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Meet Sydney Karmes-Wainer of French Squirrel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sydney Karmes-Wainer.

Hi Sydney, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
I have always loved food & cooking. I remember, as a kid, spending hours in the kitchen cooking for my family. I even went to cooking camp every summer growing up. This deep love for food diminished as I quickly immersed myself in the college environment, particularly sorority life. I had never been very mindful of my appearance prior, but soon after being surrounded with girls who obsessed over body image, I too fell into this trap. I developed many orthorexic tendencies (orthorexia is the unhealthy obsession with eating “clean” foods and eating “perfectly” all the time). After losing my period for years, I decided to take control of my health and begin healing my relationship with food and exercise. I started my own food Instagram @french.squirrel, where I documented all the recipes I made and restaurants I went to. I graduated UC Santa Barbara and then began to work in the food industry in Brand Management at LA’s premier grocer.

I am a huge snacker, especially because I pay very close attention to balancing my blood sugar. I found that mid-afternoon or just in between meals, I would oftentimes crave chocolate and needed a satiating pick-me-up that wasn’t filled with so much sugar or wasn’t as processed as your standard protein bar. I started making what are now called “Berets” – refrigerated, 100% chocolate-coated protein bites that are vegan, gluten-free & filled with nutrient-dense, organic ingredients. My colleagues and family convinced me to turn this into a business, first launching at Erewhon Markets all over Los Angeles. Every time I see my product on shelf, it is a true “pinch me” moment. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share French Squirrel with the world as we continue to grow and expand…

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Definitely not! I had no knowledge of what it meant to launch a food product. I did not know how much ingredients were “supposed to cost” or all the legal necessities to establish a business, but I learned everything along the way…one step at a time. Shipping and its costs was also something that often goes overlooked, but it is something that every startup struggles with in the beginning, especially perishable and chocolate-related products.

Overall, being a small business and a one-woman show, it has been a struggle to keep up, but our overwhelmingly positive customer feedback and support is what keep me going as an entrepreneur. My favorite quote by the founder of LinkedIn (slightly paraphrased) is, “If you are not embarrassed by the first round of your product, you likely did not launch soon enough.” Everything I have learned, I have learned along the way by trying and learning from my mistakes.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
French Squirrel is a food company specializing in French-inspired, good-for-you snacking. We are known for our first product, Berets, 100% chocolate-coated protein bites shaped like little French hats. The French culture is known for the afternoon “pause” – where each individual takes a pause in their day for a coffee and a snack. This sentiment inspired the idea behind Berets because they are meant to be enjoyed as a way to satisfy you until the next meal, mentally and physically. We use REAL ingredients that anyone can pronounce. Our chocolate is of the utmost quality, unsweetened, 100% dark, without any gums, fillers, preservatives or soy lecithin. We are proud to say we offer the highest quality of ingredients in each Beret and that they are not only delicious, but functional. Sydney, our founder, is a Certified Hormone Specialist who created Berets with the perfect combination of plant-based protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep blood sugar levels balanced. Berets are also infused with stress-managing adaptogens, like maca powder, ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea.

We also just announced our second product line, Bateaux, 100% chocolate-coated organic Medjool dates filled with crunchy nut butter and topped with flakey sea salt. Bateaux means boats in French, as the shape of dates reminds us of little boats. Dates are one of nature’s superfoods, high in fiber, antioxidants, and support digestive health. They are available at all Erewhon locations in the refrigerated section, next to Berets.

Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
The reason French Squirrel is what it is, is because of the amazing community I have built on Instagram. I haven’t had to put many marketing dollars toward the business, as my followers have supported me organically along the way. I have met some of my best friends through the Instagram food and health & wellness community as well.

LinkedIn is also my best friend – highly recommend it for networking and establishing brand/career presence.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Professional product shots by: @brightmomentco

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