While working as an attorney in New York, Sharon Cryan stumbled across company cases that revealed some disheartening loopholes within food industry regulations. Sparking her passion for food education and living a healthy lifestyle, she soon realised she wanted to make a difference in the space, with entering the industry itself being the most effective way she knew how. Creating positively processed superfood products, we spoke with Sharon about her journey into entrepreneurship and the start of Foodnerd, as well as the collaboration process between dieticians, nutritionists and food scientists in creating the company's products. We also covered the benefits of sprouting, the power of consumer education, growing a successful e-commerce platform and the moment Sharon is proudest of in the business' journey so far.
In becoming passionate about food and both personal and social health, Sharon continued doing her own research when it came to the food industry, and learned some pretty striking things when diving deeper into IPs.
'You realise the regulations behind food additives are not what they appear to be.'
Primarily, Sharon shared about the FDA and the misconceptions there are around its standards and role as a governing body.
Sharon: 'The FDA is not a proactive body of government, they're retroactive. So they don't have the means or capacity to go to every manufacturer and request a list of every additive and to do testing on these additives.'
Sharon: 'So what the law actually states is that the obligation is on the food manufacturer, to determine on their own if an additive is safe or not, without any standardised testing.'
As a result this leaves a large loophole for companies to do what they want and even if something does happen it seems to require decades for enough evidence to build up and for actual change to occur.
Sharon: 'When I found this out I was frightened, but also encouraged as plant-based is on the rise and consumers are demanding higher quality, so you see the change happening from consumers. So I was really passionate about bridging that gap.'
And for those of you who may be new to Foodnerd, they really do have a collaborative approach when it comes to creating new products, with Sharon working alongside registered dieticians, food scientists and nutritionists in each stage of development. How does this all come together?
Sharon: 'There's decades and decades of research on some really incredible superfoods that are out there. So looking at the research that has been done, as well as the compounds of these foods that can be combined together to create the best biological bang for our buck.'
Each product also has a specific goal tailored in mind and this affects the way the product is formulated.
Sharon: 'We'll take incredible research that's been done, and we'll pair it with some great ingredients that can boost the bioavailability and antioxidants and we put them together. We then send it out for testing and then we work with researchers to get it as healthy and clean as possible. We don't use any type of food flavours or additives, it's literally just fresh ingredients.'
In other words:
Sharon: 'We keep it simple so the body can get all the good stuff.'
One of the things the team at Foodnerd is most passionate about is sprouting. Now I've heard a lot about it, but I was still unsure of the exact benefits and knew I couldn't be the only one - so I asked Sharon to give me the lowdown.
Sharon: 'Sprouts is such a big category. It really applies to anything that's a seed.'
Sharon: 'In that precious moment when the seed breaks open and the plant starts to grow, the plant is transforming from a dormant seed to life, and it's started breaking down all of the proteins into amino acids, and the fats into the fatty acids and the complex carbs into glucose.'
Sharon: 'What that does in that conversion, is it makes all of those nutrients bioavailable. And that's really the key.'
And what's more it's cost-effective, can be done at home and is a relatively simple process. So how does Foodnerd differentiate themselves when it comes to their branding and setting their products apart from other health-oriented or 'clean-labelled' startups?
Sharon: 'We're positively processed. And that's really what sets us apart.'
Sharon: 'All of our products are raw and shelf-stable. What that means is we don't apply traditional forms of processing such as high levels of heat or pressure or any kind of chemical processes that will degrade the nutrients.'
Sharon mentioned that the process is quite intense time wise, but that it's worth it.
Sharon: 'I think that's the next wave of health revolution in the food industry. In the next 5-10 years it won't be just about what's in the food, because that's really what's going on right now, it will be what did we do to the food.'
Sharon: 'We really deserve food that we know exactly what's been done to it, and we know from eating it we'll get all the micro nutrients we need.'
Food education has also played a large role in the branding, and in Sharon's personal life, with it being the core at her passion in business.
Sharon: 'I like to say that Foodnerd is a food education platform and we just happen to make also really nutrient-dense products.'
The importance of food education?
Sharon: 'I would rather educate people first, because if you can arm someone with the knowledge to be their own advocate at the grocery store and be really educated before they take every bite, I think that's the way to really impact the world.'
Putting this into practice Foodnerd's website (foodnerdinc.com) has incorporated a blog that shares new scientific information related to nutrition, as well as a new podcast Raw Conversations and a youtube series too.
Sharon: 'My goal is to hit mainstream America. The bulk of the children in our country eat the bulk of processed foods in our country. That's why we've created these cereals in the hopes that they will grow up with much healthier foods than we did.'
And whilst Sharon's focus has been on hitting the mainstream in her home country, the Foodnerd community seems to be growing quickly, with a lot of people asking for products to expand their reach and be sold internationally.
Sharon: 'I think that the desire to really go abroad will resonate better with a lot of countries. In the US it's harder, I think we have to do a lot more education here than we would in other countries.'
Sharon: 'Hopefully we'll be able to shop globally by next year.'
One of the reasons for this demand has been their success in developing a DTC model, with their ecommerce platform thriving. How did they do it?
Well, it turns out Sharon's entrepreneurial journey didn't start at Foodnerd, but actually at a plant-based fresh food delivery meal program that she had set up previously. Having developed a customer base with that, it was natural for her current consumers to transition and support her in her new endeavour.
Sharon: 'It was all really word of mouth, and that grew organically.'
They then expanded their team, who all brought social media skills to turn complicated science into quick and engaging snippets of information for consumers.
When asked on her thoughts on agencies?
Sharon: 'Agencies can only do as good of a job as you convey to them. But because the team members in-house knew the science, knew everything we were doing, I think it was that much more powerful.'
Being a startup there are also many challenges that arise in the early stages, and there are difficult decisions to be made on each corner along the way. We wanted to know what moment Sharon was proudest of, looking back so far.
Sharon: 'It was when we transitioned from fresh nation-wide meal prep to shelf stable. It was very scary because we had a customer base built up and people were really relying on our food.'
Knowing how difficult it is to scale a fresh food delivery business, Sharon had a decision to make.
Sharon: 'I really had to take a step back and say what is my mission? Is my mission to help people who are already healthy and looking for this food and can afford it? Or is my mission to help change the world, and get nutrient dense food get into as many stomachs as possible.'
As a result she took the plunge and shut down the fresh meal prep, turning to R&D for Foodnerd for over a year - a scary moment in time where she wasn't selling any products and previous customers were disappointed and waiting for answers. Nonetheless, she pulled through, with Foodnerd continuing their research to this day, with new and exciting products due to hit the market next year.
Aside from their website, you can also reach Sharon and the Foodnerd team @foodnerdinc on Instagram.
We hope you enjoyed this week's episode, have a great day and don't forget... to #biteforwhatsright!