Noha Waibsnaider, Peeled Snacks, Woman Entrepreneur

NohabioIn 2004 I read about Peeled Snacks and was intrigued because there were no preservatives.  I had a friend whose kid had severe food allergies and thought I'd check out the product.  You couldn't buy just one pack on line, you had to buy a box and so I did.  Back then some of the dried fruit bags came with nuts in a separate package inside the bag, that is no longer the case.  When I told Noha that I have been following the growth of her company since then it was great to hear the whole story from that box in 2004 to the present through her. 

Noha grew up in Jerusalem, Israel.  She left when she was four.  Her mother was from Argentina so she took her and her sister back home until she was seven and they returned to Jerusalem.  Stayed there only one year to get her life in order and then immigrated with two young girls in tow to the US landing in Baltimore, MD. 

After graduating high school Noha went to American University in DC.  She majored in Spanish and Latin American studies keeping her ties to Argentina spent a semester of junior year there.  She graduated in 1996 and took a job with NISBCO, a non-profit organzation focused on consciencious objects in Latin America. Keep in mind that during college she also spent a summer selling produce from a truck on the side of the road so perhaps fruit was always in her future.

She left NISBCO after six months and traveled with her boyfriend (now husband) through Mexico and Guatemala.  They decided that they wanted to get out of the DC area and 70 and sunny in San Diego seemed like a good place to hang their hat.  Noha took a job working for a childrens publishing company where she had the pleasure of reading childrens books all day and editing them.  One year in San Diego was all they could take.  They took some time and traveled again but this time to the Middle East, Europe and Greece eventually landing back in the DC area.

Noha took a job in a marketing firm but always had the desire to go to graduate school.  She got into Columbia University and others but decided NYC was the place for her.  While at Columbia Noha became one of the co-founders of the Global Social Venture Compeition.  An initiative promoting businesses with a social and environmental impact.  How to be a profital entrepreneur while making a social impact is so important.  After graduating in 2002 she went to work for Unilever in brand management.  Worked on the Ragu brand and in the health and wellness area of the company under the Lipton label. It was there that she realized how much people had the desire to buy healthy products.  The scientists at Unilever wouldn't eat the products that they were making and that sent her a sign.  The large companies really aren't agile enough to create new categories that are truly healthy products.  She stayed long enough to understand a product from idea to shelf. 

When she left Unilever her husband was just finishing his teaching fellows program and they decided it might be their last chance to really travel like they wanted to.  They took off for India and Thailand.  It was 2004 when they returned and the job opportunities in the food business were scarce.  She met with a friend who was in the Investor Circle and began to talk about how in Israel dried fruit is every where but not in the states.  Noha wrote a business plan on the concept of creating a company around dried fruit and submitted it to the Investors Circle.  It wasn't accepted but the plan started to develop a life of its own.

At first Noha thought she was too risk adverse to start a company on her own but her food interests became apparent to her and the concept she had just clicked.  She began to speak to scientists she knew in the food business, found a commodity broker in the fruit industry, dialed up some people she knew who were in the design business and Peeled Snacks was born. 

The original concept was peeled fruit and nuts but the nuts were in a separate bag in the fruit bag and because of the preservatives that wasn't working.  The shelf life was too short and the nuts were too high in calories (customer feedback).  Also the distributors did not want something that had that short of a shelf life.  She took out the nuts and did fruit only.  An evolution in the business model. 

It was now 2006 and her sales person left so her husband decided to come on board.   She raised some money from friends and family and really started to grow the business.  At first they were focused on healthy snacks on the go focusing on airports, gyms and grab and go locations.  In 2009 they were approached by Starbucks to be part of their healthy snack category with single servings.  That was a huge validaiton of her business model.

Between 2009 and now they have started to focus on grocery sized bags that are the right size for grocery shelves.  The new packaging is really beautiful.  Those products will run from $3.49 to $3.99.

The products are made in upstate NY and Colorado.  Noha sources products from family farms in developing countries…this is where her Spanish comes into play.  Peeled Snacks has actually helped sustainable farms with loans in order to help them grow and create the right products going back to her desire to build a company with a social mission. 

Not only has Noha been focused growing Peeled Snacks over the last seven years she also created a group called New York Foodies that has built into a community of over 400 people.  Did I mention that she also has a 3 1/2 year old and six month old.  Pretty impressive that she was able to have kids during the key growth of her business.  You can do it if you want. 

The business is now about to expand to another level.  Peeled Snacks was ranked as one of the fastest growing companies on Inc's list for 2011.  Pretty impressive…and the product…it tastes great.