When we decided we were going to start Alternutive, our first move was to find a co-packing facility to manufacture our products in. After working with 3 different facilities on 2 different products, we ended up back at square one. For one reason or another, none of our options worked out. We decided to shift directions. It was time for us to take production into our own hands.
That’s when we found Hope & Main. Hope & Main is Rhode Island’s first food business incubator kitchen. We became members of Hope & Main to hand-make our products while we continued our search for the right facility.
We starting working out of Hope & Main in the winter of 2018 with plans to spend the summer promoting Alternutive at the grassroots level. With nothing to show from any product development that had gone on over the past year or so, I started developing recipes myself. All of the snacks I made in my parent’s kitchen tasted great but I never formally recorded any of my recipes. It was time to do what I did in my parent’s kitchen all over again except write everything down this time.
After learning there’s more to developing scalable recipes than just making it taste good, I became connected with our recipe developer. We spent many hours in the kitchens of Hope & Main developing recipes together leading up to our initial launch date and throughout the summer.
Alternutive products were sold for the first time on Father’s Day 2018 at the Hope & Main Schoolyard Market. That summer we spent time selling products at local markets, testing ways to scale out of Hope & Main, and searching for more co-packing facilities to work with. Making and packaging bars by hand was time consuming and labor intensive. We did as much as we could to improve the production process. Without the proper equipment to make our products, it was going to be hard to scale Alternutive making bars by hand. Our search for the right co-packing facility was in full swing.
Finding an allergen-free co-packer was a challenge. The majority of co-packers in the U.S. aren’t allergen-free. Many that were didn’t have the right equipment to make what we wanted to make or weren’t taking on the business of a brand new startup. I must have called, e-mailed, and filled out inquiry forms for every option I could find. Someone I connected with during my search literally told me, “there are no nut-free facilities that exist in the U.S. to make that type of product, I’ve looked.”
We were reluctantly connected with a facility after months of searching. In the fall of 2018, we began to transition out of Hope & Main into an SQF certified, allergen-free facility.
Although we weren’t able to scale Alternutive out of Hope & Main, the time we spent there was crucial to our development as a company. We left ready to take the next step because we learned so much about the inner workings of running a food business. To anyone who bought bars or cookies from us that summer, thank you!
The experience of making products by hand is something I’m grateful for. I never expected weighing, mixing, spreading, cutting, weighing again, labeling, packaging, sealing, and storing hundreds of bars by hand to be so labor intensive. That also doesn’t include cleaning the kitchen after! I’m an advocate of human labor but automation beats human labor output every time when it comes to making bars.
Now, Alternutive products are made in a SQF Level 1 certified facility, free from 10/12 major allergens. That means absolutely nothing made with peanuts, tree-nuts, gluten, dairy, fish, corn, sesame, mustard, celery, or chemicals is allowed to enter the facility. However, soy and eggs are present in the facility.
Throughout our journey, we refused to settle for any facility that wasn’t 100% nut-free from both peanuts and tree-nuts. At Hope & Main we invested in all of our own equipment to ensure there was no cross-contamination and tested every surface for allergens before used it. We understand how widespread nut allergies are becoming and the harm that cross-contamination can cause. Our journey to find the right facility to make allergen-free, school safe products widely available for everyone to enjoy was worth every second!