Over the years, I’ve been intrigued and excited by food startups that introduce consumers to a unique ingredient through a tried-and-true form factor. Great examples are Exo’s cricket flour bar and Kuli Kuli’s moringa bar. Last week, I sat down with a food entrepreneur embarking on a similar mission. Her chosen ingredient: the acorn. Aline Copp is the Co-Founder of Mighty Wild, the first company to bring acorn flour to the retail shelf, initially in the form of a cracker (with the potential for other products down the road). Mighty Wild is crowdfunding the first stage of their growth via a Kickstarter campaign that launches today – check it out and be among the first to sample these delicious crackers: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/817922812/mighty-wild-gluten-free-vegan-acorn-crackers
Aline first tasted acorns in her fifth grade classroom in Texas. After reading My Side of the Mountain (a classic children’s survivalist novel), her class cooked acorn pancakes. California natives can likely relate: making acorn meal while studying Native Americans is a universal California elementary school activity. (Acorns were a crucial source of calories for native Californians. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber estimated that >75% of native Californians relied on acorns for food on a daily basis.) Later on, after graduating from an MBA program motivated to create a food business, Aline visited an exhibit on acorns in Yosemite and was inspired. The seed for Mighty Wild was planted.
Despite having the idea – to create artisan food products using acorns – Aline and her co-founder Mimi Brown still faced a great deal of work. Specifically, they had to transform their raw ingredient into workable acorn flour, create a recipe for a food product, and build a supply chain from scratch. They spent months perfecting the process of making flour, first removing bitterness from the taste, and then milling the product into a fine powder. The founders then took advantage of Aline’s experience from the California Culinary Academy to battle-test dozens of recipes. They finally settled on their favorite creation: the acorn cracker. Their crackers highlight the nutty relish of acorns via three flavors: original, spicy chipotle, and rosemary & caramelized onion (my favorite). Acorn flour is naturally gluten-free, which positions the crackers in a very high-growth category. I see them as a high-end alternative to the gluten-free staple Mary’s Gone Crackers…almost Mary’s meets Rustic Bakery flatbreads, perfect for the sophisticated cheese plate.
When tasked with securing a supply of acorns, Aline and Mimi had to start from scratch. Though wild acorns are abundant in the US and hold an illustrious place in our country’s history, there is no formal domestic supply chain. Acorns are currently eaten in other countries (as acorn jelly – dotorimuk – in South Korea, as liqueur in Spain) and are occasionally used domestically in high-end restaurants (chef Corey Lee of San Francisco restaurant Benu, just recently awarded three Michelin stars, featured a pasta dish centered around the oak tree and acorns – pasta made from acorn flour, jamón ibérico from pigs fattened on acorns, black truffles grown at the roots of oak trees). However there are currently no retail products in the US made with acorns. Aline and Mimi tracked down the current domestic sources for acorns and spent months formalizing their supply chain. This included defining their own guidelines for responsible foraging in order to minimize the impact on natural ecosystems. To ensure the continued health of domestic oak trees, Mighty Wild is collaborating with the Arbor Day Foundation to dedicate a share of their revenues to planting trees.
With product and supply chain in place, the next step for Mighty Wild is to secure a sales channel. They’re currently in conversations with buyers at a major natural foods chain and, interestingly, were encouraged by a buyer to launch a Kickstarter campaign to prove demand exists for their products. It’s amazing to see that within just five years Kickstarter has become an accepted means of validating consumer demand, even for a national chain. We can’t wait to see Mighty Wild on shelves everywhere!