The Co-Founder & CEO of Haven Nutrition is here to tell us all about the brand – from its conception to the bright future ahead.
What better way to get to know a brand and the passion behind it than speaking to one of its founders? Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Emery, what is the mission for Haven Nutrition?
At Haven our ultimate goal is to leave every person who comes into contact with the brand better than they were before. Happier, healthier, and more vibrant. We’re going to achieve this by creating the most nutrient-dense, allergen-free, and, of course, tasty meal replacement and snack bars in the market.
By sharing the story of our ingredients and products, we also hope to inspire people to think differently about the connection between the environment, food, and human health. We aim to build a tribe that’s really passionate about our shared values.
So, our mission is ultimately to help people reach their highest potential through a recognition and appreciation for healthy food!
How does the mission for Haven nutrition specifically pertain to you?
In my opinion, products are designed best when you start by scratching your own itch first. If you are dissatisfied with something and you create a product that nails it for yourself, the likelihood of finding others that will also appreciate what you are providing is high. And especially in a very connected world of seven billion plus, haha.
As for myself, I grew up living a fairly healthy early childhood. But rather suddenly, in my early teens, I developed some pretty debilitating food- and environment-related allergies and chronic recurring flu-like illnesses. I also had severe asthma, and I was hospitalized a number of times. I started to miss school on a fairly regular basis from sickness and grew more and more disconnected from peers and friends. This affected not only my health but also my educational performance and mental state.
During this period, I grew fairly depressed and my self confidence suffered as I started to slide with classes and miss out on joining sports and team activities where I would need to be counted on to show up consistently. The medical professionals I met with did not really have the knowledge needed to properly make the connection of my food or environment to my chronic illnesses and were only really equipped to prescribe me with more or ever stronger medication. These would help to relieve some of my symptoms for a time but would inevitably lead to yet more medications or higher dosing, and they never resulted in curing me altogether.
My parents were really loving, patient and supportive but they did not know how to help me beyond what we were told by our doctors. Then a few more years into my teens, my dad a natural athlete and military officer, who was always the model of natural health to me, suddenly fell very ill and was then diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. It was devastating to our family and our extended family especially because my dad not only looked after us, but he was also the main father figure to his six younger brothers and sisters, since the very early age of sixteen when he left school to start working full time in order to support his mother, my grandma, and his siblings after his own older brother and my grandfather passed away in his early youth.
Over the next several months we witnessed him fight hard, going through extremely aggressive treatments, as his health and body deteriorated until he fully succumbed to the cancer.
After my dads passing I made a vow that I would never again defer the responsibility for my health and would take it into my own hands as completely as possible. Now in my forties, I have had decades of self-motivated education, unlearning, and experimentation. Over time I have been able to almost entirely eliminate my own health issues and dramatically increase my vitality. At the heart of my recovery and leveling up is a dietary protocol of replacing highly-processed, sugary, salty, bad fat, inflammatory foods with noninflammatory, minimal-to-unprocessed, organic superfood. I should add that there are other changes I made that contributed to my wellness in a huge way including areas like hydration, fasting, sleep, exercise, recovery, mindfulness, relationships, lifestyle, environment and values aligned to purpose.
I intend to share full details around my complete health regime in a future article.
Next, throughout my professional career, I have also done a lot of traveling and remote destination work. Living out of backpacks, suitcases, airports, vehicles, hostels, hotels and Airbnb’s means you’re often without access to a full kitchen to prepare healthy meals. This sparked my love for the concept and simple convenience of nutrition bars – it’s like the uber efficient food one imagines bringing on their space travels to mars and beyond, wink.
My excitement about nutrition bars was originally short-lived when I realized the ingredients and additives that most popular brands use. Given my history of food allergies, it was challenging to find meal-replacements that would leave me feeling both satisfied and really great. This led to my discovery of the super peanut that we’re using at Haven.
I came across the wild jungle peanut in researching the best nuts that are good for people like me who love nuts, but have either high sensitivity up to dangerously severe nut allergies. It’s been a saving grace for me personally and is now one of the main signature ingredients at Haven. It’s an amazing complete protein superfood with an incredible story, that beautifully embodies our overall values towards food excellence, environmental sustainability and human health.
So, in summary, I’ve helped myself become healthier through the act of nutrition education and changing my lifestyle including the foods I consume. That is why this mission is very important to me because I’d love to be part of a nutrition brand that can help provide better choices for others, represents safety, healing, performance and a love for good food.
