N173 W21170 Northwest Passage, Jackson
INDUSTRY: Snack foods
Walk in to the Evolve Brands production area in Jackson and it is hard to miss the smell of bananas. The company uses a lot of them to bind together ingredients for Gorilly Goods, one of two snack brands under the Evolve umbrella.
“We’re known to our banana supplier,” said Cindy Poiesz, a partner in Evolve Brands. “When they’re too ripe to sell to anybody else, she gives us a call.”[caption id="attachment_374147" align="alignnone" width="770"] Frank Jimenez and Cindy Poiesz in the Evolve brands facility in Jackson.[/caption]
It is also hard to miss the sound of the industrial dryers, part of a low-temperature process the company uses to keep nutrients in its products.
Bananas are just one of around 50 ingredients Evolve puts into the different flavors of its two snack brands, Gorilly Goods and Supernola. The former is a harder, crunchy snack while the latter is softer and chewier. The products are sold in around 2,200 stores in the U.S. and Canada and Evolve also ships direct to consumers through online orders.
Supernola is the brainchild of Poiesz, a former Wall Street investment banker who developed it to meet her own dietary needs and desire for a healthy snack option. She started to sell it at farmer’s markets before working with Frank Jimenez, a former food industry executive, to commercialize it.
It was difficult for the duo to find a manufacturing partner that shared their values until they discovered Gorilly Goods, a Jackson-based company started in 2012 by Stephen and Chris McDiarmid.
“What we found was this awesome synergy between both brands, the philosophy behind the companies, even down to the core ingredients,” said Jimenez, also a partner in Evolve.
With the McDiarmids looking to exit the business, Evolve acquired Gorilly Goods and moved Supernola production from Pennsylvania to Jackson in early 2018.
The philosophical match between the two brands centers on mindfulness in nearly everything to do with the products. That approach includes powering the 6,500-square-foot office, production and distribution facility with renewable energy, using clean ingredients, and contributing a portion of proceeds to nonprofit causes. Two cents from sales of each box of Supernola goes to Girls on the Run, while two cents from sales of each box of Gorilly Goods goes to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Evolve is also working on a partnership to do something with all the leftover banana peels from its production process. Instead of paying someone to haul them away, the company is dehydrating the peels, grinding them up and combining them with spent coffee grounds from Milwaukee-based Valentine Coffee Co. to create a natural fertilizer.
“It isn’t core to our business, but it’s something we get to do from an upcycling standpoint that was waste before; we find even more benefit to it,” Jimenez said.
The Evolve production space is currently set up to handle a number of different functions, from processing bananas to washing kale to producing product to packaging. Jimenez said while the company is still small, it is important to have flexibility to alter production as needed.
The snacks are produced by mixing ingredients together and then spreading it on trays. They go in to the industrial dryers as a moist spread and come out hardened like a potato chip. Employees then break batches up by hand before packaging.
“As we grow, there’s ways of mechanizing it,” Jimenez said.
The long-term growth plans for Evolve include the addition – either through acquisition or internal growth – of more brands that share the philosophy behind Gorilly Goods and Supernola. Ultimately the company would include five or six brands, Jimenez said.
To reach that point, however, Evolve needs to continue building brand awareness, increase distribution to more retailers and scale production.
Jimenez said the growing acceptance of organic and gluten-free offerings helps Evolve, but larger food brands have also tried to capitalize on those trends.
“It is very hard to combat marketing by other people,” Poiesz said. “There’s so much marketing stuff out there, everybody’s confused, so how do you break through that?”
She said as consumers look into Evolve’s products, they won’t find reasons not to trust the brand. Jimenez added that digital and social marketing also provides an avenue smaller companies did not have in the past. Owning its own manufacturing also gives Evolve the chance to control everything about its products.
“We’re not going to use any shortcuts,” Jimenez said. ν