ny business based on food should be able to produce good eats. But we found three that are doing more than just catering to our taste buds—they’re also setting trends in fields as diverse as microfinance and marketing.
Raised in Malaysia, Geetha Jayaraman (above) remembers a childhood filled with the fragrance of the fresh fried plantains her mother would serve to guests. When her mother visited Jayaraman in the United States a few years ago, they decided to conjure those memories by making some chips in her New Jersey kitchen.
That first batch turned into Grab Em Snacks, a company that now makes plantain chips in a variety of flavors (Cajun, Sea Salt, and Black Pepper, to name a few) and with less oil, fat, and trans-fats than the traditional plantain chips carried in a typical ethnic grocery store.
Jayaraman, who had previously worked at Kraft and AT&T, left behind the corporate world to start her business. Now she spends her days buying and slicing plantains, roasting spices to grind and mix the seasonings, and ordering supplies. “One of my biggest challenges so far has been marketing the chips,” she explains. “I used to just offer them in a clear plastic bag, and then I used to cut my own stencils and paint each bag. Then I put on my creative hat and I started using custom-made rubber stamps—so people know it’s homemade—but I’ve saved a lot of time.”
Jayaraman advises fellow would-be businesswomen, “If you work for someone else, you’re used to a regular paycheck, but when you work for yourself, there are many upfront costs that could make you want to give up. But put your heart and soul into it, and believe in your product.” Find Grab Ems at www.grabemsnacks.com.
Sunita de Tourreil grew up savoring chocolate—her Swiss father and Indian mother often indulged her with their childhood favorites. As an adult, she combined her love of the sweet treat with her desire to work for social justice. In 2005, she and business partner Greg Wolff founded Chocolate Dividends, an organization devoted to supporting fair-trade industries around the world.
How does a chocolate company make a difference? Chocolate Dividends works with the Calvert Foundation using a donor-advised fund to invest in socially responsible enterprises.
The company’s first investment? Yachana Gourmet, an enterprise that uses fairly traded, naturally grown cocoa beans from the Amazon forest in Ecuador to make chocolate. While Yachana Gourmet’s chocolate is sold in American stores, the growing, preparation and packaging of the chocolate all occurs in Ecuador, a practice that keeps the jobs and profits from the chocolate in the South American nation.
By hosting gourmet chocolate tastings, Chocolate Dividends raises awareness about the differences between fair-trade, organic and non-fair-trade, non-organic chocolates, and gives people who are interested in supporting developing industries a platform for investing their money. These microfinance loans to Yachana benefit both the lender and the borrower: Yachana uses the loans to build up their industry and profits, and then the loans, plus interest, are paid back to the donor to invest in another struggling, but socially responsible, enterprise.
What advice does de Tourreil have for other aspiring entrepreneurs? Be prepared, and be prepared to work. “Sometimes, things like bookkeeping and taxes can sort of overwhelm the mission of why you started your business in the first place. So definitely do your research—there’s no need to recreate the wheel. Someone is probably doing something that will complement what you want to do, and working with an organization that’s already established can help reduce the high costs and barriers involved in starting your own business.”
Feel like hosting a deliciously guilt-free chocolate tasting? Visit www.chocolatedividends.org.
The Flavor of Success
24-year-old Adnan Aziz was watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when he first wondered if the flavored wallpaper in the movie could be reproduced in real life. Thanks to funding from the Weiss Tech House at University of Pennsylvania, where Aziz was a sophomore, he discovered that flavored wallpaper could indeed be produced and started investigating the practical applications of his idea.
Aziz, who was named one of America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs by BusinessWeek, realized that the concept could be channeled into inventing dissolvable breath strips that contained the flavor of different food and beverage products—allowing companies to reach their customers in a completely different way. His revolutionary marketing idea attracted the attention of two investors, Josh Kopelman and Jay Minkoff, now the chairman and CEO of what became First Flavor.
First Flavor is currently in discussion with many major consumer product companies and expects to release its first line of flavor strips by this summer. What does Aziz like best about being an entrepreneur? “Being able to think through a problem or just something that would be cool to have, and then being able to put that in place.” And his favorite flavor strip? “Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. It’s just so delicious.” Want some flavor to melt on your tongue? Go to www.firstflavor.com and track the release of its first line.