So, you’re saying your personal diet regime has helped you live a more healthy and prosperous life and also inspired Haven?
Exactly right! I think that diet is one of the core tenets for a healthy, happy and prosperous life. When I began changing my diet I realized that the food I was eating was having a profound effect on my health concerns. My allergies, asthma and regular flu type illnesses began to improve when I started to learn about and eat the RIGHT foods. With the proper diet, your body can basically heal itself. In my opinion this is one of the biggest kept secrets we can each uncover.
Especially so, considering the times we are currently in, with as of this writing in early 2021. we’re in the midst of a coronavirus global pandemic that is most lethal to the already vulnerable among us, especially those who have pre-existing health conditions. In most cases, even if suffering from very difficult medical conditions, our body has everything within it to naturally heal itself when provided the right conditions and natural resources. Our body is entirely made up of the food that we’re eating mixed with the magic of our innate biology.
So, we believe the superfoods we nourish ourselves with should be revered as finite & fundamental resources more precious than gold (as well as our bodies of which we only have one) and we should treat both accordingly.
Haven’s ‘Your Body Is Sacred’ slogan is a friendly reminder representing this viewpoint.
What is your work, life balance like while leading Haven and your other entrepreneurial projects? You certainly seem to be doing a lot!
Firstly, as a serial entrepreneur I don’t really buy into the pursuit of work life balance but I do very much believe in the concept of intentional lifestyle design where key priorities are established and put in place.
For me the work life lines do very much blur together. But what I do for work I would truly do for free so it’s really not work, at least most of the time, ha. My closest relationships are very much all part of my professional missions and co-founders and team members are among my best friends. Being single now plus not having children makes certain lifestyle choices much easier for me than many, but knowing myself I think either way, I would make sure to build a life where my family would be happy and content but that they would accept that my life’s work requires us as a family to make certain sacrifices but also allows us to experience incredible growth and freedoms at the same time.
As it relates to my work, sustainability, system design, technology, marketing, branding, ultra-learning and product development have all been core attributes leveraged within my career in various projects. I look up to polymaths, and so I’ve attempted to emulate that approach by wearing several hats and contributing in a variety of ways within my own companies and others I’ve been fortunate to work for. Each of these roles, throughout all of my failures (aka education) and occasional successes (equally education) have contributed to who I am and exactly what I am doing today.
I’m very excited about Haven from the perspective that although I have worked for great consumer brands such as Sony and Timberland, I’ve rarely developed a pure consumer product brand as an entrepreneur. I’ve put many recent years into building out the plans and ideas in order to do so but I have only committed to the endeavor in recent months.
I’ve spent my prior entrepreneur career to date, outside of one other startup, WhatsWhat, a consumer focused mobile app, solely in the arena of business to business products or services. I’ve always wanted to be part of a team developing a product exactly like Haven, that requires the highest standards of excellence in a direct relationship with end customers. All while potentially growing to please and positively impact hundreds, thousands or even millions, which I love, I really love that concept. I think that this was long overdue for me.
How did you meet your co-founder Karen Barbalat?
We met during an interview, actually. We were looking for a small sales team at my other startup Space Age and as a nutrition-centric chef, athlete and e-commerce entrepreneur with her own meal delivery business Marble Meals, she was looking for a second entrepreneurial challenge, part time, so applied.
Unfortunately (or actually fortunately) we were looking for full time candidates for those particular roles but from the interview call I was just really impressed with her character and her passion. I immediately recognized we shared a lot in common in terms of worldview, missions and lifestyle pursuit. A scheduled 15 minute interview screening call ended up turning into an hour plus conversation about a variety of interesting topics including the deep importance of food for human health.
Thereafter, we kept in regular touch and when many months later, I decided I was ready to pursue Haven, a brand that was conceived years earlier but had not been started, I realized Karen was the perfect person to partner with. Thankfully she agreed! And with that, a side-hustle project was launched in late 2019, product development began immediately, which over the course of the next year, became the fully launched business you are now visiting!
We have grown to have another talented partner in chef and product developer Alex Herber, as well as a great designer in Kate Jung.
I understand you came up with the name Haven and its present and future planned products. Please explain where the obvious creativity was born from.
