Spotlight Series ~ Jaime Foster

Friday, June 13, 2014

My Spotlight Series continues today with a focus on Jaime Foster (pictured above, right), owner of NaturAlmond, an all natural handcrafted almond butter. I was first introduced to NaturAlmond at our local farmers market, where I learned that Jaime credits this exceptional almond butter to her grandfather's beloved recipe. What I find sets NaturAlmond apart from the rest, is the right combination of salty & smooth but with a little crunch in each jar. In the 2 short years since the business was founded, Jaime's loyal fan following has prompted increased demand with NaturAlmond now stocked on grocery store shelves around the country. Oh, and Oprah named NaturAlmond her favorite nut butter in the August 2013 issue of O Magazine! Currently, NaturAlmond is offered in 4 flavors -- Original, Salt-Free, Honey Roasted, and Maple-Caramel. Read more from my Q&A below, plus Jaime reveals some exciting news on the horizon....

What was the spark that ignited the idea to share your Grandfather's almond butter recipe beyond family & friends?  

My family has a passion for high quality foods and healthy lifestyles.  Spending time in the kitchen, while experimenting with various recipes, has always been therapeutic after a long work week.  As a mother of 2 young children, I am always looking for nutritious snacks and meals to appease picky eaters, as well as healthy and creative meals for adults!  My Grandfather’s homemade almond butter has always been a crowd pleaser and does not compare to what is commercially available.  After much encouragement by family and friends, I decided to leave the corporate world and start a small food business in 2012. 

 Once you established NaturAlmond, what were your beginning steps in creating the business?  And have you always been based in Atlanta?  

When my Grandfather taught me how to make almond butter, my friends starting requesting that I make it for them all of the time!  I knew his recipe was different from what was commercially available and began to fine tune the recipe and experiment with other flavors of almond butter.  After meticulous R&D and market research of the nut butter category, we decided to take a leap of faith and launch Hinsdale & Foster Provisions so that we could sell our brand of almond butter that a good friend of ours named, NaturAlmond.  We began to look at shared kitchen concepts for production, as well as co-packing options because clearly we were not going to be able to make almond butter out of our home kitchen anymore.  Neither of these were options for our business model, so we were forced to build out and equip our own dedicated facility if this business was something that we were going to move forward with.  This would allow us to have a competitive advantage for numerous reasons, including the oversight of each step in the production process in a dedicated peanut free and gluten free facility.  With the growing numbers of peanut allergies and sensitivities to glutens, this was a key differentiator for our small business. 

How did you go about finding a location to initially make & package NaturAlmond for the commercial market?  And are currently in that original space?  

Initially, we were going to use a family-owned commercial building in Lithonia, GA to build out our facility, only to find our that it was improperly zoned.  Fortunately, it forced us to look closer to our home residence in Atlanta, GA (a blessing in disguise since this building was 40 min away) and we stumbled across the perfect spot one day while searching for commercial space to lease in Chamblee, GA.  It was zoned properly and we were able to negotiate, sign a lease and pull permits fairly quickly to initiate the build out.  Within 2 months, we received our C.O from the City of Chamblee and obtained certification from the Dept. of Agriculture on March 30th, 2012.  We are still in our little space and are currently in the middle of a 5000 square foot expansion!  We are proud to call Chamblee the home of Hinsdale & Foster Provisions!

Did you generate your fan following by originally selling NaturAlmond at local farmers markets?  At what point did you start expanding into retail & grocery stores?  

We did a lot of R&D and recipe testing amongst friends and family.  We were fortunate enough to get into local Farmers Markets in the Spring of 2012 after we receiving our licenses and certifications.  This allowed for us to generate some cash flow, while quickly building up our customer base and forming our "local addicts club!"  Having a sales background, I immediately started pounding the pavement and called on local specialty gourmet shops.  l will be forever grateful for our friends at Lucy's Market, Oli +Ve, Star Provisions, Muss & Turner's and David's Produce, all whom gave us a chance and were willing to place NaturAlmond on their shelves!  I am currently working on large gourmet grocery contracts and am proud to see our products in Whole Foods (Southeast and Florida Regions), The Fresh Market stores Nationwide, Kroger (100 stores in the Southeast), Central Market (9 stores in TX).  We attended Expo East last Fall, which is a Natural and Organic Food Industry Trade Show in Baltimore and will be attending Fancy Foods in NYC late June 2014 and Expo East again in 2014.

At what stage did you decide to add the 3 additional almond butter flavors and could you share the details of how you created those recipes/selected those particular flavor combinations.  And are you currently working on any new flavors to add to the NaturAlmond family?  

We knew that we could not survive off of one product and that we needed to expand the NaturAlmond line.  Based on customer feedback, the top requests were for sweeter flavors and for a salt free product.  Our Honey Roasted flavor provides customers with a subtle sweetness, while the Maple-Caramel provides a much more pronounced sweeter flavor.  Knowing that we were going to appear in Oprah's Magazine in August 2013 as her "favorite nut butter," we timed the launch of the new flavors to coincide with this National feature.  We still receive numerous requests for a chocolate almond butter, which I promise will hit shelves in the near future!  I am a chocoholic, so trust me, this is a priority and will meet perfection before launched!

I find your almond butter to taste superior to any other out on the shelves....   Would you give a little insight into what you think sets you apart?  The ingredients, your process? 

People continue to ask why NaturAlmond is so different and tastes so much better than the other brands of almond butter commercially available??  It's simple!  For starters, we source the highest quality Non-GMO whole almonds available from California. Unlike other manufacturers, who do massive runs using almond remnants and pieces, NaturAlmond is handcrafted in small batches to ensure quality, freshness and flavor.  By slow roasting the almonds, the essential oils are released to maximize the taste and then ground to the ideal consistency and texture.  Our products contain simple, all natural ingredients.  Never, do we add any sugars, oils, emulsifiers, additives or preservatives.  Simplicity never tasted so good!

Do you have any upcoming plans / news on the horizon for NaturAlmond that you would like to share?  

YES!!! You are the first one that I am sharing this news with, outside of our friends and family, but we plan to launch a Peanut Butter line and Blend of Nut Butters this Summer!  We will essentially have 2 separate kitchens- one for the almond butter (so that it can remain in a peanut free environment) and the other will be for the peanut butter, as well as blends such as pecan, cashew, hazelnuts, etc!  Stay tuned for more details and exciting news!  And yes, the chocolate almond butter will arrive at some point!

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