Small Business Success Story: Snacktivist Foods

Entrepreneur Joni Kindwall-Moore is on a mission to revolutionize the grain sector one delicious — and gluten-free — cookie at a time.

Nicola McIntosh Jun 3, 2019

For entrepreneur Joni Kindwall-Moore, necessity was indeed the mother of invention.

When her son was experiencing gluten-related health issues, Kindwall-Moore began experimenting with making dry mixes for pizza, cookies and brownies that weren’t just gluten-free and vegan — they also tasted good.

“If my kids had friends over the last thing they wanted was almonds and carrot sticks — they wanted cookies and pizza like every kid in America so we needed to figure out how to make a better-for-you version that was allergy friendly,” Kindwall-Moore explains.

After her friends and co-workers got a taste, she started selling her Snacktivist Foods products in bulk. The business received a boost after winning the Trailmix competition during Boise Startup Week, which came with shelf space at the Broadway Albertsons in addition to a $10,000 cash prize and other perks.

Breaking into the uber-competitive grocery market and courting investors to grow the business has its challenges, however, and Kindwall-Moore shares lessons learned along the entrepreneurial journey.

Name: Joni Kindwall-Moore
Age: 43
Hometown: Dallas, Oregon 
Current residence: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Botany and Biology, University of Montana. Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, State University of New York at Binghamton
First job: Rolling coins in a bank vault

What is the biggest opportunity for Snacktivist?

Joni Kindwall-Moore
Joni Kindwall-Moore

The central mission of Snacktivist is way more than gluten-free pancakes — we’re really out to revolutionize the grain sector with our focus on ancient grains. We believe that what we put in our products is way more important than what we leave out.

Ancient grains have benefits way beyond consumers who avoid wheat, and could become a force of economic revival for Northwest farmers — in addition to being nutritious. They are considered "climate change"-friendly crops, too, which is a win-win for us.

What are the challenges of seeking venture capital?

Finding investors is a lot more like dating than you’d think. You don’t just meet someone one day and then they hand you a million dollars. It’s more of a relationship that forms over time. 

We have to align with people who are mission-driven investors because we’re not just a quick turn-and-burn, high ROI company. We are a Benefit Corporation, so for us shareholder profits are very important but environmental, human and social impact are all considered in all decisions.  

We’ve turned down angel investors because I just didn’t think that they were on the same trajectory that we were.

How has input from the startup community shaped the direction of Snacktivist Foods?

I have learned so much talking to investors. If they’re nervous about something, it’s probably something you need to sit down with your team and really evaluate.

After talking to experts who invest heavily in food, they said it wasn’t good timing for product mixes and they advised us to go straight to ready-made even though it would set us back a year or two. We did a lot of research and they were right. It’s going to be such a hard competition if we stay in this little sector, but if we step 10 degrees to the right and knock it up a notch, there’s lower-hanging fruit.

Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies

What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs seeking venture capital?

Be very careful. Know it is not as glamorous as “Shark Tank.” It’s risky business and you have to respect that. You have to spend lots of time in the books doing careful sales projections, spreadsheets and research. And have a good lawyer.

What has been the biggest obstacle on your journey to becoming a small business owner?

The fact that I’ve never worked in the private sector before. I’ve always been a scientist or a nurse. That’s another reason we had to slow down and get all that study time.

What was the biggest blind spot on your journey to small business owner?

If you’ve never been through a startup, it’s really how long it takes. It’s painfully long. You hear these miracle stories of companies that developed a product in six months, went to market, and exited in two years, but that is not the norm. We have worked our butts off to not go into massive debt and we have had to work so many long hours. It’s not the easy road.

What is the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner?

Location is a challenge. We have a small population here, not enough to support businesses like ours without reaching out to larger markets like California and the Seattle area. It’s difficult to find team members with specific consumer packaged goods/food brand growth experience, but we have been lucky to find great people even here in little Coeur d'Alene.

woman standing holding a microphone
At the Trailmix competition during Boise Startup Week.

Name one thing that prepared you for being a small business owner?

My rigorous academic background has helped a lot. If you’ve been through a four-year degree, it’s a different mindset. You understand that it takes a while to build something meaningful.

What role has Zions Bank played in your journey?

Karen Appelgren of the Zions Bank Business Resource Center in Boise has been a good resource and she has a really great business head. If I’m really grappling with something, I can call her. You can’t have too many people like that. When you’re working in the trenches, you don’t have that 30,000 view anymore.

Looking to follow in Joni’s footsteps as a small business owner? Zions Bank offers online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.

Visit a Zions Bank branch or locate a banker near you to learn more about financing including SBA loans.

Nicola McIntosh is the Social Media manager for Zions Bank.

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