Like many food entrepreneurs, Boston, MA-based Patodia was in part motivated by frustration when she created Biena Foods in 2011; in her case at the lack of healthy, but satisfying, savory snack options when she was pregnant and craving a crunchy, salty fix, but didn’t want to devour a family pack of Ruffles and then wallow in guilt for the rest of the evening.
While there was no shortage of ‘healthy snacks’ from fruit leathers to granola bars, they didn’t hit the spot, she told FoodNavigator-USA.
“I’ve got a salty tooth, and if you like crunchy and salty there were not a ton of healthy options. So I had this a-ha moment. Could I take the fried chickpeas I’d had as a child and dry roast them instead to make a healthier snack that was really satisfying and full of flavor?”
As one buyer said, when I put multiple brands on the shelf it’s a signal to consumers that they should be paying attention to the category
While her product “slightly skews” towards women, Patodia says men and children are also big fans because the snacks are very satisfying and the flavors are bold but familiar (honey roasted, BBQ, sea salt, cinnamon maple), while the products have been as successful in conventional retailers such as Stop & Shop and ShopRite as Whole Foods and Sprouts.
Thanks to the surge in interest in hummus, plus the growth of brands such as Saffron Road and The Good Bean, consumers are also seeing chickpeas and other pulses in every category of the store, she said.
“As one buyer said to me, 'When I put multiple [chickpea snack] brands on the shelf it is a signal to consumers that they should be paying attention to this category.' But there are differences between the brands. Ours have a lighter, flakier texture like a chip and we use a different process than our competitors.”
I just worry about different things now
While she has a background in brand management, having worked on high-profile brands such as Splenda, running your own business is a very different ballgame, acknowledged Patodia, who has just re-launched Biena’s packaging to move from a natural foods/ethnic look to a more modern, bold and colorful look that will have an impact in more ‘mainstream’ retailers such as Target.
“The stress and work involved in running my own business is no less now than it was at the start, I just worry about different things now!
“But the brand has been validated, and we’re growing really fast because we fall into all three major trends: Healthy snacking – which is now much more about what’s in your product [protein, fiber] as what isn’t [sat fat, sugar]; awareness of food allergies [Biena snacks contain no major allergens]; and natural foods.”
I’m a strong believer in doing something really well before you go off to the next thing
While many entrepreneurs try and extend their brand into new categories soon after launch, they often get their fingers burned, observed Patodia, who is wary of diverting attention and resources to brand extension projects while there is still so much runway for the core product.
“I’m a strong believer in doing something really well before you go off to the next thing.”
As an entrepreneur you’re so worried about cash flow, you try to do everything yourself
Similarly, as potential investors always stress, proving you can build velocity in a narrow region or retail channel is a more important indicator of the health of your business than your ability to pick up new accounts, she said.
“It’s one thing to get onto the shelf, and another to get your products to turn, and to stay on shelf.”
As for advice to other entrepreneurs, while bootstrapping is a practical necessity, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate, and accept that there are only 24-hours in a day, she said.
“If I could have my time over again I would have hired certain consultants and gotten access to know-how sooner.
“As an entrepreneur you’re so worried about cash flow so you try to do everything yourself, but there are some times where it’s just better to bring in people with expertise and experience.”