He Had Cancer, Ditched Dairy, and Launched a Healthier Snack, Noops
"You get so wrapped up in the launch that you don't realize it's the end of the beginning," says Gregory Struck, the founder of the healthy organic oat milk pudding company, Noops. "I am humbled to see this product in the market. It's surreal to see people embracing it, and buying it." Noops launched last week in 50 stores across the country, the culmination of months of work to change how American thinks about snacking, pudding, and to create a healthy treat.
It's been a personal journey for Struck, one that has seen him fighting disease, launching a company, raising 3 kids with his wife, and trying to do nothing less than re-imagine how we snack. The goal is to make snacks opportunities to add healthy nutrients to the body, not pound little humans with sugar that sees them jumping off the wall moments later on a sugar high, then crashing when the sugar is gone. Noops' philosophy: Snacks should be nutritious.
Noops is sold in 50 retailers across the country–a healthier way to think about snacks
Noops launched to nearly instant success. People who have tried it already love it for its healthy ingredients, plant-based protein, no added sugar, and sophisticated, satisfying taste, in flavors like Mocha, French Toast, Sticky Bun, and Cocoa. Created to be a substitute for yogurt cups as well as traditional pudding cups, Noops gives the consumer a new healthy option for adding oat protein to his or her diet starting at breakfast and an afternoon snack or a post-dinner dessert treat. So far Noops, which for anyone who didn't see it in the mirror is spoon spelled backward, is re-imagining snacks as opportunities to get healthier ingredients into America's diet and is available at 50 independent retailers across the country.
Noops began as a very personal journey for Gregory, who had been at COO at the Hungryroot and with three kids of his own, was aware of the junk food that most parents have to watch their children eat at all sorts of occasions-- birthday parties and school snacks and sports events. His eagerness to change the American diet got more urgent when, already fighting a genetic disease, he was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly eating healthy was a matter of life or death. Here is his story of launching a company to turn snacking on its head:
"I was fighting serious illness– cancer and a genetic disease–and during this time adopted a plant-based diet to help find my way back to good health. I would longingly stare at the yogurt on the grocery store shelf since I couldn't have dairy. I was daydreaming about it when I glimpsed out of the corner of my eye the shelf of pudding and thought, why hasn't someone disrupted that? It's been the same product for 200 years. So why not take a nostalgic treat and update it, make it plant-based, vegan, and fill it with clean, healthy ingredients?"
The Beet: So the goal was to create a nutritious snack that tastes like pudding but is plant-based?
GS: "Right. As a French Culinary Institute alum, I'm very comfortable in the kitchen. That day I started running around the supermarket and picking up ingredients. This started in my kitchen. My kids are 3 and a half, 5, and 7 and they were my testers. They would be trying it, batch by batch. One day I knew I got it mostly right when I gave them some of a batch and they were convinced they were eating chocolate pudding--but I knew it was full of nutritious ingredients.
"As a parent, you care a lot about what goes into your kids' diet. I have two boys and one girl. Izzy, my oldest, who made me a dad. They are obsessed with Noops and have tasted every version from version 1 to version 51. The first one was inedible and now they want it for breakfast, snack, and after dinner."
The Beet: So that was your Eureka! moment! Why did you call it Noops?
GS: "Noops is spoon spelled backward. At Noops, our goal is to turn the country around and re-engineer how people eat. We believe all kids and families deserve food that is both nutritious and tasty. And we wanted to create food that is planet-friendly and helps people, not hurt people.
"Parents are constantly trying to find things our kids want to eat that are also good for them. Noops contains dates and oat milk, but they taste chocolate. They are eating nutritiously—whether or not they know it."
The Beet: How did your own journey and experience lead you to launch Noops?
GS: "I moved to this country from South Africa at 13. When when I moved to the US, for one thing, I couldn't believe how big the portions were here. And the second thing that struck me was that there are so many choices in the supermarket. And the third thing that happened was I developed food allergies.
"It floored me to realize that for all of America's health and wellbeing, heart disease was the number one killer. It made no sense to me that what we were feeding our people here in this country was also basically allowing them to kill themselves. I had two grandfathers pass away from coronary heart disease. That mission–to feed Americans nutritious food that is plant-based, allergen-friendly, and has no added sugar—came to life through Noops.
"I want people from all walks of life to gain access to healthy food,. We are always going to want a treat. There's a reason we prefer a scoop of ice cream over a plate of broccoli--We are human! Let's make that treat with healthy ingredients and feel good about enjoying it."
The Beet: What about your health journey? How did that impact your founder journey?
"I have what's called systemic mastocytosis. It's akin to blood cancer, like leukemia, and at best they don't know enough about it. Your body produces excess histamine, in the skin and mast cells, and they take on a life of their own and invade tissues and organs and that can be life-threatening. But for me, I am living with it every day. The fortunate upside is I'm living a cleaner, healthier lifestyle as a result and feeling good. I’ve found I can live a full and productive life with this disease.
"When I was going through treatment and changing my diet and my lifestyle, it dawned on me that kids get fed so much junk! Every weekend, we would take the kids to the birthday shuffle of pizza, cupcakes, and such and they would bounce off the walls and then crash. Why, from such a young age, are we teaching them to load up on sugar and carbs and fat? But, as busy parents of busy kids, we are so starved for time. It’s easier to let them have chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks than to watch them throw a fit on the dining room floor. As parents, we are always trying to find a happy middle ground. But it’s hard to find something they love that's good for them."
The Beet: So now that you've launched, what does early success look like?
GS: "Number one is to broaden our reach and our impact. How can we get Noops to people who can't afford it? We are now partnering with community organizations like No Kid Hungry and the Bowery Mission to get Noops to those in need. We are actively working to broaden our network of community partnerships as we grow.
"Noops' suggested retail price is $2.99, so it's a premium product. We have priced it comparably to other premium products. Today's consumers want premium ingredients, and those ingredients cost more. So now we are thinking about how we can get Noops into the hands (and mouths) of people who can only pay 99 cents and to families who are not used to paying more.
The Beet: So snacking on Noops gives people what they want, and what they need?
"We want Noops to be both a joy and a treat. We're tapping into the emotional experience of snacking, and when you remove those joyful, pleasurable experiences, diets fail. It’s only human to crave indulgent experiences. You're talking to a guy who used to sit on the couch and polish off a pint of vanilla Häagen Dazs, which was almost 2,000 calories. Now I have Noops, and it's not even 200 calories a serving."
The Beet: So the business plan is to capture parents and kids alike?
GS. "We were going to the 3 to 12-year-old set as our core focus. No one is doing much of anything innovative in that space. We thought there was a white space there. Once we took in the capital we thought first to take the product broader. Now it is marketed to appeal to consumers from ages 5 to 75. My wife, who is 38, is eating the pudding. If my daughter won't like it, then it doesn't get bought again. Grownups are doing the shopping, but kids are doing the choosing."
Editorial Note: Noops raised $2 million in a pre-seed round, and one of the investors is 25madison, the New York-based startup studio which is also a founder of The Beet.