One of the greatest gifts to come from quarantine is simply having more time. As someone who’s normal M.O. is juggling 15 projects at once, this global shift to stop, drop and roll with it has been immensely rewarding on many levels. It’s given me the opportunity to focus on what’s truly important in life. Reconnecting with people from my past who I miss, for instance.
I first met Jenny Stackle (then, Feldstein) in college. We are both So. Cal girls who went to UC Irvine and were in the same sorority, Pi Beta Phi. This is not something I usually disclose to most people…I am so not a “sorority girl.” But I was shy and didn’t have many friends at Irvine, so joining this organization filled my social needs and allowed me to make some life-long friends. Jenny was always so friendly and inclusive. I appreciated her sense of humor and wit. Years later, she even threw me my first baby shower, which I’ll never forget.
Not long after that, she started her own family, too, and as the story goes, we became buried with mom life and lost touch except for the strings of Facebook that tied us together, keeping us updated with the superficial details of our lives.
I knew that Jenny’s first born - her son Kip - had severe food allergies, but I didn’t know to what extent. Looking back, I can’t imagine how extraordinarily overwhelming this was for her, on top of everything else she was dealing with as a first-time mom.
She literally had to monitor every bite he put in his mouth, researching each ingredient listed on the label and cross-examining every restaurant waiter she met. Making back up cupcakes for every birthday he attended, scanning every friend’s house for inconspicuous peanuts for fear of sending him into anaphylactic shock. This became Jenny’s new normal.
By the time Kip was 7, Jenny had exhausted the food allergy aisles and realized there were very few options out there; they were either full of garbage ingredients or tasted like chalk. All this time spent navigating this new world also made Jenny realize she’s not alone. Being the industrious gal she is, Jenny, of course, started her own business. “In 2013, the Cottage Food Law passed in California, and this gave me the opportunity to start selling food made from home, legally,” Jenny says. “For almost 5 years, I sold various allergy-friendly snacks and cookies that were made in my home kitchen.”
All along, Jenny wanted to find a manufacturer that would make the products for her, and in 2017, she finally did. She relaunched in the summer of 2018 as Kip’s. Offering two flavors – Cinnamon Crunch and Cocoa Crunch – Kip’s Allergy Friendly Snacks are free of the top 8 allergens; including tree peanuts, nuts, wheat, dairy, soy and egg as well as certified gluten-free. Thanks to a healthy amount of PR buzz, her Amazon store and robust sales on LoveKips.com, Kip’s granola bark is currently enjoyed crumbled on yogurt or ice cream, mixed with berries and milk as cereal or simply out of the bag by kids and adults nationwide!
Starting any business can cause a person to re-think their every move, but Jenny has maintained a healthy and realistic outlook from the very beginning. “When I started the business years ago from home, it was very exciting and a huge period of learning and growth for me,” she says. “It continued this way for about five years as I only sold locally. It wasn't until we relaunched with a manufacturer in 2018 and had large volumes to move, that I realized I was then competing with big brands that had very big marketing budgets and expertise. I started to doubt whether or not I could succeed as a small business food brand. I still run the entire business by myself (except for bookkeeping), and it's a struggle to grow on a shoestring budget.”
Commiserating and sharing ideas with small food producers like herself that she has met throughout this journey keeps Jenny going every day. “I [also] take long walks with my husband to get a fresh perspective on what challenges I'm facing,” Jenny adds. “Ultimately, I still love what I do, and still have such a passion for helping the food allergy community. Even on tough days, I still get excited to sit down at the computer and go to work to try to move my business forward and have an impact in the community.”
The best part, of course, is knowing that she created this business out of her love for her son. And while he’s a full-on teenager now and refuses to take a picture with his mom, he’s eternally grateful.