Made in New England: Meet Caitlin Mack of Snack Brand LesserEvil
While LesserEvil has been around since 2015 (starting off with popcorn and snacks), when CEO Charles Coristine and partner Andrew Strife took over the company in 2011, they gave the company a complete makeover. And they instilled a new mission to boot—to focus on real, quality ingredients.
Inspired by Kripalu’s Buddha Bowls, the company now has three product lines—the Buddha Bowl popcorn, Green Elephant potato chips and Grain Free Paleo Puffs. Their focus? Making the world less evil through connections with people, the planet and, of course, real, organic food. We got to chat with Brand Manager Caitlin Mack to discuss ingredient standards, their growth path and why they have a 50-foot mural painted outside their factory.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
C.M.: The brand was started in 2005 as popcorn and snacks but in 2011, Charles Coristine and Andrew Strife took over the company. Then in 2014, we had a massive shift with the launch of the Buddha Bowl line. Our CEO Charles was really into meditation and was going to Kripalu a lot, so he was inspired by that. This is when we launched the Buddha Bowl line, focused more so on the ingredients and inspired by Buddha Bowls filled with all this goodness and health. We launched with our Himalayan Pink Buddha Bowl popcorn, and that was the birth of our shift in focus working with really good oils and Himalayan pink salt. That’s the direction the company has taken since then!
R.K.: I love your tagline, “Ingredients Mean Everything.” How do you source your ingredients?
C.M.: With the creation of Buddha Bowl in 2014, we made the decision to open up our own factory, which was really important to us—sourcing the best and knowing where our ingredients are coming from. In December 2017, we moved into a brand new, 25,000 square foot factory, so we have really stringent guidelines as far as what ingredients we use. What’s great about having our own factory and warehouse is we’re able to stay on top up everything coming in and we’re constantly looking for vendors closer to home.
We source organic popcorn from farmers in the Midwest, and we use a lot of raw, unrefined oils like raw coconut oil for a unique taste. We pay a lot of attention to all of our oils because that’s the main flavor behind our popcorn. We air pop our popcorn, which is different than most snacks out there, giving it a lighter, fluffier consistency, so the oils really are important for flavor!
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
C.M.: I joined the team back in October 2017, right around the time we were shifting into the new factory, so moving from a small, 9,000-square-foot factory to a larger one was a big transition—in the way we work and the amount we’re producing. Moving all that machinery was a big challenge in terms of making sure everything was set up and the way we want it to be. But it’s been exciting as we’re constantly growing and optimizing!
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
C.M.: One reason we love being in Danbury is New England is such a populous area—being close to Boston, New York and a large chunk of the nation’s population. This allows us to get our snacks out to our neighbors quickly to experience the highest level of quality.
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England food and wellness scene that you don’t now?
C.M.: We’re starting to see a lot of smaller, micro shops pop up like new kombucha companies, so wellness has really started to grow in the nation. It’s really cool to see these small shops open up right in our neighborhood! Kombucha a couple years ago was such a foreign idea, and now there’s a kombucha plant opening up down the street.
R.K.: What other local food and wellness brands are you a fan of?
C.M.: There are a lot of great yoga studios in this area! I used to live down in Stamford and there are so many opportunities down there. Kripalu is amazing up in Massachusetts! The shift toward more wellness-oriented experiences like meditation studios has been amazing. I used to live in San Francisco so coming from there it’s exciting to see some of those trends in this area!
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
C.M.: Our CEO is very in tune with what’s happening in the industry. For instance, we just launched our Grain Free Paleo Puffs, which we were seeing more mainstream back in November 2017, with gluten intolerances and grain intolerances. So we were able to start production in April and May 2017! We’re always trying to look to see what’s happening across the industry and how food can work into that.
For me personally, I was at Wanderlust in Stratton and met Lesser Evil there. I thought they aligned really well with my personal interests. They’re really in tune with the different fitness and wellness trends and making sure our product is fitting in!
R.K.: Do you have a favorite quote or business mantra?
C.M.: When we moved into the big factory, we hired a local muralist to do a huge mural on the side of the factory—with our Buddha, Green Elephant and Paleo Bear [editor’s note: see below image!]. Next to that is a Ram Dass quote, “We’re all just walking each other home.” It’s all about creating this world that’s a little less evil and doing our part by adding that spark of joy in the snack space.
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
C.M.: Continuing to grow across the country! In June 2017, we got national distribution with Whole Foods for a bunch of our popcorn skews and all of our Paleo Puffs, so that’s been really exciting and we’re looking forward to see how that grows!
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own wellness or food business?
C.M.: Listen to your gut, and be kind of nimble and open to testing and learning and trying different things. We have some products that didn’t work out so well, but being confident in your ultimate vision for the company and moving forward with what.
R.K.: Here at the WELL Summit we like to say, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
C.M.: It’s really cool because the office is actually attached to the factory, so you feel really connected to the product that’s being made and our overall mission. You pull into work every day, smell the popcorn and can pop into the factory whenever you want. It makes the entire process feel more interconnected!
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