Welcome to What's Your Story?, our feature about innovative entrepreneurs in the food industry. Find out what goes into the making of a new and innovative food brand, how the product is made, who designs the packaging. All these questions, answered…
Caue Suplicy has perhaps an unfair advantage over other snack food entrepreneurs in that he got a running start on his idea during his childhood. Growing up in Brazil, he'd snack on dehdyrated bananas, which his father usually kept out back and served as a candy alternative. Now a Los Angeles resident, Suplicy has turned his pai's family treat into a viable business concept, and one that's quickly taking off in the marketplace.
Barnanas are simply dehydrated bananas, packaged in bite-sized bits and sold at supermarkets, bodegas and health-food stores throughout the U.S. Encouraged by the reaction to his original product, Suplicy has introduced a chocolate-covered version, and is just hitting the market with peanut butter-banana and coconut-banana variations. Here, he lets us in on the secrets to Barnana's success.
Now why is it called Barnana, instead of chewy banana bites or something?
I like to say that bananas are nature’s original energy bar. And we’re just improving that bar. Because bananas are great. But the shelf like is very short. They don’t travel really well. So we say that we’re making bananas even better.
What's the shelf life of Barnanas?
A year and a half.
In the bag?
Yeah. And the bag is re-sealable. Usually when you eat you can eat it throughout the week.
And the only ingredients are organic bananas, and organic banana powder?
Yeah. So it’s just bananas. When they get very chewy, they get very sticky. So we developed a powder, which is just bananas that we fully dehydrate and grind into a powder. And that’s what we coat them in.
How do you dehydrate a banana?
Similar to the way you dehydrate other fruits. For us, because it’s a large scale, it’s just a warm air flow. So we put the bananas on big racks, and it’s similar to an oven where you have warm air going around gently removing the water. It takes about ten to twelve hours.
It says on the original that browning is natural.
So that was a little bit challenging in the beginning, because people expect to see yellow bananas. But once you dry any fruit, they get darker. So we developed the second generation of our packaging and we added that the browning is natural. So the browning is natural and the white is the banana powder.
I imagine you must use a lot of bananas.
We do. On our first year we used over a million bananas. So we are bringing back loads of bananas. And the funny thing is, to make one bag of the original product, you need 11 bags of fresh bananas. So container-wise, one container of our product is 11 containers of fresh bananas. That’s a lot of bananas. The cool thing is that it’s more sustainable for that reason as well. Instead of bringing 11 containers, you’re bringing one. And our product doesn’t really spoil.
Where are you sourcing the bananas from?
We bring the bananas from South America. All over South America.
When did you realize that Barnana would actually be a hit?
We launched the company in 2012, in March, at Natural Food Expo West, which is the biggest natural food convention in the country. And surprisingly it was really well-received. Wegman’s picked us up at the Expo but I said no, our strategy was just to start on the West Coast. And they said really? They came back two times and I talked to a couple of my advisors who said: Wegman’s talks to you, you go to Wegman’s. So that changed the strategy and we went on both sides of the country.
So you got taken into Wegman’s and then it started to take off from there?
Yeah. We got into Whole Foods in north California at that time as well.
What was your background before you founded Barnana?
I used to be a professional triathlete; I moved to the United States to race triathlons. When I started in ’95, we didn’t have any of these energy bars that we have now. So we had to be creative. I was going for five hour rides so I couldn’t really put 10 bananas in my pocket. So I started taking these dried bananas because they take very little space, they have all the energy that I need, and it’s all organic.
How did it go from personal snack to business idea?
I moved here and found all the bars and gels, but every time I went back home to visit my family I stocked up on those bananas to bring them back with me. And every time I was eating, my friends would ask to try them, and every time it was the same response: Where can I get some more? So I knew people liked it. Throughout the years, I saw Brazilian products become a huge success. Like coconut water and the açai berry. And what I realized is that they got the product in Brazil, sold as a commodity, and made it better… So I started to get bananas and changed it for the market. In Brazil, they are sold as these long, sticky bananas.
What about the packaging? Did it start out this way, or did you have to change it up at all?
We changed it up a lot. We’re still changing. I knew that I wanted to have a bag with banana bites. If you bring this to the office, the chances are that someone’s gonna try it. So we wanted to create this product so our consumers could act as viral samplers. Because the idea for Barnana is to be the first company in the world to create a name around banana-based snacks. You don’t have anything like that. You have Chiquita and Dole for fresh bananas. And that’s a massive market. No one ever tried to capitalize on the banana-based products. So that’s our idea, is to create Barnana to be everything bananas.
So who did you see as the market for this? Was it people like yourself who were looking for a quick snack?
That was the very difficult thing, because with my triathlon background, I knew that my friends liked it and that was a good market. But I also realized that that market was very small. I like to think of this product as a transition product. People eat so much crap every day. Chocolates are bad. Refined sugars [are bad]. This is an option that actually tastes good, and is good for you. The sugar in this comes just from the fruit. The original one and the coconut one, there’s only one ingredient and two ingredients. Nothing added.
Anything else we should know about Barnana?
There’s another interesting thing. The bananas that don’t qualify for the American market, like if they’re too big, if they have little spots, the importers don’t buy them. Because they want the bananas to be perfect. And for many years the bananas went to waste. So we buy those bananas. Because we don’t care how they look from the outside. So we are more sustainable in that way as well.
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