As more and more people wake up and smell the coffee to the fact that sugar, rather than fat, is one of the biggest detriments to our health, less are waking up to a bowl of sweetened cereal, and now even the glowing health halo around granola is looking a bit tarnished.
Despite its reputation as a breakfast health food, commercial varieties of granola marketed as wholesome and natural are often loaded with enough sugar to rival a slice of cake.
“Sadly, commercial granola usually consists of huge sugary clusters bound together by artificial syrups, highly processed grains and additives,” says Erica Sheehan, the entrepreneur behind Homespun Quinoa Crunch granola.
“Ours doesn’t contain any cheap fillers or syrups and consumers often compliment us on the texture which is crunchy but doesn’t clump up into big clusters, as there is no bad stuff in there to make it clump up!”
Erica created Quinoa Crunch as a nutritious twist on granola; not only replacing artificial sugars with just a touch of honey and natural vanilla for sweetening, but swapping refined grains for plant based proteins such as quinoa, buckwheat and chia, and adding other seeds, nuts and berries to give you an extra nutritional bang for your buck.
“It’s gently baked in coconut oil too, which adds a lovely coconutty aroma which our customers tell us is the first thing they love about it when they open a pack!”
Growing up wholesome food was the norm for Erica, but she became a convert to plant-based nutrition after spending time in California with her then boyfriend, now husband, Michael.
“The healthy food scene there is so inspiring. When we returned from each trip we felt incredible but realised nutritious food that tasted great and was ready to eat just wasn’t available in Ireland to the same extent, at the time.”
Back in Ireland Erica began experimenting with ‘superfood’ quinoa. “Quinoa is often called a “carrier of flavor”, which is faint praise in a sense, but from a nutrition standpoint, it’s hard to beat and it’s so versatile. I noticed blogs featured recipes for quinoa based cereals and baked quinoa snacks but there were few, if any, quality products on the market. I started to develop my own recipes and that’s how Quinoa Crunch came about.”
“Quinoa Crunch is made with organic, sustainably sourced quinoa pops, which are light and highly digestible but also keep you fuller for longer. Once I mastered the basic recipe, which is the quinoa pops, seeds and grains, I experimented with different toppings and finalised the flavours. There were plenty of willing taste testers!”
Still working full time in PR, like many other aspiring artisan food brands Erica used Honest2Goodness farmers market, Glasnevin, as a springboard for Quinoa Crunch.
“It quickly became apparent that people love the idea of granola but were seeking a clean and nutritious version they can feel good about putting in their bodies. The market goers really liked the emphasis on nutrition, the quinoa dimension, and they really loved the taste and the crunchy texture, which is how the name came about.”
Bolstered by the positive reaction at the farmer’s market, and the advice from handful of retailers she shared her concept with, Erica made the bold move to leave her job; allowing her to finally put all her energy into her fledgling business. In June 2016 Quinoa Crunch hit the shelves of five Fresh stores in Dublin.
Erica soon found further support from other independent Irish stores like Donnybrook Fair, Avoca, Lotts and Co, Cavistons and Nolans of Clontarf, along with a number of good health food shops. Acceptance into SuperValu Food Academy helped her streamline the brand and gave Homespun Quinoa Crunch shelf space in selected SuperValus, with more coming.
“Outside of Dublin, we’re stocked in Ardkeen in Waterford and the Quay Co-op in Cork with more regional stockists coming soon. We are getting a lot of requests from around the country which is lovely. More health food stores will be stocking Homespun through Irish Independent Health Foods, our distributor.”
Though the big news is Quinoa Crunch’s recent leap across the water and into the Food Hall at luxury department store, Harrods, London – known for its exacting standards when sourcing high-end foodstuffs from all over the globe.
“They are our first UK stockist and to be stocked in their stunning food hall, especially as a foodie, is a dream come true. We’ve actually just gone on shelf in the last fortnight, so it’s very recent,” Erica says, beaming.
“For us, Harrods is an incredible shop window in terms of promoting the range to the wider UK market. It’s got international recognition and hopefully more business will flow from it. Export is essential in a small market like Ireland but these things take time.”
Among only a handful of other Irish food brands to grace the aisles of Harrods, the listing is all the more impressive when you learn she had a baby only 18 months ago.
“Our little girl Katie was a newborn when I was knee deep in plans to launch the business. It was a serious juggle then – I had to bring her along to meetings in her buggy and cram phone calls into her nap times.”
Along with juggling family life, and keeping pace with growing demand for her products, Erica says the irony of being a health food entrepreneur is that one of the biggest challenges is maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“A lot of entrepreneurs work so hard that their health suffers! I make a conscious effort to prioritise fitness, fresh air and fresh food as well as rest periods, so I can be at my best, make good decision and enjoy the whole process.”
One of the most enjoyable moments to date, Erica says, was winning Gold and Silver awards at the Free Food Awards Ireland last July. “We beat household names, established companies, and big brands but we had just launched so it was amazing momentum and a big boost.”
“The best part of all was a letter from the judges – drawn from the worlds of nutrition, hospitality, catering and the food business. They said they really liked the fact that our range was not just gluten and wheat free but combined “genuine nutrition, great taste and real innovation.” Those words make me proud.”
Quinoa Crunch currently comes in two award winning flavours, Gojiberry, cashew and coconut, and Pecan and Cranberry; Erica says both “offer all the benefits of quinoa with no cooking, have the same nutrition, but with different nuts and berries to cater for preferences.”
Continuously experimenting with new flavours and products, next in the pipeline are ‘on the go’ versions of Quinoa Crunch. “Our customers keep saying they want more mobile formats in addition to our current take home packs.”
“In five years I’d like to see Homespun offering a much wider range of products blending plant-based proteins and other superfoods which combine genuine nutrition, great taste, and real innovation so consumers can enjoy delicious convenient cereals and snacks knowing they’re nourishing their bodies at the same time. They’re the things that matter to us!”
Quinoa Crunch has begun to collaborate other brands, like natural breakfast companions Glenisk. “Glenisk is a phenomenal Irish success story,” says Erica, “if we achieved a fraction of their success, I would be very proud.”
But having created a deliciously addictive product that at the same time is giving granola back its healthy glow, you can bet that before you can say “snap, crackle, pop”, Homespun Quinoa Crunch will soon be a household name too.
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.