The plant-based approach to paleo is here to stay, Wholly Bites CEO says

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Plant-based approach to paleo is here to stay, Wholly Bites CEO says

Related tags: Nutrition

The plant-based, grain- and sugar-free approach to the trendy paleo diet is the future of eating, according to the CEO of Wholly Bites, who wants to make sticking to the complicated diet easier with convenient, multi-purpose snacks. 

“The hardcore, heavy-meat approach to the paleo diet may have a shorter runway than the whole-food, plant-based, grain-free, sugar-free and unprocessed food approach,”​ explained Lisa Turner, who acknowledged recent studies that criticized the diet’s focus on meat may be unsustainable and an unrealistic interpretation of what human ancestors ate.  (Read about the analysis of the paleo diet HERE​.) 

“The more plant-based version of the paleo diet is not a trend,”​ however, Turner said. “That is going to nowhere but up,”​ with sales figures projected to grow 25 times by 2018, which “closely mirrors the growth curve of gluten free”​ foods.

Hoping to get in on the ground floor of the diet, Turner, who is a chef and nutritionist, along with well-known natural products expert Carlotta Mast and two other women, founded Wholly Bites in 2012 and launched Wholly Bites Paleo clusters in stores in 2014 as a “seriously delicious treat for anyone on a paleo, grain-free or gluten-free diet,” ​according to the firm’s website.

The “snacking clusters”​ made with organic coconut chips, fruits, nuts, seeds and superfoods, such as chia and hemp, aim to make paleo accessible to a wider variety of people, including moms, children and people with allergies, said Turner, who noted the clusters are certified gluten-free and are soy-, grain- and legume-free.

The snacks come in four flavors and brightly colored, playful packaging that appeals to a broader consumer base than just the “dedicated, hardcore paleo-eater,”​ Turner said. This not only makes the diet more accessible, but it also protects the longevity of the brand on the chance that the intense-paleo trend does fade.

The snacks also are extremely versatile, Turner said. While they can be eaten straight out of the bag like chips or cookies, consumers also can add them to salads or eat them like cereal. Grinding the clusters in a food processor also creates a protein- and nutrient-dense flour that home cooks can use in a wide-range of recipes developed by Turner posted on the firm’s website.

Experiential marketing

Turner also uses her 30-years of expertise as a chef to promote the snack by hosting cooking classes. She says “experiential marketing,”​ like this, is an effective way to reach consumers because there is a community around paleo and classes bring them together.

The firm also reaches out to consumers through its collaboration with First Descents, a non-profit that empowers young adults with or who survived cancer with free outdoor adventures, such as rock climbing, paddling and surfing, Turner said.

The firm works with local schools in Boulder, Colo., to create gardens as a tool to teach students about healthy eating and to provide nutritious food to the institutes, Turner said.

“When you have a company that has some visibility and some ability to make a change – why not? Speaking to this audience is important to me because I am a chef, nutritionist and mom and this is a platform where we can teach people to eat and live better,”​ Turner said.

Succeeding as a woman owned and operated company

Another aspect that sets Wholly Bites apart from competitors in the crowded snack category and gives it an edge for fund-raising is it is all female owned and operated, Turner said.

Being a female owned and operated business appeals to investors who want to diversify their portfolios and see such a business succeed, Turner said. She added that many consumers and moms also are drawn to support the firm for similar reasons.

“One of the reasons [people are drawn to all female companies] is that there hasn’t been many … large, powerful female owned and operated businesses,” ​and many people want to see that change, Turner said.

And it is changing, she noted.  

“Over the past 15 years, women owned businesses grew 1.5 times the national average,” ​and there were 8.6 million women-owned U.S. businesses in 2013, Turner said.

“Because of this, women entrepreneurs have more mentors than ever and I think women tend to be more likely to ask for help,”​ she added.

Having female leaders benefits businesses because “women also tend to have higher emotional intelligence, and may be better at self-awareness, balance and empathy – all critical attributes in creating a high-functioning, sustainable company with happy employees,” ​she said.

In addition, “studies show women prefer collaboration, an important skill in developing business relationships,”​ she said.

A recipe for success

Clearly these attributes are working for Wholly Bites, which has grown quickly since it launched its product last year. The snacks are available in Whole Foods in the Rocky Mountain region, all independent grocers in the Boulder-Denver area and in stores in Portland. The snack also was recently accepted at Vitamin Cottage and will be expanding distribution in surrounding states in the next few months, Turner said.

The firm also currently is raising funds on CircleUp to further expand its business, said Turner, who described the platform as a “community of investors who really care about the product”​ and seeing the firm succeed. (Learn more about how CircleUp helps connect startups with investors HERE​.)

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What could be better than a diet that combines rejecting highly processed foods with a plant-based ethic of compassion for animals?

Paleo-Vegan: a diet for our future.

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