Looking For A High-Protein, Savory Snack? Meet Wild Zora
Date Posted: 02/02/2016 | By:
Recently we had the opportunity to sit down with one of Fort Collins’ brightest upstarts – Zora Tabin from Wild Zora Foods. On the search for a healthy, high-protein savory snack to feed her hungry and energetic children, Zora created the meat and veggie bars that are taking the area by storm.[Check out the part in the middle of the interview when she has to pause to accept a delivery of 3,000-pounds of organic fruits!]
Us: When did you start Wild Zora Foods?
Wild Zora: Wild Zora was incorporated February 2014. We started production in late August 2014. So we’ve been producing a year and half. Prior to that it was another year just to put a product in a package.
Us: Why did you feel it was necessary? What gave birth to the business?
Wild Zora: It was really our personal need. Before we moved to Fort Collins we were in Europe – living in Prague and London. While we were still there I was already looking for a high-protein savory snack. I had seen a lot of those sweet bars with grain, nuts, sugar and fruit. But that didn’t seem satisfying. When we moved here, I bought these types of bars (you know the ones) and I gave them to the kids and I noticed that no one would last on it. It would spike their blood sugar. There are dates in these bars that have a high glycemic index. So we would eat it and 40 minutes later everybody in the family would be hungry again.
I realized that we needed more protein and ideally something savory for hikes or other activities around Fort Collins. I looked into jerky, but I didn’t like the jerky that I saw on the market because a lot of it is still made with nitrides and nitrates and other chemicals. Some is still made with beef that has growth hormones. (In the EU, growth hormone is not allowed, so we didn’t want to start eating it now). Also, all the jerky was way too salty. I didn’t like that either.
At some point, I got inspired by a paleo cookbook that we started to follow a little bit as a family – eating a lot of veggies and some meat. That actually made a lot of sense to me – a meat and veggie snack instead of just meat. So then I started to experiment in our kitchen at home and then later I got help from a food scientist and also from the CSU food department in Fort Collins. And then the whole development started. It was 11 months until we were able to produce.
Us: It’s you and your husband who run the business, is that true?
Wild Zora: Yes, yes, it’s a true family business! Sometimes our children help us too, especially when we started. Labeling the bags was super labor-intensive, so many evenings I said – too bad guys, homework is not happening tonight – you’re putting labels on the bags. I think that was a meaningful lesson for them. They still help us with online shipping orders and I think it’s nice to show them the whole birth of the business – from the idea to the marketing, to naming… I think it’s a good lesson for them.
Us: How old are they?
Wild Zora: 10 and 12. Adrian, our son, is 12 and Abigail—Abby—is 10.
Wild Zora: We started super local, on Oak Street at the farmer’s market. That was our first time selling. We just wanted to know: are people going to pay for it, are they going to like it? Well, people liked it! We still had to tweak some recipes. We got a lot of valuable feedback at the farmer’s market. Then, we went to the local co-ops. Then the independent grocery stores like Lucky’s and Alpha Alpha. Those stores were also eager to take it. Then we started the whole application process for Whole Foods and Natural Grocers.
That’s when we actually realized that the product is on trend. There’s a whole paleo movement, and gluten and grain-free and meat is coming back. So all of that is definitely helping us. It wasn’t hard to get into the bigger chains – we’ve been lucky. Now we’ve hired a food distributor, so we can deliver directly, and a food broker.
Us: It sounds like you’re expanding
Wild Zora: We expand as fast as we can produce.
Hang on I have a delivery.
Sorry about that. 3,000 pounds of fruit was just delivered. I had expected it at eleven.
Us: Wow – 3,000 pounds of fruit?
Wild Zora: Yes – 3,000 pounds of organic dates and organic apricots. That’s an ingredient that we add to the bars. So yeah we just got a huge delivery from California.
As I was saying, we can expand into stores only as fast as we can grow our production. Our production is currently in Loveland. We have a USDA-certified kitchen. So that’s where we make it all. We have about five people working with us here.
Us: Can you tell me about the meat? It sounds like you’re using great ingredients.
Wild Zora: Yes. All the meat is without growth hormones and antibiotics. That’s a huge thing. I will only make for people and sell what I would feed my own kids. That’s our motto. It’s really important for me. Meat with growth hormone is just gross. So all the meat is without growth hormone and antibiotics. The beef is 100% grass fed. The lamb is all-natural, so again that means it’s without growth hormone and antibiotics. The turkey we use is free range. All the veggies we use: tomatoes, bell peppers, kale, and spinach– those are all organic and same with the fruit – dates and apricots are also organic.
Us: I’m curious – how are these prepared – cured, dried, cooked? What’s the process?
Wild Zora: Traditional jerky is made from the whole muscle, and then you dry it. But then it ends up very chewy and hard on your jaw. So we actually grind the meat. And because we grind it, we can incorporate the veggies and fruit and spices (and in one recipe, we add parmesan). And then basically we put it in the oven and its baked and dehydrated on a low heat for several hours. The manufacturing process is similar to jerky: baked and dehydrated.
Us: What are these bars great for? What are the best ways to consume them?
Wild Zora: I think we see a few groups of people buying it.
First we see people who are on different lifestyle diets, people who follow the paleo diet, or gluten free, or the whole 30 diet. Then we get a lot of athletes: cross fitters, or anyone who does long distance running and is looking for more protein. And the third group – we see a lot of parents buying it for their kids. You know, for snacks during school, in lunch boxes, or for after school.
We also see people with dietary restrictions, and not just the gluten-free people. We see people with diabetes, people with Crones disease. Or other people with sensitive digestion. We specifically designed our lamb bar to not have any nightshades. Maybe that’s why it’s a best seller! [Editor’s note: nightshades are a certain type of plant that cause inflammation problems for some people. There are over 2,000 types of nightshades, but some common ones are bell peppers, tomatoes, paprika and black pepper.]
Us: How did you come to meet Leapin’ Lizard Labels? How’s that been?
Wild Zora: When you go into printed bags, which is what we do now, you have to order 30,000 to 50,000 bags at a time. In the beginning that wasn’t possible for us. So we found baggies that were going to work, and we just needed to apply labels on it. A friend of ours who also has a food business was already using Leapin’ Lizard. He recommended them to us. And I have to say – they are the best. It’s easy to work with them. They’re local. Sometimes (or even, often, actually) they deliver it all the way to our house. So that was very easy. They were able always to be flexible on the quantities that we needed. You know, we started very small, and then the numbers grew. It’s been great working with them.
Today our product is in printed bags that we buy in much bigger quantities. But we still use Leapin’ Lizard Labels for all our marketing material. They do info cards and stickers, and a few other things.
Us: One last question: What’s your favorite part of the business?
Wild Zora: I get a lot of satisfaction from creating something new, creating something healthy. And yeah, I feel I contribute to the world with a healthy snack that I can share with people.
And secondly, I really like production. Having my own production facility and having good people here. A lot of our production people have master’s degrees. It’s a really amazing group of people here. That makes it really much easier to get up at five thirty and go to work. It’s also exciting to see that people actually like it and the stores want it.