Peaceful Fruits’ lightning-fast product development & positive mission

Ohio fruit snack company Peaceful Fruits is on a mission to provide healthy snacks, economic opportunity, and meaningful employment.

When Even Delahanty returned to the United States after spending two years in the Amazon rainforest with the peace corps, he wanted to create a connection between his home and the place he had come to love. 

Whatever he did, he wanted it to be meaningful. Delahanty worked as a community economic development specialist with the peace corps. He knew that his business had to run in a way that created economic opportunity.

“These small farmers, their only economic opportunities are often very extractive,” Delahanty says. “They have to leave their land and move to the city. There weren’t many ways to make a living while respecting the land and maintaining it.”

So Delahanty came up with a mutually beneficial business opportunity. The farmers in Suriname became his first suppliers, harvesting wild acai and processing it into acai juice. Delahanty then used this juice to create acai-based snack products.

A Prize-Winning Idea

The idea came from Delahanty’s observation that few snack food companies used acai fruit in their products. And while Delahanty knew from the beginning that he wanted to build a business around the Amazonian fruit, it didn’t start as a Shark Tank-worthy idea.

After toying with the idea of importing acai fruit, Delahanty knew he needed to change course. As he discussed business ideas with his parents, Delahanty’s father suggested producing some type of acai-based dried fruit product. 

“I started making acai fruit snacks, literally, in an old, circular, tiny little dehydrator that my parents had had in their basement probably since the ’80s,” Delahanty says.

That was in 2014. In the following years, Delahanty won $20,000 in a local pitch contest and brought his business to Shark Tank. 

“When I would be at local health food stores hustling my product, every little old lady would say, ‘You should go on Shark Tank, Sonny!’ I was like, ‘Well, that’s the most useless advice I ever heard, but thank you for the sentiment.’” But after Delahanty won the pitch contest, he felt a little more confident. 

“I emailed Shark Tank,” he says. “About two months later, I was standing in front of Mark Cuban and the rest, pitching Peaceful Fruits.”

The sharks passed on Peaceful Fruits, mainly because, as Delahanty says, “We were barely a commercial business with a legitimate sale.” But that inexperience didn’t last long. As Peaceful Fruits continued to grow, Delahanty soon needed some extra help.

A Mission of Empowerment: Employing Adults with Disabilities

“I wanted to make sure that the people I was employing to help me were part of that same mission of economic empowerment,” Delahanty says. “I’m very proud to say that as part of our economic empowerment mission in Ohio, we are employing adults with disabilities in full-wage jobs. They make every single one of the snacks that goes out the door.”

Delahanty knew that adults with disabilities are often underemployed, and he wanted to do something to change that.

“They have so much to offer,” he says. “I’m so proud to be part of offering that better thing. And they do a great job.”

Measuring Water Activity

A key component of Peaceful Fruits’ growth relates to the science of producing dehydrated fruits—specifically, measuring water activity accurately.

“We take the business side of this very seriously,” Delahanty says. “And a big part of that is water activity.”

Because Peaceful Fruits uses whole fruit purees to create its products, they discovered that no two batches were precisely alike. But to be commercially successful, they had to find a way to create a shelf-safe, consistent product using these variable ingredients. Furthermore, Peaceful Fruits is committed to avoiding additives whenever possible, so chemically altering the ingredients wasn’t a viable option.

The solution? Water activity measurements

“Making sure that the product ends up safe is super important to us,” Delahanty says. “So being able to hit a water activity spec where we know the product is going to be shelf stable and nothing bad can grow in it is very critical to our process.”

As important as food safety is, Peaceful Fruits also wants to create products with appealing taste and texture. Water activity measurements also ensure consistent results from batch to batch, reducing waste and improving outcomes.

“Probably Safe” Definitely Isn’t Good Enough

Many snack food companies use measurements other than water activity to determine a product’s safety, but Peaceful Fruits has found that measuring water activity is the most efficient way to ensure products are safe to consume, shelf-stable, and consistently delicious.

“When we first started, it was very much the ‘eyeball method,’” Delahanty says. “For my products, it’s probably safe to eat if it’s not total pudding. But ‘probably safe’ is not exactly what customers or inspectors want to hear. So now we can check a batch and say, ‘We’re at .32, we can knock 20 minutes off this recipe,’ or ‘We’re at .60 on the nose, great. Let’s get it out the door.”

With this kind of information so readily available, Delahanty and his team have the freedom to be creative with different flavors, textures, and products without fear of creating an unsafe product. They know they’re good to go as long as they can measure the product’s water activity.

New Product Offerings

“One of the new products we are putting out is our take on the old ‘peel and eat’ product,” Delahanty says. “But we take a very different take on it to make it more fun, to create more colors and flavors and shapes. But for this product, water activity and moisture are just really, really critical because we’re not adding sugars. So you need it to be the right kind of sticky.”

While Peaceful Fruits began with acai fruits, they also experimented with different fruits, tastes, textures, and products that appeal to a broad consumer base. Of course, creativity can be messy, and some failure is inevitable. But accurate water activity measurements make innovation safe and cost-effective. 

“I’ve made so many mistakes,” Delahanty says.” Some of them were cheaper, and some of them were expensive. You have to not be afraid to make mistakes. You’re going to get things wrong. So just accept that, forgive yourself, and dive in.” 

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