An Akron Startup Makes Snacks that Promote the Social Good
words and photos by Andrew Leask
UPDATE: This article was originally published in Issue 20, April 2016. Since then, founder Evan Delahanty has been chosen to be featured on an upcoming episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank” celebrating “America’s Heroes.” To coincide with the airing, Peaceful Fruits will host a Watch Party and Q&A from 8 – 10:30 pm, February 10, 2017 at Mustard Seed Market Highland Square.
There are a lot of considerations that go into picking the food we eat. We ask ourselves, is this tasty? Is it good for me? Will I be embarrassed if someone walks into the room while I’m stuffing my face with it?
For Evan Delahanty, founder of snack company Peaceful Fruits, there is another, more important question: how can our food help to make the world a better place?
It’s not surprising, considering his background. From 2011 to 2013, Delahanty was a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname, a country on the northern coast of South America. There, he served as a Community Economic Development Specialist, living and working closely with residents of the Amazon rainforest. “I had a thatched roof hut,” he recalls. “The same lack of electricity, and running water, and toilets, and all that. Just like all my neighbors.”
Through his work, Delahanty learned that although members of these remote, often isolated communities want to improve their standards of living, they often want to do so without abandoning their way of life by moving to the cities. More and more, Delahanty saw himself working to find ways to help them stay.
When Delahanty returned to Ohio in 2013, he knew he wanted to continue what he started in Suriname. This meant finding a way to extend economic opportunity to the residents of the Amazon rainforest. Though he considered several options, inspiration eventually struck in the form of açaí.
Açaí is the small, berry-like fruit of a species of palm tree native to South America. Though the fruit has long been an important food source in the Amazon, it has recently gained popularity in the United States due to its promotion as a source of nutrients and antioxidants. More importantly for Peaceful Fruits and its mission, however, is that harvesting wild açaí provides a source of income for rainforest communities without drastically changing their environment or way of life.
Peaceful Fruits, which Delahanty founded in 2014, imports this naturally organic, wild açaí and uses it to make nutritious fruit leathers. Though the company combines açaí with other fruit to produce different flavors, açaí remains the main ingredient in its snacks, a fact which, according to Delahanty, distinguishes the company from all of its competitors.
And Peaceful Fruits’ mission extends beyond the Amazon rainforest. By partnering with local nonprofit organizations like Hattie Larlham and the Blick Clinic, Peaceful Fruits offers employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities, who produce its snacks here, in Akron.
For now, Peaceful Fruits snacks are available at select stores in Northeast Ohio and through the company’s website. But Delahanty, who invested his own money into the startup, is always looking toward the future, to expanding the company. There are many possibilities, but whatever happens, it is important to him that the company succeed financially as well as ethically, so that it can serve as a model for socially responsible businesses. This means ensuring that his business can turn a profit. “That’s important,” says Delahanty, “because it speaks to the sustainability.”
With a little luck, if Peaceful Fruits succeeds in its mission, people will soon be asking themselves, how can my food save the world?
Andrew Leask spends too much of his free time watching cable news shows and yelling at the TV. He writes fiction in the company of his wife, Amy, and their two cats, Monty and Nigella.