Here is our interview with Alex Longo, the woman behind Cracked Coconut, a sweet vegan spread that is a brand new addition to our shelves at the store. Alex tells us about how she became a food producer and what products she plans to create next.
What is your background and how did you end up doing what you do now?
I have been battling Crohn’s disease since I was seventeen years old. In my first year of university, I was hospitalized for nine days from an unforeseen illness caused by my Crohn’s prevention medications that almost lead to death. That was my breaking point; I knew there had to be another way to live my life pain- and symptom-free. I immersed myself in studies related to quality nutrition, packaged food systems and ingredient sourcing as well as reading many cook books and blogs about transitioning to a whole food diet.
My biggest frustration and roadblock with my healthy eating transition was the price of food. Natural foods were priced extremely high (ie., organic) or lacked quality ingredients (ie., cheap processed food). This is where I had my ‘aha’ moment. My mission and vision encompasses our grounding principles of offering naturally healthy foods that taste great, are affordable and do not contain any chemicals whatsoever.
My passion and vision for the future of the food industry, combined with my creative culinary skills and background in business development are the pillars to my company. I feel very fortunate to have found my calling early in life.
Did you always plan on inventing a coconut spread or was it something that just happened out of the blue?
I never dreamed of making a coconut spread that I would sell in the marketplace. I first created the spreads for myself because my diet is extremely limited. I didn’t have a lot of options for any snack/desserts because most products are made with white processed sugar or contained chemicals like artificial flavours and colours. Luckily, coconut is extremely versatile and healthy and soon became a regular staple in my diet. I had a theory of how to make coconut butter spreadable and one day, I tossed my base ingredients, coconut meat and dates, into a bowl with some spices. The end result tasted way better than I could have imagined! Soon friends, families and co-workers were placing orders. After three months of juggling a full time job, part time school and the coconut butter business, I decided to take the spreads to market.
I am so gratefully that my cousin is my graphic artist…she really understands me and my vision on a personal level. She is able to capture and visually design artwork that incorporates the true beauty and creativity surrounding my philosophy and relationship with food. – Simple, vibrant and delicious!
Do you have other food products that you plan to market?
Yes, absolutely. I am a huge advocate for eating local and supporting our Canadian farmers. That being said, we have decided to offer two seasonal flavours: in the summer, we will make a strawberry-lemon spread, made with Ontario strawberries. For the Fall and Winter season, we will offer a coffee flavour made with beans from a local roaster. – For coffee lovers out there…watch out! 😉
And I’m not stopping at sweet spreads…I have been working on three new savoury flavours that will be the best versatile condiment on the market. Just like the coconut butters, these savoury spreads will be free from processed sugars, gluten, nuts, dairy, soy and artificial flavours colours and preservatives. The savoury spreads will be just as versatile as the sweet spreads: you can spread on a sandwich (like mayonnaise or mustard), add flavour to steamed vegetables, marinate tofu, vegetables and meat or use as a dip for chips, BBQ kabobs….and so much more!
Why is creating a product that is vegan friendly important to you?
Vegan friendly products are the wave of the future. Animal by-products are not sustainable and cost too much to produce in a safe manner. Personally, for me the word vegan is associated with a ‘safe’ product – in the sense that I know there are no animal traces that could harm or cause inflammation in the body. Individuals who are lactose intolerant will understand that statement. Most importantly, vegan products cater to a group of consumers who care about food and what they put into their body. My work is the most rewarding when I receive feedback from customers who are truly grateful for finding products like Cracked Coconut because it takes away any stress or confusion about what to eat. If I have made your life easier or better, then I have done my job.