Profile

Renee Elliott, English




“You make your own opportunities. No one handed that to me.”
Renée (Jurgelon) Elliott, founder of the United Kingdom’s largest independent organic grocer, traces her passion for healthy eating to a book on the required reading list for an elective nutrition class at UMass Lowell. “Diet for a Small Planet” transformed her attitude about food.

“That book changed my life,” recalls Elliott, the founding director of Planet Organic and one of England’s leading proponents of healthy eating. “I became a vegetarian as a result.”

Since Elliott opened the first Planet Organic supermarket in London’s fashionable Notting Hill district in 1995, the business has grown into a five-store chain, offering produce, meat, baked goods, beauty items and natural remedies. She has also written three cookbooks. The most recent, “Me, You & the Kids, Too: The Ultimate Time-Saving Cookbook with Recipe Variations for the Whole Family,” was published in 2012.

The youngest of four children, Elliott graduated from Georgetown High School and came to UMass Lowell without any definite career plans. Since the high-tech industry was taking off, a computer science degree seemed like a smart bet. However, she quickly realized studying algorithms and writing code wasn't for her so she switched her major to English. Her path from English major to expat entrepreneur was an unconventional one, guided more by serendipity than design.

To cultivate her love of writing, she joined the Connector staff, penning reviews and editing features for the campus newspaper. Determined to get hands on professional experience, she landed an internship at WBZ-TV, working for arts and entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik, who remains a great friend. 

“You make your own opportunities,” says Elliott. “No one handed that to me.” 

On a summer trip to London before her senior year, she met Englishman Brian Elliott on a bus and they began dating. After graduating, she returned to London to resume the romance and the couple married in 1990.

Her first job in England was as a wine writer but a trip back to the United States for a six-month leadership class planted the seed of the idea for an organic grocery business. She had shopped regularly at a health food store and was inspired to bring the concept of an organic supermarket back to her adopted home.

Read Elliott's full story (pdf) in the UMass Lowell magazine, pg. 53.