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Meet Jenny Stackle of Kip’s – Allergy Friendly Snacks in Carlsbad

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Stackle.

Jenny, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When my son Kip was 2, we found out he had severe food allergies. He’s allergic to peanuts, all tree nuts, and sunflower seeds. So, like all food allergy parents, I started reading labels, and over time became more and more frustrated that there were so few healthy snack options that Kip could eat. I knew I couldn’t be the only food allergy parent feeling this frustration.

With around 15 million people in the U.S. suffering from food allergies, there were literally millions of people like us, searching for healthy packaged snacks and totally frustrated with the lack of options. Roughly two kids per every classroom now have severe food allergies. So, back in 2011, when my daughter was starting kindergarten, Kip was 7, and I was itching to start working again, I created Kip’s Nut-Free Kitchen.

My dream at the time was to provide snacks and treats for people allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, like Kip. I had no experience in the food industry; my previous jobs were in nonprofit consulting and online marketing and project management. Little did I know what I was getting myself into! However, I couldn’t find a commercial kitchen to rent that was free of nuts and peanuts, so how I could start selling snacks if I couldn’t find a safe (peanut and nut free) place to bake them? I spent a year or so researching options, learning about packaging, writing a business plan, networking, etc. Trying to figure out how to be able to pursue this business idea. Right around this time, 2013, the Cottage Food Law passed in California, which legalized the sale of homemade food (albeit with many restrictions). Finally, I could bake and sell my Granola Rounds (round granola bars). I took a food safety class, submitted my labels to the County, and soon became a permitted Home Kitchen.

The one big downside, however, to being a Cottage Food Operation, was the restrictions on shipping. It wasn’t permitted. Some states allow home kitchens to ship their food, but California does not. I knew baking from home was therefore not a long-term solution since I could only sell to people in my immediate community. The number of people with food allergies in my local community wasn’t enough to sustain a business, and besides, I wanted to reach people with food allergies everywhere. I continued this way for a few years, selling in a few grocery stores, changing my products occasionally, and eventually becoming a vendor at a Farmer’s Market.

Finally in 2017/2018, I found a manufacturer that would work with a startup and had an excellent allergen control program in place that I was comfortable with. It was my opportunity to expand.

I stopped baking from home and took a hiatus from selling in order to focus 100% on my growth and relaunch. I rebranded from “Kip’s Nut-Free Kitchen” to Kip’s, since now my products were free of all 8 main food allergens. I had a new website created, and completely redesigned my packaging. We tested my recipe at the manufacturer’s facility, and finally this past August, I was able to launch my website, and I started shipping my commercially manufactured Granola Bark. It really was a dream come true, six years in the making.

I now know that although finding a co-manufacturer seemed to be the one missing piece in growing my business, it was actually just one step in a long line of challenges that I’ll face in growing my business. Just the past month alone has been full of unexpected challenges and decisions.

What will the future hold for me, and for Kip’s? Hopefully more growth, and the chance to share Kip’s foods across the country. I know this next step is going to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced, as I’ll be facing new challenges that weren’t present as a Cottage Food business. But I’m so excited to move forward. I hope that my journey with Kip’s is really just beginning, and there are many more years to come, and stories to share.

Has it been a smooth road?
Like any entrepreneur, I’ve had so many hurdles in this 7-year journey that it’s hard to keep track.

The first big hurdle was not being able to find an allergy-friendly kitchen to bake in. Then, by becoming a permitted home kitchen, I couldn’t ship, which really limited my growth. Finding a co-manufacturer that would work with a startup and also have an adequate allergen control program in place was another big challenge.

That’s not to mention the smaller struggles, like trying to hire bakers and demo people to free up some of my time, but not being able to hold on to them. Or having chronic hand pain from squeezing the portioner/scooper that formed my frozen granola bars. Oh, and here’s another one – spending thousands of dollars on extending shelf life, only to finally realize that the person I hired wasn’t the right fit. I ended up with the same recipe I started with, and it’s the one we use today!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Kip’s – Allergy Friendly Snacks – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Kip’s provides more choice for people with severe food allergies. We currently offer two flavors of Granola Bark, a snack food that is similar to a “broken, crunchy granola bar.”

What sets Kip’s apart from others is our dedication to the food allergy community and the fact that everything we create is free of the eight main food allergens. Very few companies are doing this.  And we are completely transparent about our ingredients and manufacturing.

I am really proud of two things. One, being a trusted member of the food allergy community. People I’ve connected with through social media know that I am a food allergy parent myself and that I take ingredients and manufacturing very seriously because my family deals with it every day.

We all support each other, strangers we’ve never met, and are all working together to increase awareness about food allergies, and bring about change and more choice.

The other thing I’m really proud of is not giving up over the years of facing so many hurdles, especially this past year. I’ve learned to constantly adjust expectations or change course when necessary. I never knew I could be so determined. I’m proud of the example I’m setting for my kids.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
There’s so much I love about San Diego – the beautiful coastline, sailing in Mission Bay, Padre games at Petco Park, visiting the Zoo and Safari Park with my kids, dinner in Little Italy, shopping on Cedros Avenue, eating in downtown Encinitas. Carlsbad has been a great place to raise kids.

The thing I like the least about San Diego is how spread out it is. Those wonderful places I mentioned take a lot of time and effort to get to from Carlsbad, which means we don’t go that often. We end up staying in the Carlsbad/Encinitas area most of the time. I also would like a tiny bit more weather! I miss the seasons.

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Image Credit:

Shel Powers @changebeautiful, Jennifer Collins

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