Meet the Makers of 88 Acres

 
Meet the Makers of 88 Acres: Nicole and Rob

When it comes to food allergy-friendly snacks, 88 Acres is seriously raising the bar. The farm-to-pantry, top 9 allergen-free snack brand makes craveable granola bars, Seednola and seed butters that are nearly impossible to put down.

It was a labor of love from the start for 88 Acres owners Nicole and Rob. On their fourth date, Rob had a life-threatening allergic reaction, which changed Nicole's relationship to food forever. The Harvard business grad became a woman on a mission, making snacks she and Rob could both enjoy — including the ever-elusive, tasty nut-free granola bar. Luckily, she was willing to share with the rest of us.

 
 

What was the inspiration behind 88 acres?

It all started when I met Rob during the fall of 2010, the old-fashioned way, on Match.com. Our first date was amazing — Saturday brunch in Boston followed by a long walk around the city with my chocolate lab Bear — but it was our fourth date that changed everything.

We were grabbing dinner from my local pub when Rob looked across the table and told me to get him to the emergency room. His meal was contaminated with nuts (thankfully, it wasn’t my cooking!). For most of us nuts are no biggie, but Rob's severe nut allergy caused his throat to begin closing up. So our romantic fourth date took a scary turn as I sped through the streets of Boston looking like a deer in headlights with Rob in the passenger seat, his parents on the phone in one hand and his EpiPen in the other.

Nicole, Rob and their son, Emmett

Nicole, Rob and their son, Emmett

At the hospital, he was whisked through triage and into the ER. His parents arrived about an hour later, which was an awesome way to meet them for the first time — "Hey, nice to meet you, future in-laws. Your son is in anaphylactic shock.” I stayed by his bedside all night and watched him the entire next day.

As soon as I got home, I got rid of all the nuts in my house. The experience not only cemented my love for Rob, but it spawned a pretty awesome food startup. Now we are married, run 88 Acres together and have a 15-month-old baby boy named Emmett!

Tell us a bit about the early days of the company.

Rob and I were training for a big triathlon. There weren’t a lot of healthy, convenient foods out there that Rob could bring on our bike rides and hikes for fuel. So I started tinkering with homemade granola bars made with seeds that we both could eat to sustain our energy.

Soon enough, friends and family were asking for bars to take home. After sharing the bars with our workout group and getting feedback at farmers' markets, we knew we were onto something. Rob's dad, who owned his own company, also played a role in helping me take the leap. At his retirement party, I was moved by his speech about giving his dreams a go so he would never wonder “what if?” Shortly thereafter, I left my career in finance to bring 88 Acres to life.

What was the first product?

Our Triple Berry Craft Seed Bar was the first in our granola bar line that now has three flavors. It is inspired by my New England heritage, sort of a healthy take on a summer berry pie my grandmother used to make. Both Rob and I love blueberries and cranberries, and when we discovered dried Zante currants at our local Whole Foods, we added them in for an instant hit.

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What does it mean to work with single-sourced ingredient providers and how does that impact food allergy safety?

We have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of our ingredient supply chain. We source the majority of our ingredients from single-source suppliers to reduce the risk of cross-contamination with allergens. For example, our flax supplier only grows and processes flax and our oat supplier only grows and processes oats.

88 Acres ensures product safety for those with food allergies by enforcing strict allergen-safety protocols. Each ingredient supplier is thoroughly vetted. Allergen and gluten documentation, as well as Certificates of Analysis, are collected for each ingredient. Our bakery is certified gluten-free, and we bake our snacks under strict regulations and perform routine testing to ensure that our products don't contain gluten.

How did food allergies change the way you think about food?

I'm a farm-raised foodie who grew up in Central Massachusetts on a produce farm. I had never known anyone with severe food allergies, but because of Rob's allergies, the way I thought about food began to change.

What has been the response in the food allergy community to 88 Acres?

It’s been amazing. This community is so supportive of our efforts and inspires us every day to continue creating products and a brand that bridges the gap between those living with and those living without food allergies!

What did growing up on a farm teach you about food production?

Never waste food! It’s always been our food philosophy to aim for zero waste in the bakery. When we cut a craft seed batch into bars, we always end up with edge pieces. Scraps from early bar bakes in my kitchen were transformed into delicious, crunchy Seednola by popping the edge pieces back into the oven. When we opened our bakery, we kept making the Seednola, initially just to share with employees and friends. Now we sell it small-batch — we put together just a few bags each day, which is why it's currently an online-only product.

What Are 3 things you always keep in your Pantry?

Pumpkin seeds, oats and maple syrup. I live on overnight oats! As a busy entrepreneur, I prep them the night before in a mason jar that I can grab-and-go in the morning.

The oats, mixed with hemp and flax seeds and topped with seed butter and fruit keep me satisfied and full throughout my busy day.

Get Nicole's vegan and gluten-free overnight oat recipe here!

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Favorite food allergy-friendly restaurant in Boston area?

Asian restaurants are often hard to navigate for anyone with nut allergies, but we like to go to Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger in Wellesley. Ming’s son has a peanut allergy, so he takes great care to educate his staff on serving diners with food allergies.

You have bars, granola and seed butters covered - what's next?

We are developing new allergy-friendly bar flavors with higher protein. Soon we will have lots of products to pack in school lunches for kids!

If you're looking for a Mother's Day or graduation gift, we've created a beautiful spring box just in time to celebrate Mom or a new graduate. The box includes a trail mix made with our Seednola, seed bars, seed butter and a whole grain pancake mix that is unbelievable. It's also a great gift idea for someone newly diagnosed with food allergies.

88 Acres Mothers Day

What is the best way to get 88 Acres?

We ship nationwide from our office in Boston. Families can place orders online at 88acres.com. For Spokin readers, we would also love to share a discount for you to sample our products. Just add the code SPOKIN at checkout for 15% OFF your first order.

Follow 88 Acres on Facebook and Instagram for recipe ideas, and sign up for our email list for special offers!

Best Instagram for food inspiration?

Just one? There are so many! We love @lindseyleeandtheboys and @citnutritionally.

Cookbook you can't live without?

Babycakes

Favorite Celebrity chef?

Gail Simmons

Favorite Blogs?

The Minimalist Baker and Bojon Gourmet — like Babycakes, both of these blogs offer a wealth of vegan and alternative baking recipes.

Sweet or salty?

Salty

Last meal?

Vietnamese Pho