Food Entrepreneur RICHMOND, VA.— More consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands seem to be tapping into inclusivity. Consumers may face restrictions in many aspects of life, so brands are aiming to eliminate one less stressor in the form of inclusive foods — such as gut-friendly snack cracker maker Fair and Square Crackers and allergen-free brand Absurd Snacks.

Absurd Snacks are plant-based, nut-free snack mixes that don’t include the top nine allergens.

Co-founders Grace Mittl and Eli Bank saw firsthand how a mislabeled food package affected a friend and knew they had to make a change in the industry.

After creating the brand in a class project at the University of Richmond in March 2022, the founders quickly began working within the community to see how it would resonate with consumers.

With positive feedback and the help of angel investors, including friends and family members closing a pre-seed round in January 2023, Absurd Snacks launched in retail in February 2023 and in e-commerce in May 2023.

“So many friends, family and people in our community have food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances,” Mittl said. “We thought it was important to cater to those audiences because when it comes to snacking together, enjoying life together and being in social places, we want people to have options that are nutrient-rich and also inclusive to those who have intolerances.”

The snack mixes feature a good source of fiber (fava beans, chickpeas, granola clusters and naturally sweetened dried fruit) and come in flavors of maple cinnamon and rosemary sea salt.

“These mixes came naturally from our own cooking and baking at home in college,” Mittl said.

When creating Absurd Snacks, focusing on being an allergen-friendly brand was an easy choice for the co-founders as they saw the market was full of keto, paleo, low-sugar and protein bar brands.

“When you think about building a sustainable business model, especially our type of snack, it’s not a trend,” Mittl said. “It’s not something that might be a fad diet that will go away in a couple of years. We built snacks on the premise of healthy, nutrient- rich snacking that should be accessible.”

Many brands label themselves as allergen-free to appeal to multiple groups of consumers, as has Absurd Snacks. One way the brand plays in the allergen-free space is by aiming its products at the better-for-you category.

“What we noticed was a large majority of products out there that are allergy-friendly focus on sweets, confectioneries, cookies, brownies and cake mixes,” Bank said. “We wanted to create that munchy snack that you can munch on and that people feel comfortable eating on a daily basis. It's about creating snacks that are inclusive and delicious but also make you feel good.”

To further ensure the safety of its products, the nut-free snack mixes are made in an allergen-free facility in New Jersey.

Absurd Snacks began its production journey co-manufacturing with another local allergen-free food brand in Richmond. As the brand increased production, it outgrew the shared space, prompting a move to a larger facility to manufacture its own products at the end of the first quarter of this year.

“It was so helpful to have another founder where they’ve had six-plus years of operational experience to be able to go into their facility to learn from the ground up,” Bank said. “It was a challenge to find an allergy-free space, but we found a 1,300-square-foot facility that is primarily a bakery. We’ve been focusing on this facility as a place to continue our operational journey but not necessarily where we see ourselves scaling for the future. So this is bridging that gap between places as we expand.”

By being an inclusive-focused brand, Absurd Snacks is tapping into multiple areas of its community.

“We’ve been dipping our toes in the athletic community,” Mittl said. “We’re attending pop-up bike races and leaning more into community activation. That’s a pillar we focus on, whether it’s farmers markets (or) pop-up events in Richmond. You name it, we’re there.”

Bank added, “We are a people-first brand. Being out in our community is important for us. We’ve been able to find a lot of success in collaborations and partnerships with other brands and organizations within our community.”

Inclusivity, health and wellness and allergen-friendly are values that echo throughout the brand’s identity. By focusing on those key areas, the company is hoping its mixes are the pantry staple that keeps consumers coming back.

“We want to keep expanding our product line, not only in our current nut-free snack mix but with new flavors and new products that are exciting for consumers,” Bank said. “Hopefully, in five to 10 years, you’ll find Absurd Snacks on grocery shelves across the country and appearing at athletic stadiums and sporting events.” 

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