We're very excited to be partnering to offer Zana's bars at Local! Can you tell us about the genesis for creating this awesome brand?
I am thrilled to be partnering with Local, too! The genesis of Zana’s Bars is the commitment to feeding my children real food from Mother Nature, period. No additives, no preservatives, and above all, no added sugar. The body of research supporting the negative health effects of these things is large and growing. Processed sugar, in particular, is everywhere! I understand it’s yummy in treats, but on a day to day basis, in foods we eat to nourish us -- to give us energy, satisfy hunger, help us grow and thrive -- is hardly necessary. Fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains can have explosive flavor on their own, and our bodies are designed to run on them. When I couldn’t find snacks to pack on the go that fit this bill and were affordable, I began making muesli bars. Feedback was terrific, and over the years I refined my recipes that I now bring to grateful customers. This makes me very happy.
As a parent, I'm regularly concerned about the types of food decisions my children are making. How has your food journey led you to this particular direction for kids and adults alike?
I think I mostly answered this question discussing the origins of Zana’s Bars, but I’ll take this opportunity to talk more about the importance of portability and snacks. Life moves quickly. People are busy and on the go. As parents, if we are lucky, we can plan good meals, but it’s much harder to control snacking habits for our children and ourselves. The majority of the stuff on the market to meet this need is full of ingredients that don’t give us what we need. Snacks are big pitfalls even for the best intentioned eaters, so I started making snack bars for this specific purpose.
Ok, let’s start with your base ingredient - Muesli. Once and for all - what is it and why did you decide on using it as a core element of the bars?
Muesli is traditionally a raw oat-based cereal that also includes fruits, nuts and seeds. It is excellent, pure stuff....that’s not very travel friendly. Granola bars, also based on a cereal, are ubiquitous and widely considered healthy. However, granola is baked and almost always contains lots of sugar. Most of the right ingredients are there, but the process detracts from its benefits. My decision to call my bars muesli bars is simply because I take the ingredients of muesli (with a twist of using popped amaranth in some instead of oats), and form it into a bar so it can be easily transported, stored and eaten.
Tell us about the other ingredients you use in your bars.
All my bars are date-based. Dates are incredibly sweet. Yes, it’s sugar, but kept in it’s original state with fiber, the body can process it healthily. Once dried, they can be mashed into a dough or paste-like substance into which I incorporate a variety of other natural ingredients for different flavors and nutritional balances. Most bars have sesame seeds and flaxseed meal kneaded into the dough. This adds little flavor but lots of nutritional benefits (iron, calcium, omega-3). They also either have oats or popped amaranth to bulk up the texture, substance and nutrition, and then their hallmark flavors: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig, which, along with the dates, is really what you taste. And that’s all!
What are the different bars that you offer and if you can, please tell us a thing you love about each one.
Currently I offer the three I just mentioned: peanut & apple, coconut & apricot, cashew & fig. The first is a classic combo that I just find so satisfying. The coconut & apricot bar has the extra sweetness of the apricot coupled with the robust flavor of toasted coconut. This bar is probably the most popular. It feels like a lot happening in the mouth at the same time, and has the added benefit of the bright orange of the apricot and the white of the coconut that makes it visually appealing. The cashew & fig bar is rich and creamy, but has a nice crunch from the fig seeds that I enjoy.
You are officially an entrepreneur in this era of entrepreneurship. What has been the most valuable lesson you have learned thus far?
Just do it! I don’t mean that it’s not a lot of work and totally consuming, but I’ve learned that the best way to embark on the path of creating something out of nothing is not to do endless market research, hem and haw on branding, wait until the ‘perfect’ moment when the many, many pieces are aligned and ‘right’, etc., but rather to put on the market something that you know is pretty good and go from there. It’s an iterative process and always evolving. I like being open to feedback and change, learning from mistakes, and growing as I go.
What does local (as a concept/ philosophy) mean to you?
Local is where the day to day, the bread and butter, of our lives happens. It’s where we can effect change, express gratitude and appreciation, have meaningful connections and impact. It’s where we can literally create the world we want to live in. Our community. I’ve spent many years working in international affairs on issues that move me deeply and always will -- these are important -- but the local sphere is one that’s more personal and gratifying.
Can you tell us something about breakfast bars that only you or very few people know.
They’re very simple! What our bodies and brains need is delicious and accessible, don’t be fooled!
What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?
Latte, hands down. Iced or hot, good coffee plus good milk always hits the spot. Thanks for bringing Montclair these things!