About a year after Absurd Snacks went to market with its bean-based trail mix, the company born out of a University of Richmond academic course is on the cusp of a remix.
Sales of a new iteration of the company’s product, featuring roasted chickpeas, fava beans, oats and seeds, are set to begin at local stores March 1, with sales slated to start on the company’s online store in April.
The new mix includes clusters, intended to make it easier to eat by hand than the original product, and gets rid of the roasted green peas found in the original offering to be more allergy-friendly.
Those changes came as a result of product development and fine-tuning last spring and summer after the company’s founders completed UR’s Bench Top Innovations course and graduated from college. The yearlong course was designed to help 16 students develop a packaged food concept.
“We took a step back and wanted to re-evaluate what we were doing because we were full hyperspeed during the school year,” said COO Eli Bank, who runs the company with CEO Grace Mittl.
The company’s new trail mix comes in two flavors: maple cinnamon (called Magic Maple Cinnamon) and a new rosemary and sea salt version (dubbed Rockin’ Rosemary Sea Salt).
Its products are sold in local grocery stores such as Ellwood Thompson’s, Libbie Market and Good Foods Grocery. The new trail mix will be available at stores in 9-ounce bags for about $10 each, as well as in smaller single-serve packages.
In addition to the lessons learned through the UR course, the company last year participated in Idea Factory, a startup development program by local business incubator Startup Virginia, as well as the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program offered by the Virginia Small Business Development Center.
Bank said big takeaways from those two programs were customer discovery skills, which Absurd Snacks used to improve its product. In the summer, Absurd Snacks also did a series of taste tests at local farmers markets.
“We want to appeal to customers with allergies and we were able to learn more about what they look for and where they look for it,” Bank said.
The company tested four flavors and determined that the rosemary and sea salt variety was the best bet. Flavors that didn’t make the cut included chili lime and barbecue ranch.
Absurd Snacks manufactures its trail mix in an allergen-free production space at food-and-beverage incubator Hatch in South Richmond. The company recently shifted its production to that space after initially manufacturing elsewhere at Hatch, Mittl said.
“Not only have we streamlined our supply chain but we’re now producing in a dedicated allergen-free facility,” she said.
The company estimated that it’s making 1,100 to 1,200 units of its 9-ounce bags per week.
Absurd Snacks also added some new financial backing, after closing in late January on a $365,000 capital raise sourced from friends, family and angel investors, Mittl said. The majority of the funding was put toward development of the new snack offering and its rollout.
After graduating from UR in May, Mittl and Bank, as well as their fledgling company, are out in the real world making a go of it. Both Mittl and Bank have been part of the Absurd Snacks leadership team since it was established in the classroom, and decided they wanted to continue the company post-graduation. They jointly own Absurd Snacks and run it on a full-time basis.
The duo said that with a shot of new funding and the product relaunch looming, Absurd Snacks is primed to prove it’s more than just a school project.
“We’re ready to hit the gas,” Bank said.