We would like to extend our warmest welcome to our newest artisan, KiiNOA! Snacks! In an interview with myPanier, founder Meredith Gray shares how traveling inspired her to start a company making a fun and healthy quinoa snack!
Who is Meredith Gray?
I grew up in Minnesota and moved to upstate New York for college. One of my favorite childhood memories was a family trip to Lapa Rios, an ecotourism resort in Costa Rica. Walking around the markets in San José and hearing different languages, smelling different aromas and seeing different people – it was an experience I fell in love with immediately. To get to Lapa Rios, we had to take a plane across the Osa Peninsula and the resort would be at the corner of the landing strip and a cemetary. Being in the middle of nowhere and the potential danger that comes with it made me more excited to see the rest of the world.
What is the story behind KiiNOA! Snacks?
After college, I went backpacking in South America and spent some time living with indigenous families and in hostels. There, I was introduced to the quinoa grain, which was widely found in soups and other food. At the same time, when I stayed at hostels, I would interact with different travelers and we would share snacks from around the world. That feeling of community and sharing experiences over food and drinks made me crave more.
The connection between traveling and snacking became stronger when I visited other countries. In Beruit, I discovered a company called Alrifai that lets you customize your snack bag with 31 flavors of nuts. In India and Sri Lanka, I got to indulge in curry and fried snacks. These encounters inspired me to start a snack company but the snacks I was familiar with back in the U.S. were popcorn and Pirates’ Booty. I would eat enormous bags of those and be really disappointed with myself afterwards. I decided to instead make something heartier, with more protein and nutritional value. I still wanted it to be a bit junk-foody though because it’s just so much fun!
What drew you to entreneurship?
Traveling to South America, Asia, and Europe made me realize that I needed to be around diverse cultures and bustling environments. When I came back to New York, I worked for a few startups and fed off the vibe of working long hours, the “we’re all in this together” spirit and the fear of “this could really go wrong”. Seeing the mistakes that were made in the startups I’ve been at gave me the confidence to start my own company. Before launching KiiNOA! Snacks, I would go to my day job, take business classes on the side and work on my project at the same time. Luckily, my colleagues and employers were very supportive of me!
My mom also implanted that entrepreneurial spirit in me. She was an Organizational Psychology consultant and growing up watching her attend conferences around the world and working at home motivated me to follow her footsteps.
How did you decide on the kind of snack you were going to make?
I named my company Ideal Superfood in hopes of transforming superfood into healthy snacks. I’ve lived a number of neighborhoods in New York and I’ve seen the lack of good nutrition in some of them. I wanted my superfood snack to be organic and non-GMO but as accessible as a bag of Cheetos.
That quinoa from my South America trip just came to mind when I was brainstorming superfoods I could use. I decided to make quinoa puffs because they make you feel more satiated than eating popcorn or Pirates’ Booty. I source my quinoa from Peru and work with my manufacturers to select organic ingredients whenever possible. I want a snack with simple ingredients everyone can recognize.
How did you come up with the name KiiNOA Snacks and flavors?
KiiNOA! Snacks is a line of Ideal Superfood. The name “KiiNOA” with two “i’s” was something my branding team came up with. One of the girls sent a survey to sorority sisters and we got 200 responses back! We ended up going with “KiiNOA” because we liked how it looked visually and the funness of it all.
As for the flavors, I wanted them to be Americanized to suit everyone’s palette. We currently have Cheddar Cheese, Honey Mustard Jalapeño and Toasted Cinammon to satisfy those savory, spicy and sweet taste buds.
What are your business values?
Fun is a huge part of it – I mean the the brand itself even has an exclaimation mark!
It’s not a super serious snack but at the same time it’s good for you and helps you power through your day! I also believe in honesty and transparency in choosing ingredients and dealing with people day to day. I’m very grateful for the people who have given me their time and made introductions for me. I want to establish a pay-it-forward mentality with KiiNOA! Snacks by being an active member of the food community and supporting new brands.
What are your future goals for KiiNOA! Snacks?
One of my proudest moment was expanding my snack into the Minneapolis market. Walking through large retail stores and seeing KiiNOA! in my hometown is a great feeling to have. My goal for the future is walk into a store in Texas, for example, and be surprised to see my own products there. But before exploding nationally, I want to make sure I build a tight community base.