CHICAGO — A combination of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and brown flax seeds adds nutrition, flavor and crunch to the allergy-friendly snacks offered by Chicago startup Blake’s Seed Based. Founder Blake Sorenson, diagnosed with a “deathly nut allergy” as a preschooler, developed the initial recipes for his seed-based bars three years ago as a business school project.
“I grew up as the allergen kid, and a number of products like trail mix, cookies, bars, snacks that typically have nuts were just off limits to me,” Mr. Sorenson said. “I kind of accepted this for 28 years of my life and then had the idea to solve my own problem and start making these products on my own. Not being able to eat nuts, seeds were the alternative… From an early age I realized I liked the way they tasted, the nutrition, and they also were a great replacement to use in recipes that traditionally had nuts.”
Today, Blake’s Seed Based products may be found in more than 1,000 retailers nationwide, including Sprouts Farmers Market and select Walmart stores. This summer, that number is set to double as the brand expands into Kroger. The products also are available online at blakesseedbased.com.
All of the brand’s products are free of the top eight allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, fish and shellfish. The core line of nutrition bars features seeds, plus chickpeas, puffed quinoa and crisp rice. Flavors include s’mores, raspberry, pineapple and blueberry lemon.
“I started in my own kitchen and then realized quickly I had to find a co-manufacturer,” Ms. Sorenson said. “That was frankly the hardest part. I visited over 20 different facilities and had very strict standards. We have to make it in a certified nut-free, certified gluten-free facility. It took about a year to find a facility. It took a lot of diligence, but frankly that’s what sets us apart.”
Within a year of launching, Blake’s Seed Based was selected for the Kraft Heinz Co. Springboard incubator program, a platform dedicated to scaling and accelerating food and beverage brands. Participants received mentorship, funding and access to pilot plants and culinary kitchens at the Kraft Heinz Innovation Center in Glenview, Ill.
Earlier this year, the brand launched a line of crispy rice treats, inspired by Mr. Sorenson’s desire for guilt-free indulgences during the pandemic. Blake’s Seed Based Rice Crispy Treats are the first vegan and first certified nut-free products of its kind on the market, according to the company. Traditional varieties are made with marshmallows, which typically contain animal-derived gelatin. The addition of seeds provides vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
“Talking to a lot of vegans who are our customers, there wasn’t a vegan rice crispy treat on the market,” Mr. Sorenson said. “It’s been something in the back of our minds for a while. We spent quite a bit of time working in R&D and eventually found a recipe we’re really happy with.”
Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Blake’s Seed Based was created as a trusted, safe option for this population, but Mr. Sorenson wants his products to appeal to a much broader set of consumers, including those seeking healthier snacks. The brand has gained a following among fitness communities and professional sports organizations.
“It was important for me to create a brand that was not just for people with food allergies,” he said.
The company is set to debut an additional product line in June. Mr. Sorenson declined to share details of the forthcoming innovation, but he confirmed it will remain true to the brand promise. And it will definitely include seeds.
“Long term we want to play in a number of different categories and provide snacks that are healthy, taste good, and are free of the top eight food allergens,” Mr. Sorenson said. “The goal there is, why wouldn’t you make products that everyone can eat, and that’s our vision and mission going forward.”