Growing up on an 88-acre farm in Massachusetts, Nicole Ledoux was connected with food in a deeper way from the get-go. It wasn’t until her now-husband Rob almost lost his life on date night due to a nut allergy that shifted how she thought about food. Soon after, the duo began experimenting with scratch-made, allergen friendly craft seed bars and their journey with 88 Acres began.
Now, the company offers a variety of “farm to pantry” seed bars, butters and granolas all non-GMO and 100% nut free. We got to chat with Co-Founder and CEO Nicole to learn about sourcing from New England farms, funny kitchen mishaps and their love for local collaborations.
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
N.L.: I grew up on an 88-acre organic farm in North Brookfield, Massachusetts. My experiences on the farm gave me a strong connection to food, from tinkering in the kitchen with my mom as a child to running the family farm stand.
A few years ago I met the love of my life, Rob, and on our fourth date he almost died at dinner when his restaurant meal was cross-contaminated with nuts. The next day, I got rid of all the peanuts and tree nuts from my kitchen to help make Rob safe. I have no food allergies, but because of his, how I thought about food began to change.
We always struggled to find healthy, convenient snacks that Rob could eat but I would love the taste of as well. So I began experimenting at home with craft seed bars. We would take them on bike rides, and hikes, and throw a few in our bags to enjoy at work. Soon enough friends, both with food allergies and without, started to steal bites and place orders. After lots of rave reviews, we realized maybe we were on to something and the journey of 88 Acres began.
R.K.: What makes 88 Acres unique or something you want readers to know?
N.L.: All our products are made from seeds. Pumpkin, sunflower and flax, to be precise. We love seeds because they pack a real nutrient punch including protein, iron and magnesium, while also consuming fewer water resources than nuts. Seeds are a natural byproduct of the harvest. Also, all our foods are made in small batches in Dorchester by our incredibly hardworking baking team.
R.K.: How do you source your ingredients?
We source from the best family farms around. We seek single-source suppliers wherever possible and to buy from partners whose values align with our own. Both our cranberries and maple syrup come from New England family farms.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
N.L.: Food production is no small undertaking. Buying equipment for our kitchen is enormously costly. When we first launched our seed butters, we labeled each jar by hand and filled them with seed butter using an ice cream scoop. Sometimes the challenges become downright funny looking back but they’re more difficult in the moment. Just recently, a vendor accidentally dropped a piece of equipment off their loading dock after we had waited three months for its delivery, and now we have to wait another two months to get a replacement. There are just some things you can’t plan for!
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?
N.L.: Fierce loyalty from consumers to support local, small businesses and hometown brands. There are also a great variety of family farms in the area we have partnered with to source our ingredients, including our maple syrup and our cranberries. We have a lot of New England pride!
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England food and wellness scene that you don’t now?
N.L.: A dedicated outdoor food market like Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. We love doing pop-up events! Just this fall, our team created special recipe creations for Somerville’s Fluff Festival and had an amazing time doing it!
R.K.: What other local food and wellness brands are you a fan of?
N.L.: We are huge fans of the vegan cafe Fomu. It is so close to our office and everything they make is delicious. In the summer we hydrate with DrinkMaple and if we are snacking on chips and hummus, you better bet they’re Late July. We are also obsessed with Follain, a Boston-based clean skincare and cosmetics retailer. I’ve transitioned almost all of the skincare products I use to brands that Follain carries, as I trust their vetting and guidance.
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
N.L.: Rob’s dad was both a huge supporter for the business and its first employee. He ran his own company and grew it over the years. The idea for 88 Acres was just in its infancy when he gave a speech at his retirement party that made me stop and think. I never wanted to look back and think I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to start 88 Acres. I never wanted to wonder what if. While Rob was working full-time to support me in getting our business off the ground, Steve was by my side every day making it happen. He’s the best father-in-law a girl could ask for. I give equal thanks to our dear, wise friend and serial entrepreneur Morgen Newman, who was also there from the start, baking bars in our kitchen.
R.K.: What’s your favorite quote or business mantra?
N.L.: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That’s Michael Pollan and it pretty much sums up my food philosophy. I shop at Whole Foods and try to eat mostly organic fish, veggies and whole grains. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy other foods. Everything in moderation.
R.K.:Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
N.L.: We are just getting started at 88 Acres. We have been selling in 450 locations in New England over the last two years and have seen tremendous growth and encouraging consumer feedback. We are now also available in the mid-Atlantic and California! We will continue to expand following this momentum and are excited to launch new flavors soon. It’s an exciting time to be in the food industry. There is a lot of innovation happening and growth in the non-GMO, organic, gluten-free and plant protein categories.
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own wellness or food business?
N.L.: Build your network of allies and advisors with expertise in areas you don’t have experience in to lean on, as the challenges will inevitably come.
R.K.: Here at The W.E.L.L. Summit we like to say, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
N.L.: Relaxed but always getting s*** done. At the office, we weave seamlessly between tough challenges and laughter about the latest inbound email or baking misfire.
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