By Anna Lardinois
“Eating at the same time is not the same as eating together.”
This is a painful lesson that Brookfield native Brooke Navarro learned as a child. Navarro and her mother both suffer from severe food allergies. As a child, she fearfully watched her mother struggle with adverse reactions to food. In addition to food limitations and fear, once she reached school age, her allergies caused social isolation. Classmates enjoyed birthday treats and Halloween candy, while she looked on, unable to join the festivities for fear of getting sick.
When her daughter was born with severe food allergies, she was determined to provide better options for the child than were available to her and her mother, so she started an allergen-free food company.
Without a Trace Food offers family-friendly snacks that are free of peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, wheat, gluten, soy, shellfish, fish, and sesame. They manufacture and pack their products in their own allergen-friendly facility in Raleigh, North Carolina to ensure their products are not cross-contaminated with any food that does not appear on the product’s list of ingredients. “There are very few allergen-friendly food packers in the US. There’s some, but not many, and we decided we needed to have our own facility. It allows us to have the best possible control. It’s still a global food supply chain, although we try to buy directly from the farm when we can,” said Navarro.
Big manufacturing plants can cause big problems for those with food allergies. “More than half of all food recalls are due to mislabeling or missing labels when it comes to allergens,” said Navarro.
Navarro wanted delicious, safe, family-friendly food, but confesses she is not chef. The CEO partnered with nationally recognized chef Anna Helm Baxter to create the recipes. It took around nine months of experimentation and taste tests for the team to finalize the recipes for the granola bars, Power Bites, and Navarro’s favorite, the cookies.
She has a passion for soft-baked cookies and recalls the day she tasted what would become her favorite product in the growing lineup of offerings.
“I was waiting for a cab, and I was like, ‘well, I’m just going to try one on the way to the meeting.’” After her first bite, Navarro immediately called Helm Baxter and said, “Oh my gosh! This tastes like this is exactly like what it’s supposed to taste like! You did it!”
“It was so good. I ate about half the batch on my way home, but I had to save it (for my family) to try it,” she said.
Without a Trace Foods has been Navarro’s dream since she was in business school in 2007. She later revived the idea and began to work on recipes, packaging, and the myriad of other things required to launch a food brand. Finally, the allergen-free snacks were ready to go to market in 2020.
Unfortunately, the pandemic made it difficult to introduce the product to people, and most importantly, allow them to taste it. “I’m a big believer with any food, you need to try,” she said. “I think (with) products in this space, people have a tendency to see everything that’s not in it, and think ‘well, it’s obviously it’s going to be bland, or taste like cardboard. It’s not going to be very good.’”
She is confident once people try the food; they will change their minds about how allergen-free food tastes.
While the pandemic limited their ability to providing food tasting on a large scale, they were still able to connect with an audience eager for safe food that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Unlike many pre-seed companies that participate in accelerators, Without a Trace Food is already a revenue-generating company with a rapidly growing customer base. Direct to consumer sales account for a lion’s share of their business, but the company is hoping to be on grocery store shelves by this spring.
The business is definitely a family affair. Navarro’s father, a welder by trade, hand forged the molds used to make granola bars. Her husband is the company’s cofounder, and her in-laws were the company’s first production employees. Without a Trace Foods is enrolled in the current gener8tor cohort, which has been a positive experience for her company. Soon, the burgeoning company is pitching to investors for what is hoped to be a successful pre-seed round of funding.
You can follow the growth of Without a Trace Foods by connecting with them here.