. We have to know what they’re trying to accomplish, where they’ve been, where they are now and their segment and competitors in the industry. Then, depending on what they want to try and achieve, we create a brief that outlines how far we will take them. Are we evolving them someplace or are we launching them to a new place? Is it evolutionary or revolutionary? The goal could be almost anything. Oftentimes it starts with packaging. It’s the one competitive place in the market where everyone gets fair representation, and we help our clients play fairly and play smart to stand out in that environment. It’s not philanthropic but I can easily get behind it. I’m not trying to sell a widget; I’m trying to sell a really great piece of cheese.
Q: How are you involved with the local food scene and community?
Nicole: I’ve been involved in the local food scene around here for a long time. I’ve worked in restaurants and at City Market as the marketing manager. On a more community level, I helped start the [Five Corners] Farmers’ Market in Essex. There were about 10 of us who were sitting around a room four years ago in March and decided we were going pull this out for June.
We’ve also done a lot of work with organizations that support the food industry like the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA) and the Intervale Center. It’s rewarding to know that our 9 to 5 jobs also enhance the local food community.
Steve: The thing that first got me involved was an organization through South Burlington schools called Common Roots. It’s a farm-to-school program concerned with getting fresh and locally grown foods into the school system. I had a basic understanding of farming but that was the first time I became aware of these organizations trying to take it further to create a better economy for Vermont farmers.
Q: Why is supporting local food producers important to you?
Nicole: It’s as simple as we have to. If we don’t have farms, we won’t live, which is my philosophy behind making sure farmers are held up on pedestals. We have an intimate relationship with food; we put it into our bodies every single day. As a community, we have to consider how we think about where our food comes from
Steve: I appreciate seeing the entrepreneurial spirit of people looking at farming as a way of life. There’s a part of my personality that embraces a throwback, and to me, people looking at farming and thinking ‘I could do that’ — it’s entrepreneurial but it’s also embracing something from a simpler time while making it new. There are these trends that seem really small, but over time I think it’s possible to see it really move. The surgeon general’s warning on cigarettes started being used in the 60s, and no one thought it would do much, but you can’t measure it over a few years. It’s always great that people can speak through their actions and with their dollars. In our time, we’ll know that we’ve contributed on some level.
— Alanna Gilbert