How one small maker is sustainably shaking up the American fruit snack market
It’s no secret that most fruit snacks in American grocery store aisles contain excessive amounts of sugar despite clever marketing tactics to garner consumer trust such as labels like “Made with Real Fruit.” One popular brand of strawberry-flavored snacks lists its first three ingredients as sugar, maltodextrin and corn syrup, and in the product’s near dozen-word ingredient list, strawberry appears nowhere.
Enter Peaceful Fruits, a Northeast Ohio company that aims to change the fruit snack game by offering consumers what founder Evan Delahanty calls “the most natural and highest-quality fruit snack on the market.” Peaceful Fruits' snack bars include only real fruit and in some cases a splash of lemon or orange juice. Most of the company's snacks contain acai, an antioxidant-rich Amazonian berry that Delahanty encountered during a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in the South American country of Suriname.
“Very simply, we make fruit snacks out of real fruit,” says Delahanty regarding his Certified B Corporation, a for-profit social enterprise. “No concentrates, no sugars, no corn syrups. We take whole organic fruit, blend it up and then slow dry it overnight to make a real, authentic fruit snack.”
Many of the company’s competitors in the packaged fruit snack space (which one industry group projects will grow globally from 2017 to 2021 at a compound annual rate of more than 12%) use fruit concentrate as their first ingredient. According to Sally Kuzemchak, a registered dietitian and author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids, “fruit concentrate is a form of added sugar, it's not actual fruit.” Unlike a piece of whole, real fruit, fruit concentrate is void of fiber and nutrients, says Kuzemchak.
Peaceful Fruits partners with communities abroad and at home to offer what Delahanty calls “an economic, environmental and socially sustainable product.” The company sources some of the fruit for its snacks from sustainable harvesters in the Amazon rainforest and it employs adults with developmental disabilities in its hometown of Akron, Ohio, to process, package and ship product.
While in Suriname, Delahanty encountered the region’s outstanding natural fruit and connected with those harvesting the resource through his work as an economic development officer for the Peace Corps. Once back home in Northeast Ohio, the experience and the people he met lingered with him. In May 2014, Delahanty launched Peaceful Fruits with a model that he says provides Amazonian fruit harvesters a “sustainable, fair and respectful” opportunity to make a living.
What started as an experiment dehydrating fruit in his mother’s kitchen has grown into a partnership with Hattie Larlham, an Ohio nonprofit that serves children and adults with developmental disabilities, to use their shared commercial kitchen space and workforce to craft Peaceful Fruits’ snack bars. Through a similar partnership with Akron’s Blick Center, Peaceful Fruits employs adults with developmental disabilities to package product. In total, 29 individuals facing barriers to traditional employment have earned a full-wage income producing, packaging and shipping the company’s more than 300,000 fruit snacks sold since 2014.
“We’re talking about directly impacting people’s lives,” Delahanty says in reference to the company’s mission to employ adults with developmental disabilities in Northeast Ohio. “We’ve had the privilege of creating work opportunities – jobs that are at least minimum wage – for these people. They are a core part of our production process. They get a paycheck, a t-shirt and are part of a team.”
Peaceful Fruits garnered national attention two years ago when Delahanty pitched his company to the business giants on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank. Though the entrepreneurs didn’t bite with an investment in the company, the opportunity greatly boosted sales for Peaceful Fruits and helped Delahanty refine his brand.