Peaceful Fruits (330-356-8515, peacefulfruits.com) founder Evan Delahanty conceptualized his healthy snack line in order to make a positive, sustainable impact by selling fruit leather created with acai berries indigenous to the Amazon rainforest throughout his hometown of Akron. Now, thanks to an appearance on ABC's reality TV show Shark Tank, his product has a vast national following that he could only have dreamed about a few short months ago.
Despite not winning an investor's stake in the company, the American hero themed episode has helped Delahanty raise awareness and more than double production over the past three weeks. "There were a thousand orders within the first five minutes of the show airing," he estimates. "It was just incredible." It's a huge leap for a company that started out two and a half years ago, in his parent's kitchen, producing just 150 snacks a week.
While the USDA-organic super-food snacks are desirable for their antioxidant-rich and flavorful qualities, those aren't the only things that sparked consumers' interest in the acai-pineapple and acai-apple products. Peaceful Fruits doubles as a social enterprise, paying families in the Amazon a living wage to pick the wild berries found in their own backyards, sustaining their way of life and creating a resource specific to the region.
"I didn't set out to start a food business," says Delahanty, who began as a Peace Corps economic development specialist in Suriname, South America. "We looked at a lot of different things, but ultimately what I really liked about acai is that it's already a trend. There is such a huge movement towards food that is organic, local, simple, healthy and still convenient. I really wanted Peaceful Fruits to embrace that. Let's make it taste good, make it easy for everyone along the way to make the right decision for themselves and their community."
Delahanty spent six months testing the final product with the help of Cleveland Culinary Launch Kitchen and his alma mater, the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab. He has adapted a simple pasteurization process using heat, air and time to dehydrate, making the strips shelf-stable without adding anything except fruit to the mix. Originally selling to families at suburban farmers markets, he quickly began filling orders online and placing his product into Mustard Seed Markets, Nature's Oasis, Alesci's, and other regional grocery stores.
The company has invested $25,000 into a partnership with Hattie Larlham Food Hub and the Blick Center for equipment and full-wage employment of people with developmental disabilities. Peaceful Fruits is ramping up to make a big difference as fast as they can. "These people, like the people in the Amazon, need economic opportunity. They need a way to earn a living, and opportunity that meets them halfway. It just seemed like such a good fit with our mission of respectful and responsible economic empowerment," Delahanty says.
New flavors will soon be introduced as back orders from the Shark Tank surge are completed. Shoppers can expect to see mango, more fruit blends incorporating pineapple, strawberry, and blueberry, as well as strips drizzled with acai. They are also working on an "Acai-Granola Crunch," a piece of fruit leather with granola added on top.
Even more exciting than the boom in business for Delahanty has been the validation he received from Shark Tank judges, he says. "It was incredible to hear Mark Cuban say on national television that I'm spot on, that social enterprise is the future of business. It made it feel like a win to be a part of pushing that conversation forward in front of the nation."