If you’ve forgotten how real food tastes or just wish you could find a simple snack that is convenient, healthy, and super tasty, look no further. Local bakery, 88 Acres, has snack time covered (in seeds!).
Among the endless boxes of energy bars and packages of granola cereals that line grocery store shelves, one local company’s products stand out as unique. What separates 88 Acres’ products from the rest? Seeds! You may have seen their craft “seed bars” or “seednola” at an event in Boston or when shopping for snacks at the local market, but you may not have known these products are made just a few miles from central Boston. In an unassuming gray warehouse-style building next to Common Wealth Kitchen in Dorchester, 88 Acres’ employees are happily churning out seed-packed snacks that loudly proclaim the company’s main strategy: use the “realest” foods possible. This straightforward approach is most evident in a jar of their pumpkin seed butter that is so authentically green, you know it’s made from fresh and wholesome pumpkin seeds.
At 88 Acres, ingredient transparency is paramount. Co-founder, Nicole Ledoux, says, “Our entire food philosophy is based on ingredients that are as close to their real food origin as possible. In our bars, you can see the ingredients. It’s super simple. Every ingredient on our ingredient list you can buy in a grocery store.” Hannah Meier, 88 Acres’ Nutrition Lead and former Sprout editor, adds, “We focus on keeping our ingredients simple and minimally processed, so what you see is what you get. The nutritional benefits of our foods come from the ingredients as they are meant to be eaten.”
While most of us can appreciate an ingredient list with recognizable food items, transparency is essential for people with special dietary needs and can even be life-saving for those with certain food allergies. The latter is the case for Ledoux’s husband and co-founder of 88 Acres, Rob Dalton, who had a major allergic reaction to nuts at a restaurant on their fourth date. In a restaurant setting, where ingredients are often left off menu descriptions, transparency can be hard to come by. But even on food packaging labels, things may not always be clear. Ledoux put it this way, “If an ingredient list says ‘spices,’ does that mean cinnamon and salt, or does that mean toasted sesame?” For the estimated hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer from a sesame allergy (see FoodAllergy.org), this distinction is clearly important.
According to Mayo Clinic, “Food allergy affects an estimated 6 to 8 percent of children under age 3 and up to 3 percent of adults.” Though this number represents only a small part of our population, the number of people with food allergies has increased at a noticeable rate over the last two decades. “[Rob] was the first kid in his school with food allergies,” says Ledoux, “but now there are one in thirteen kids, about one to two kids per classroom, with one of the top eight allergies.” Because of this, the quintessential peanut butter and jelly sandwich is no longer allowed in elementary schools, and sharing school lunch with the kid across the table is out of the question.
In the true spirit of entrepreneurship, creating tasty and nutritious replacements for peanut butter and other allergen-laden products has turned into a viable niche market for food manufacturers. However, adopting the rigid standards that come with avoiding life-threatening allergic reactions can present new challenges for a business. This is especially true for 88 Acres whose Philosophy on Ingredients is to source locally and sustainably produced ingredients as well as avoid cross-contamination with allergens. Ledoux admits, “It’s definitely a more difficult way of doing things. Our oats cost four times more than others on the market due to the ‘purity protocol.’ That commands a higher price tag, so whether you’re serving the allergic community or not, you have to decide, as a business, if the price factor is what’s most important.” For Ledoux, verifiable allergen-free ingredients will win out over cheap ingredients every time.
In a market where foods are injected with all sorts of unnatural ingredients to enhance taste and texture, 88 Acres is reminding people how real food tastes. “The ‘real food’ guidelines that we have in place shepherd our research and development. We don’t add flavors and additives,” says Ledoux. “People say, ‘I love your apple bar, but it doesn’t taste very appley.’ My response is, ‘Well, that’s what apples taste like.’ If we can’t create a good flavor using natural ingredients, we won’t make it.” Keeping it real also means keeping these snacks healthy, as Meier explains: “We don’t add extra protein just to reach a certain number; nor do we include added fibers just to make our nutrition label stand out. We use natural sweeteners that provide real energy, balanced by the protein, fibers and fats inherent to the seeds and oats.”
In case you’ve forgotten just how good “natural” and “healthy” can taste, try their surprisingly rich sunflower seed butters in vanilla spice, dark chocolate, or maple roasted – all of which make morning toast or afternoon slices of apple seem like a special occasion, regardless of whether or not you have food allergies. You can find these products and more at the 88 Acres online store or in person at your local Market Basket, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and select specialty grocery stores.
88 Acres is currently seeking a nutrition communications intern to help support their nutrition initiatives. The role will involve learning about all aspects of a startup food company, creating nutrition-related content for their digital communications and dietitian-focused programming, recipe creation, and lots of taste testing. Contact Hannah Meier at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Kelly Cara is a first-year FNPP student and is focused on the health impact of specific dietary patterns that incorporate various levels of food processing. She comes to Tufts after working for eight years in the field of experimental psychology and higher education research and four years in the culinary field as a health supportive chef and instructor. From 2015-2017, she was the bakery manager and Quality Improvement and Management Consultant for Better Bites Bakery, an allergen free dessert company out of Austin, TX.