On the Supply Side: Entrepreneurs’ Anti-Allergy Snacks Land in 1,800 Walmart Stores

Growing up as an athlete in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, Blake Sorenson suffered from a nut allergy and often found many healthy snack bars containing almonds and other nuts that he could not consume . He played linebacker for the Wisconsin Badgers from 2007 to 2011 with an EpiPen never far away.

Sorenson often turned to seeds instead of nuts for his salty snack cravings and continued to watch what he ate. In 2016, Sorenson returned to college to pursue a master’s degree in business administration at Indiana University.

There he took a social entrepreneur course that would change his life and lead him to Made from Blake seeds. This required him to start a business that met a social need. Looking at his own life, Sorenson had the idea to create allergy-friendly snacks that everyone could eat. He started in his kitchen trying to create bars that were seed-based and free of any major allergens.

“I bought a food processor and experimented with hundreds of formulations until I found something healthy and good tasting,” he said. “I made the bars in my kitchen and took them to class in Tupperware containers to get feedback from my friends and classmates in Indiana. I called the product Blake’s Nut Free. We found a couple of flavors that we really liked.

He was looking for a manufacturer who could help him launch a product. He found a Canadian manufacturer that focused on allergen-free production and agreed to work with them, but said the first print run would cost $20,000. That’s when Sorenson took to social media with a Kickstarter campaign in February 2018 to gauge market demand for his savory snacks.

“We raised over $23,000 on the first day of the product pre-order campaign,” he recalls. “I worked with my manufacturer and we got the first pre-orders in February 2018. Over the next few months, we refined the name and received valuable feedback from our customers and social media. It was rudimentary at the time. We used Microsoft Paint to design our packaging. We officially launched Blake’s Seed Based brand snacks in September 2018 and put the product on Amazon.

Sorenson then began to believe that the product could be a career. He visited trade shows over the next year to make connections and try to market the bars. As of March 2019, Blake’s Seed Based product can be found in major retail stores across the Midwest. By September, the company celebrated its presence in 1,000 retail stores and had an online service.

“Our goal was to make our products available everywhere. We want it at every gas station, at every retailer and online. We are expanding our distribution, product line and retail exposure, and we will soon be coming to United Airlines snack boxes,” Sorenson said.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Sorenson said he continued to try to connect with retail brokers and distributors. It paid off, with the product in Sprouts Farmers Market stores nationwide at the end of this year.

As the pandemic continued, Sorenson said he also focused on expanding his product line to include vegan rice crispy treats, and this product launched in January 2021. Sam’s Club made a purchase promotional for the crunchy treats in late 2021, and the brand also made it into 500 Kroger stores. He also has the snacks at Costco.

“We always knew we wanted to be part of Walmart, and although I met snack buyers at expos three years ago and they were interested,…I wasn’t ready at that moment “there,” he said.

Over the next two years, when buyers conducted semiannual reviews of the line, Sorenson would submit his sales and distribution figures and stay in touch. He said perseverance pays off.

“I finally got to the point where the brand awareness was strong enough that Walmart would give me a chance,” Sorenson said.

Sorenson was invited to Bentonville earlier this year and received 1,800 stores in the United States for granola seed snacks and vegan crunchy treats. The granola/seed bars cost $3.98 for a box of five. The vegan crunchy treats cost $4.48 for a pack of six.

“It went well,” he said. “We shipped our products to stores in July, and most stores are now on shelves. We can track progress through Walmart’s Retail Link portal, and every day we see more and more stores posting sales.

He said the challenge for Blake’s Seed Based is that the snack category is competitive overall. Still, its allergy bar serves a niche market, and people who try them usually become repeat customers. He said the company will ship and sell millions of bars this year. Sorenson hopes to expand its product lines and increase its market share in this popular category.

Keeping sugar low and having a clearer ingredient list remains important to Sorenson. It continues to work on new flavor profiles and formulations with its co-packing manufacturer. He said the manufacturer ships the products to its Chicago warehouse and Blake’s Seed Based ships the products to customers.

Sorenson said he has increased production thanks to angel investors who continue to support and mentor the company. The company has five employees working remotely across the country. Home port is Chicago. Sorenson lives in Denver but often visits Chicago.

Although his initial intention in 2018 while in graduate school was not to start a growing snack business that he would still run at age 35, Sorenson said business filled a need and became his passion . Sorenson said he learned the importance of listening to consumers. He said it’s critical to constantly evaluate where a company is winning and why. There are no shortcuts and it’s hard work, he said.

Editor’s Note: THE Supply side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on businesses, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.

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