Welcome back to our series Behind the Brand where we introduce you to some of the most innovative brains in business. Today we're spotlighting Noha Waibsnaider, founder of Peeled Snacks.
Fresh off the announcement that the FDA will be requiring brands to list their added sugar content, we spoke to Noha about the no-sugar-added philosophy behind Peeled and how she beat the odds to launch an organic food brand back when farm-to-table wasn't even on our radar.
How did you get your start? What was your first job?
"I worked at a large food company and I learned all about our food supply and all the sugar, chemicals, and preservatives added to our food. I was horrified and I realized that people deserve better and that I can do better. That was back in 2004 so people were just starting to get into organic food and way before people cared about added sugar. We were a little bit ahead of the times which had its pros and cons. We’ve been around for a long time and established ourselves and our relationships with our farmers and community."
When did Peeled Snacks officially launch?
"I started on working on Peeled in 2004 and launched the company 2005. Originally we created a snack mix made of fruit and nuts but that had a short shelf life. So, in 2007 we moved on to our dried fruit line. Everything we do is organic, non GMO, and gluten free and we don’t add any sugar."
What product are you most excited about right now?
"Our big hit is our Peas Please line that just launched. It’s basically a green Cheeto that is good for you. It’s made 0f 70 percent peas and brown rice. We just launched our white cheddar flavor."
Where did the inspiration to create Peeled Snacks come from?
"I’m originally from Israel and I grew up eating dried fruit. I realized that for thousands of years people have been eating dried fruit and that it's a huge category everywhere else but in the US. Dried fruit is a great way to get fiber and have a sweet treat that is good for you and won’t give you a big sugar crash. Finally, the FDA is changing our labels to include added sugar amounts and I definitely thought that was coming sooner but it’s thrilling to finally see the changes now."
Peeled takes a strong stance on not adding sugar, preservatives, or oils to their snacks. How did this close-to-nature approach come about? How does it tie into your personal passions?
"I grew up in Israel and Argentina and came to the States when I was nine-years-old. For the first time we started eating processed foods and I started gaining weight. My ballet teacher in 7th grade told me to go on a diet and I was horrified. I struggled with my weight all the way through college and in the '80s and '90s everyone was saying to eat low fat which at that time meant I was eating so much sugar. I’d come home from school and be exhausted and would eat these low fat snacks that caused sugar crashes. I felt terrible. Once I learned about added sugar, the difference between eating fruit with fiber, and how other nutrients can help your body absorb the sugar so it doesn’t shock the body, it changed my life."
Where did that knowledge come from?
"Over the years I tried all kinds of different diets to lose weight but I don’t think I fully absorbed the difference in eating different types of sugars before I was pregnant with my daughter. I did the gestational diabetes test and mine came back positive. Usually they make you take another test but the liquid you have to drink made me so ill I told my doctor I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I did the week-long diabetes pin prick test and tested my blood. All week long I ate dried fruit and the tests were fine. But, there was a bakery next to our office and they would bring over left over wedding cake. One day that week I had a piece and my blood sugar just spiked and I realized 'oh that’s the difference! That's what bad sugar does vs. good sugar.'"
What product from the Peeled Snacks line are you most proud of?
"The dried fruit is our roots and I’m still very fond of it. I eat our fruit most days. The Peas Please is really exciting because it’s our newest innovation and it has protein to fill you up longer. It’s a fun new area for us. We just launched it a year ago and we’re getting so much positive feed back on it. We also get a lot of good feedback from moms for their kids and from men."
What was the biggest set back you’ve faced and how did you deal with it?
"With a food company it takes a lot of money to grow the business. You literally need to pay for shelf space in the store and that’s really expensive. The more you grow the more money you need. There’s no real venture capital in the early stages of food so the money comes from friends and family and we did some crowd funding. It just takes a lot of work to get that funding. That has been probably the most challenging thing over the years especially early on when I would go talk to investors and bankers and they were like, 'What? Organic fruit?' Now it’s different—organic food is what everyone wants to be invested in."
You launched Peeled Snacks from you NY apartment, where did you find the courage to take the business to the big leagues and when did you get your big break?
"When I first started working on it I thought well I could do this for a year and worst case scenario I would get a regular job next year. One of the things I didn't realize was that once I was in it for a year there was a glimmer of hope that I could get it where I wanted it to be. Over the years there have been so many challenges where we almost went bankrupt, couldn’t make payroll, and would barely keep it together. But, there’s always been a light at the end of the tunnel that kept us going. Now things are going really well and they’re growing but there are new challenges with the growth but it’s abetter place to be. I put together a business plan and I thought 'oh it can be a small business' and I didn’t realize how much went into it. Ignorance is bliss! What motivated me was that I didn't think I’d start a company. I just wanted to find a healthy food company to work for but there were none at that time. So part of it was not finding a company I felt comfortable working for."
A lot of companies these days are talking about transparency and so is Peeled, what does it mean to you for your business?
"The number one thing is that we are very much focused on having everything on our ingredient label be recognizable as food. The ingredients have to be high quality. Also everything is organic and non GMO and we work really closely with our farmers to makes sure that happens. We work really hard to expand our farmer connections around the world."
What was the best advice you received as you were growing your business and what advice would you pass on?
"The number one thing is the power of connection. You can’t do it alone. it takes an incredible team and a network. The more helpful you can be to other people the more helpful they can be to you. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own problems but everyone is going through something and the more you can get out there and reach out to your network the better it will be."
What’s next for peeled?!
"We’re going to continue to innovate and expand our healthy snacks platform. We’re going to be launching more veggie-based snacks which we’re very excited about. Right now our white cheddar peas just launched so that’s a big part of the coming year. And we’re launching a few spicy snack in the next year that we’re so excited about."
Peeled Snacks are available nationwide in Whole Foods, Hudson News in airports, Target, and more.
Have you tried Peeled Snacks? Did you like them?