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Meet Kate and Bryan Flynn of Sun & Swell Foods in Santa Barbara

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate and Bryan Flynn.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kate and Bryan. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2016, we switched our diet to one that involved eating primarily whole, real foods as close to their natural state as possible. When we started eating this way, we felt better than ever. However, we found it really hard to find grab-and-go snacks that fit this way of eating. Most of the packaged snacks we found in stores were full of chemicals, additives, and preservatives. We had a need that wasn’t being served, and we knew we weren’t the only ones. So – we started with a concept: we wanted to make clean and simple snacks, to make it easier to eat healthy on-the-go.

We started experimenting with recipes in our kitchen, and trialing them with our friends. We experimented for months with different products and different recipes. Until one day, we finally found a product that we were sure we should launch with.

Once we knew what we wanted to make, we had to figure out how to make it. We sub-leased commercial kitchen space in the evenings and weekends and made everything by hand – just the two of us. When it got too much for us to handle, we added an employee. Then another one. And another one… until we had a full production team. We started outgrowing our first commercial kitchen, and had to move to a new one after about a year of production. When we outgrew that one, we moved to a third one. Every new kitchen, we’d say “we have so much room to grow here!”… Until we didn’t.

After countless nights working until 3am or 4am in the kitchen, we were finally big enough to get our own space and operate it during normal business hours! This was a huge win.

We made the move into our own kitchen this summer, and simultaneously invested in some machinery that allows us to grow even more. We have a production team that makes our products so we can focus more of our time on sales, marketing, and growth.

When we first launched a business, we expected everything would happen so fast. But it doesn’t – it requires a lot of time and a lot of hard work to prove and refine your concept, and to build a solid foundation and brand. Nothing happens overnight!

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Haha, no… it has been the opposite of a smooth road. A roller coaster full of ups and downs every day. But we wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Some of the challenges we’ve faced:

– Never enough time or resources! It’s a constant game of figuring out what we should prioritize and what’s going to help drive the business forward the most. For example, if we have a full day: should we spend it working on recipe development for a new product? Or should we go to visit some of our retail accounts? Or should we spend time really learning the ins and outs of Facebook marketing so we can do it better?

– There’s no clear path or instruction manual for what we’re doing, and nothing ever goes as expected. We’re constantly testing, learning, and pivoting, and it always feel like we are flying be the seat of our pants. While that’s challenging, it’s also what makes it so fun.

– There’s always going to be rejection. Not everyone is going to love our product, our company, our brand. It can be hard not to take it personally. We’ve found the key is to just stay focused on the wins. There’s so much to celebrate, so we save our energy for that.

Sun & Swell Foods – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We make simple snack foods from real food ingredients -without any added sugars, preservatives, flavors, or chemicals. Our snacks are vegan, gluten-free, and organic. Our ingredients lists are super short, so we make it easy for people to know what they’re eating. You can find our snacks all around LA/OC at natural food stores (Erewhon, Mother’s Market) and coffee shops / eateries (like Alfred, Two Guns Espresso, and more!)

We are very proud of the commitment we have taken to our ingredients and our packaging so that consumers can make better decisions for themselves about their health. We feel that a major problem with the food industry today is all of the deception and misinformation that is out there, especially when it comes to packaging and ingredient disclosure. Our simplicity and clarity in these areas is a major point of pride for us.

We’re also committed to building an organization that helps make the world a better place – beyond just the product we make. We’re proud to be a member of 1% for the Planet, which means we give 1% of revenue towards driving positive environmental change. And we recently received our B-Corp Certification, which means we meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability, and aspire to use the power of our business to solve social and environmental problems.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
To us, we’re successful if we’re making this world a better place. It’s that simple.

If we were to stop right here in this moment and ask ourselves – “has our business made a positive impact on our community and people around us?” – Our answer would be yes. We’ve made it easier for people to make healthy choices. We’ve employed a lot of people. We treat our suppliers and vendors with respect, and try to support suppliers that are also making a positive impact on the world.

While we already feel proud of what we’ve accomplished, what we really strive for is to be big enough to be a driver of change. We feel there’s a lot that can be done to improve the food industry… And hope to someday lead the way for changes in farming practices, food distribution, ingredient/labeling practices, environmental impact and packaging improvements.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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