Food In Canada

Healthy Crunch celebrates 10 years of innovation in the better-for-you space

By Nithya Caleb   

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A serial entrepreneur, Julie Bednarski-Malik, MHSc, PHEc, RD, founder and CEO of Healthy Crunch, began experimenting with food long before she exploded on the market with her iconic kale chips. She founded Juices by Julie, a juicing company. Bednarski-Malik also ran a catering company called JB Catering. At one point, she had a nutritional consulting business too.

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My mom’s an entrepreneur, my grandmother was an entrepreneur, my great-grandmother was an entrepreneur, so I feel like entrepreneurship runs in my blood. As a child, I was always told to create my own destiny. So that was kind of instilled in me growing up,” recalled Bednarski-Malik.

Her passion for food and nutrition eventually led her to become a dietitian as well as attend culinary school. Her professional quest then became one of finding ways to merge her culinary skills and nutrition. Sadly, a health issue pumped the brakes on her plans and made her focus on healing herself.

“It took me two years to recover from an eating disorder. During that process, I reconnected with food and found my love for food again,” said Bednarski-Malik.

In 2014, she decided to create foods that made her feel good. She began experimenting with kale.

“I love vegetables. I would eat these kale chips, and I felt okay. They’re healthy, low in sugar, nutrient dense, and I could feel good about eating them,” she said.

Julie Bednarski-Malik, MHSc, PHEc, RD.

Starbucks as partner

Bednarski-Malik wasn’t the only one who liked the kale chips; her friends and family members found it delicious too. Thus began Healthy Crunch in 2014. It was also fortuitous that her first customer was Starbucks.

Bednarski-Malik was making her kale chips at a collective kitchen where she was renting a table by the hour. During a networking event at the kitchen, Bednarski-Malik offered her chips to a woman who wanted to share them with her friend. She didn’t know then, but the friend was Rossann Williams, head of Starbucks North America at that time. As the story goes, Williams loved the kale chips and contracted Healthy Crunch to make them for Starbucks.

“We started off with one really great partner who believed in us. And Starbucks was such a great customer to launch with because they have a [huge] brand presence. When you’re in Starbucks, people believe you’re legitimate. One year after launching in Starbucks, we had tremendous growth,” she recalled.

The company ended up with listings at Costco, Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws, and Ikea.

“Our kale chips were everywhere; all over Canada, in airports and movie theatres. Cineplex was selling our kale chips. kale was on trend at the time,” she said. “It was the colour of the year. It was just about being at the right place at the right time. I think all the stars were aligned for it to happen.”

The success was immensely appreciated because kale chips is a challenging product to manufacture. It’s a three-day process. Bednarski-Malik also faced supply issues.

“There are not that many kale chips out there right now because it’s very fragile. It takes a long time to make. You’re using fresh ingredients. Sometimes kale is fluffy and sometimes it’s not. There are so many variables to it,” she explained.

Despite the challenges, Healthy Crunch continued making its flagship product. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they couldn’t source the required amount of kale, and the company had to discontinue its most popular product.

Beyond chips

This decision kick-started the next phase of Healthy Crunch, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year (If you’re missing their kale chips, Healthy Crunch has relaunched it as part of their anniversary celebrations). It currently has more than 120 vegan, school-approved products, such as seed butters and jams, granola bars, trail mixes, crispy squares, dark chocolates and instant lattes. Their most popular products are granola bars and dark chocolates.

“We have to be super unique, but we also don’t want to be too unique where we have to educate the customer,” she explained. “We launched into categories where consumers know the product.”

For instance, jams, but with a Healthy Crunch twist, meaning reduced sugar, increased fibre, a clean ingredient deck without additives, colourings and preservatives. Another example is their nutrient-dense crispy squares instead of the full-on sugar rush that comes with typical rice crispies.

Bednarski-Malik chose this middle ground because consumer awareness takes a long time and resources. For a lean company like Healthy Crunch with only 12 employees, it’s not profitable to be launching uber niche products and spending thousands of dollars in raising awareness about new product categories.

Healthy Crunch manufactures its products out of a SQF level two certified facility in Mississauga, Ont. The products are free of 11 major food allergens, which comes out of Bednarski-Malik’s desire to make healthy eating inclusive. They have more than 20,000 points of distribution.

Healthy Crunch products are also sold in the U.S., the U.K. and the Middle East. After a decade of sustained growth, Bednarski-Malik is now ready to expand into other markets.

“There are a lot of major U.S. retailers that we want to launch into like Target and some other larger product categories too. I’m also thinking of launching into Europe, as there’s so much opportunity over there,” she said.

Bednarski-Malik strongly feels Healthy Crunch has the potential to take advantage of the whitespace in the global better-for-you category.

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