“Free-From” Business Spotlight: Nicole Ledoux, Founder of 88 Acres, Non-GMO, Vegan, Nut-Free, Gluten-Free, Healthy Snack Company
I first stumbled upon 88 Acres last fall when looking for a granola bar that was gluten-free and didn’t contain nuts. My search came up fruitless, it appeared to me that granola seemed to go hand in hand with nuts (lots of them) and most often also traces of gluten. I felt like I’d never be able to find safe granola…until I discovered the company 88 Acres. Not only are their snacks delicious, but they’re also gluten-free, nut-free, non-GMO, and organic. I spoke with founder Nicole Ledoux about 88 Acres, a company you need to get familiar with..especially if you have food allergies and love granola!
AFW: Your story is a bit similar to mine, in that your now husband was the first person you had met with allergies. The difference between you and I is that you created a company focused on making delicious allergy-free snacks (well done!) How did you take the leap from dating someone with a food allergy to starting 88 acres?
Nicole: We always struggled to find healthy, convenient snacks that Rob could eat but I would enjoy as well. I’m a farm-raised foodie with no allergies, but because of his, how I think about food has changed. I began experimenting at home with craft seed bars when we were training for a triathlon. We would take them on bike rides, and hikes, and throw a few in our bags to enjoy at work. Soon enough friends, both with food allergies and without, started to steal bites and place orders. After lots of rave reviews, we realized we were on to something and the journey of 88 Acres began. We loved the idea that what started as solving a need for our household could help other families as well.
AFW: Where does the name 88 Acres come from? Was it scary to dedicate yourself full-time to making 88 Acres a full-fledged business?
Nicole: I grew up on an 88-acre farm in Central Massachusetts. It was a working farm where we kept a small amount of livestock and grew produce. I ran the farm stand as a teenager. My philosophy on food has been shaped by my upbringing. I strive to eat as close to nature as possible. When we started the company, we wanted to build a brand that was founded on this philosophy.
You bet it was scary to dedicate myself full-time to making 88 Acres a full-fledged business. But I never wanted to look back and wonder what if. I thought we had a quality product and unique offering that was worthy of pursuing. I had no idea what the road ahead would bring. I’m grateful for the many supporters who believed in us and encouraged us along the way, including Babson Food Sol mentors Gail Simmons and Andrew Zimmern, the team at Mass Challenge in 2013, our workout buddies at The November Project, some of my professors from Harvard Business School, and our Kickstarter backers.
AFW: What’s been the biggest hurdle to date in running your own company?
Nicole: Opening our own bakery. Taking a product from our home kitchen to retail was no small feat. We had to learn all about equipment, humidity and temperature control. And we had to find suppliers we trust, who take great care with their ingredients so as to not introduce any cross-contamination at any point from the farm to our doorstep.
AFW: You currently have three flavors of bars (Apple & Ginger, Chocolate & Sea Salt, Triple Berry). Are there plans to expand on these flavor offerings?
Nicole: Yes, we have been recipe testing and landed on two flavors that we are proud of and will soon be introducing to the market.
AFW: I love your newest product: seednola. How is the process different for making seednola than the bars?
Nicole:Â Why, thank you. We just launched the Seednola as an online-only product this month. Seednola is a crunchy granola. Since the first batch of bars made in my Boston basement apartment, baking has been a simple process. Our bakery today looks no different. Our ingredients are still mixed by hand and baked on sheet pans, but we do have a bigger oven. When we cut a craft seed batch into bars, we always end up with edge pieces. It’s always been our food philosophy to aim for zero waste in the kitchen. We transform food scraps into delicious, crunchy Seednola by popping the edge pieces back into the oven. Each Seednola batch is upcycled and unique; it depends on the amount of edge pieces created during a given craft seed bar bake. It’s truly small batch – we put together just a few bags each day. This is why we are not yet selling the Seednola in stores.
AFW: What’s it like running a business with your husband?
Nicole: A lot of people comment that they could never work with their spouse, but I actually really enjoy working with Rob. We complement each other really well and have taught each other a lot along the way as well. We try to make sure that there is a little bit of time each day where we’re just focusing on being a couple and not talking about work. It can get a little all-encompassing at times!
AFW: What are your plans for 88 Acres in the future?
Nicole: We have more ideas than time or resources. But, we launched the bars and within a year cultivated a strong following. As we launch a new product line this fall and new bar flavors, we will be doubling our team in short order. We are excited about creating more jobs at our bakery, which is located in an inner-city area of need. And we are also excited to share more of our favorite recipes with simple ingredients.
AFW: Describe 88 Acres in three words.
Nicole: Powered by Seeds!
Thank you Nicole for taking the time to speak with me! 88 Acres ships nationwide from their office in Boston and are available in stores in New England and New York metro. Orders may be placed online at The 88 Acres website. For readers of The Allergy Free Wife, use the code AFW at checkout for 15% off your first order.