Founder of Lil Bucks, Emily Griffith has been working over the past few years to create a larger market for sprouted buckwheat, a minor crop in the US but an agricultural backbone for the world's largest countries including China and Russia.
The grain-like, but gluten-free, seeds (buckwheat is more closely related to rhubarb and strawberries than regular wheat) became a staple part of her diet while living in Australia where she had a "life-changing acai bowl" topped with crunchy bits of sprouted buckwheat. In Australia, buckwheat is the 'hero' ingredient of many packaged products, and is purchased most often in bulk by Australian consumers who consider it a pantry staple in their homes.
But in the US, consumers are most familiar with buckwheat pancakes or perhaps, soba noodles, noted Griffith.
Finding a North American supply of buckwheat, eventually
"The buckwheat we get now is from a small town in the mountains of China," Griffith said.
"I would eventually want to get our buckwheat from North America because it’s so great for soil health and brings back a lot of nutrients into the soil. For some reason, North American buckwheat gets mushy when it’s sprouted. We’re trying to figure out the genetics of why Chinese buckwheat works so much better for sprouting."
'I envision being the Quaker Oats of buckwheat'
Lil Bucks' sprouted buckwheat crunch line entered Midwest Whole Foods Midwest earlier this week and is also available in a number of smaller stores within the natural channel. In terms of store placement, Griffith said its products move best on the shelf next to granola.
"Being able to use it as a granola seems to click the most with consumers," Griffith said, but she hopes to show her target market -- who she refers to as 'foodies at home' -- that sprouted buckwheat can top eggs, salad, and even ice cream.
"I’m almost trying to rebrand buckwheat," she said.
While versatile, the brand's multi-serve packages of sprouted buckwheat can't really be considered an on-the-go, stand-alone snack, acknowledged Griffith.
Which is why Griffith has also introduced ClusterBucks, bite-sized clusters of sprouted buckwheat, pepitas [pumpkin seeds], flaxseed, coconut chips, and reishi mushroom powder bound together with maple syrup, manufactured out of The Hatchery in Chicago. The line will be expanded in the coming months with more "adaptogenic flavors" such as turmeric lemon and with new packaging.
"We're going to be testing that out to see how that product moves in comparison to the Lil Bucks sprouted buckwheat crunch."
'Buckwheat aligns on so many nutritional needs,' says founder Emily Griffith.
Gluten-free buckwheat is high in minerals zinc, copper, iron, and manganese, and has 13.25g of plant-based protein (per 100 grams). Its antioxidant compounds include rutin, quercetin, vitexin, and D-chiro-inositol.
"Basically, I envision being the Quaker Oats of buckwheat," said Griffith.
Griffith, who is a designer by trade and a naturally creative mind, will be leading Lil Bucks' marketing efforts and will continue to be the "face of the brand", but by the end of this year she hopes to develop her leadership team by adding sales and operations roles.
"My goal is to hire someone more operationally-minded for the executive team by the end of this year," she said.