A classroom-born snack company has graduated up to the shelves of a major grocery chain.
Absurd Snacks is underway on a rollout in Whole Foods Market stores in Virginia and Washington, D.C., that started last week. By mid-October, the company projects it will be in the more than 20 Whole Foods locations found in the Old Dominion and the nation’s capital.
The company’s allergen-free, bean-based trail mix products were on the shelves of six locations as of Tuesday, including the Whole Foods at 2024 W. Broad St. in Richmond.
The entry into Whole Foods is the culmination of work that started last year for Absurd Snacks co-owners Grace Mittl and Eli Bank, who started the company in a University of Richmond entrepreneurship course. They were connected through the class to a buyer for a Maryland-based Whole Foods and kept in touch with the retailer until the time was right to expand into the stores.
“It’s been a relationship we’ve been developing since the start of Absurd Snacks,” Bank said. “Whole Foods has been undergoing changes with its structure with the Amazon acquisition (in 2017), so we try to be diligent with keeping in touch.”
Mittl and Bank, who serve as CEO and COO of Absurd Snacks, respectively, said Whole Foods is a good fit for the company’s expansion because its stores are popular with people with allergies, the main customer base for Absurd Snacks.
“The majority of the customers say they want this in Whole Foods, so it’s a no-brainer to do that,” Mittl said.
Another draw is that Whole Foods is receptive to brands that want to do in-person sampling, which Mittl said has been a favored strategy of Absurd Snacks.
“One thing Whole Foods does really well is they welcome in-person sampling all the time. That part of the business, us being in the community multiple times a week with our customers and meeting new people won’t change, it’ll only grow,” she said.
Mittl said in-person demos and samples are key to help Absurd Snacks stand out on the shelves and talk with customers with food allergies.
“Education is a huge part of the (consumer-packaged goods) industry in general. There’s so much choice. Putting bags on the shelf of a Whole Foods doesn’t necessarily mean someone will buy it,” she said. “People with food allergies typically don’t stray from their grocery-store list. They are repeat purchasers. So a big part of our job is to try to figure out how to get on their list to begin with.”
Absurd Snacks isn’t working with a distributor, and instead is going store to store and striking deals themselves.
In addition to the rollout at Whole Foods, Absurd Snacks products are available in independent stores locally and out of state. In town, the company’s snacks can be found at places like Ellwood Thompson’s, Good Foods Grocery and Stella’s Grocery.
The company, which also sells its trail mix on its website, plans to soon begin to sell on Amazon.
The Whole Foods expansion comes after Absurd Snacks rolled out a tweaked iteration of its trail mix in March. In the six months since the new trail mixes were introduced, the company has sold more than 15,000 units of single-serve and 9-ounce family-sized bags, Bank said.
The Absurd Snacks trail mix includes roasted chickpeas, seeds, fava beans, dried fruit and other ingredients. The snack comes in two flavors: Magic Maple Cinnamon and Rockin’ Rosemary Sea Salt.
The snacks are produced at South Richmond food-and-beverage incubator Hatch Kitchen. Absurd Snacks is headquartered at Startup Virginia, a business incubator in Capital One’s Michael Wassmer Innovation Center.
The company was created in 2022 by a group of University of Richmond students enrolled in Bench Top Innovations, a course offered by the university.