2022 Innovator Award Winner

Second Place | Experienced Alumnae

Ashley Girard, S’07

Founder and CEO, Welly’s Wellness

Ashley Girard Has a Mobile Solution to America’s Food Deserts

by Molly Callahan   |   November 3, 2022

Living by the belief that all individuals should have access to affordable, healthy, and delicious foods, Ashley Girard looks to revolutionize the convenience store industry with her business, Welly’s Wellness. Described as a “7-Eleven, but on wheels,” Welly’s Wellness is the first mobile, self-contained storefront that sells prepackaged snacks, functional beverages, and small household goods—with a bold plan to tackle food deserts across the U.S. by opening 1,000 storefront trailers in the next five years.

Millions of people in the United States live in areas that are known as “food deserts” by the federal Department of Agriculture—parts of the country where household incomes are low and access to fresh food is limited or nonexistent.

The USDA estimates that nearly 39.5 million people live in food deserts in the U.S., a figure that represents roughly 13 percent of the total population. And within these food deserts, the nearest grocery store might be more than 20 miles away and inaccessible by public transportation, leaving families with few options for finding fresh, healthy food.

People still have to eat though, so families rely upon small corner stores, convenience markets, or fast-food chains—all options that are also more prevalent in lower-income communities, according to the USDA.

This all means that maintaining a healthy, rounded diet within a food desert is difficult and expensive, if not impossible.

But one Northeastern graduate has a solution, and she’s taking it on the road.

Welly’s Wellness is a low-cost, healthy, convenience store—on wheels. “We’re the next healthy 7-Eleven,” says Ashley Girard,a 2007 graduate of Northeastern University’s College of Science, and the driving force behind the business. “Healthy food should be affordable and accessible for everyone,” she says.

Girard was recognized with a 2022 Innovator Award, a competition hosted by Northeastern’s Women Who Empower, that drew more than 100 entries in this, its second year.

“Ashley is solving pressing problems in the U.S. related to food insecurity, access to nutrition, and education of healthy lifestyles—especially in marginalized communities,” says Betsy Ludwig, executive director of women’s entrepreneurship at Northeastern, and a member of the Women Who Empower team.

“The Women Who Empower Innovator Award is about celebrating and empowering women who are solving large, complex problems across the world,” she says. “Access to nutritious food for all is one of many complex problems we need to solve for a stronger future.”

Living in Los Angeles, a city where more than 66,000 people were experiencing homelessness at the start of 2020, Girard says she saw how difficult it could be for many people to find healthy, affordable food.

“I believe that health truly is wealth, and everyone should have access to that. Healthier individuals lead to healthier environments and healthier communities.”

—Ashley Girard, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Welly’s Wellness

“I believe that health truly is wealth, and everyone should have access to that. Healthier individuals lead to healthier environments and healthier communities.”

—Ashley Girard, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Welly’s Wellness

She’s starting with a 13-foot, Airstream-like trailer that pops open into a self-contained storefront featuring pre-packaged food, beverages, snacks, and other goods such as lip balm and chewing gum.

It’s the first trailer of what Girard expects to build into a fleet of 1,000 mobile storefronts spread across the U.S. over the next 5 to 10 years. Welly’s Wellness has done a swift business so far in the Southern California communities where Girard has opened. Near the shore, surfers and beach-going families stop by to refuel. At a local horse show, Girard popped Welly’s Wellness between a taco stand and a funnel-cake stand, offering fresh, healthful alternatives to equestrians all weekend.

“The reception has been awesome,” she says. People have described the pop-up shop as “an oasis” of healthful food in an otherwise barren landscape.

“We’re selling yummy things—none of our items are too precious or premium. It’s grab-and-go.” Vegan cheese puffs, crispy onion-ring snacks made of pea flour, and mushroom jerky sit alongside fresh fruits, vegetables, and granola bars. And, Girard says, more than half of the brands she partners with are women-owned.

The trailer is small enough to tow with an SUV or a truck; no commercial drivers’ license is necessary, Girard says. And as she expands, she plans to hire people from the local communities to run the storefronts and partner with local food brands. Girard envisions Welly’s Wellness trailers parked outside antique fairs, high school football games, national parks, or anywhere people congregate.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Girard also opened up an online marketplace, where people from around the country can purchase snacks and goods to be shipped to them. She crafted snack bundles with specific themes—all gluten-free snacks, for example—that have shipped to 16 states so far.

“I believe that health truly is wealth, and everyone should have access to that,” Girard says. “Healthier individuals lead to healthier environments and healthier communities.”