So I love language. I’m a nerd slash geek through and through. I love science but I also really love fantasy and sci-fi as well, you know, books, comics, cartoons, anime, movies, video games, stuff like that. I draw a lot from studying the creators of these worlds. As I gained professional experience, this love of language and visuals to create new ideas evolved into a passion for branding. I really dig naming things and coming up with visual concepts to match. That’s been a big part of what I’ve done for clients as an agency director, but I enjoy doing it for our own projects probably even more, because then you get to move forward with your top choice so much more often!
I’ll try to add a bit more to my answer around where the spark comes from for me. Basically, I’m still a little…okay, well, big kid at heart and I have a hunch I always will be – I hope so at least. And so I just think life is supposed to be fun as heck, and what’s more fun than creating. It’s one of the grandest and most challenging of adventures one can experience.
And for me, product naming and brand identity creation is the start of encapsulating and articulating our ideas and imagination into something tangible and, most importantly, shareable. When you hear or see any brand name you have a subconscious gut reaction before your conscious intellect takes over. I am always trying to imagine the sound or visual word combination that will draw out the best reaction to an idea.
Let’s talk ingredients Emery.
Roger that. Haven’s whole product line is plant-based. Our goal is to use only the best all natural, superfood ingredients. Raw, nutrient-dense and toxin free goodness for the body, mind and soul. This means we’re all about nuts, seeds, fruits and plants as entirely whole food based ingredients. Unlike many other nutrition bar brands, we aim to leave our ingredients in the purest, most natural forms.
The wild jungle peanut is especially unique within our core ingredients for our first line of bars because it’s skin doesn’t make any of the allergen-causing molds that are found on regular peanuts. As for our almonds, we have chosen to go with a roasting method that eliminates common nut toxins while leaving the nutrients and great taste in-tact! Other ingredients like our dates, brazil nuts and walnuts are kept raw. Our dark chocolate is 100% pure cacao and cacao butter with nothing added.
All our ingredients are certified organic and gluten friendly (until we complete our gluten free certification), and, of course, vegan since we do not use any dairy, or even honey as a sweetener. Now that we set a high benchmark we can continue to develop future products keeping to our established standard.
How has your trial and error process of creating and testing new bars ultimately brought you to the final set of ingredients in the Haven bar?
You have to break it down into its raw elements. We considered taste, texture, form, process, nutrition, layering, and mixing in an iterative process. And then, like with all good things, it takes time and more than a few mistakes to get it right.
So that’s the approach we took here: breaking everything down to its fundamental ingredients and the nutritional value we wanted to achieve in combination. And then we said, okay, well, let’s put the mix of ingredients that provides the best taste with the most most nutritional value and go from there. Our final step was comparing ourselves to other brands in the nutrient bar space. We wanted to make sure that we provided some novel value in a pretty uniform industry.
We looked at trying to outdo other brands from four core perspectives. Taste, ingredient quality, nutritional value and safety from inflammatory or otherwise potentially harmful ingredients. And as mentioned we designed the product to cater to us initially and so until we were in love with our own final iterations we didn’t need to get second opinions.
After many, many trials we were able to find a combination that we internally, and our beta tribe (customers), indicated had turned out pretty awesome, at risk of immodesty!
Is there an ideal target customer for Haven as well?
We like the idea of Haven standing for improved performance for a community, from exceptional lifestyle pursuers to elite athletes. We believe that every individual that comes into contact with Haven has a victory line: certain experiences and feats that they want to accomplish. Whether it’s literally or figuratively crossing a victory line, our customers are always looking for ways to better themselves. Haven provides the support, encouragement, energy, and raw essentials they need to achieve personal victory. WhoYa!
That said, there’s no SPECIFIC victory line for Haven, per se. At least not yet beyond our stated mission. But, in the meantime we will continue to improve the product, nurture the brand, fiercely serve our customers, support environmentalism and natural food sustainability, help contribute to global nutrition, while we look to become a ‘hundred-year’ brand that lives well beyond me. Basically, as long as it’s merely an organization that creates products that people absolutely love and becomes an inseparable part of our culture, I’ll be pretty satisfied.
You’ve also indicated the avatar for this brand can be described as the modern adventurer?
Yes, absolutely! Its probably the best single phrase we would use to describe the tribe we aim to serve. Foremost, our customers are the heroes in the story of Haven. What I also personally love most about this concept is that the word modern signifies today plus tomorrow mixed with the word adventure to suddenly bring us into an arena of history or even magic. We talk about our brand as a combination of ancient wisdom, the best available science of now, and finally a vision for an even better future.
We all seek novelty, thrills, and excitement. We want to embrace the essence of this that we see in our customers, as a brand. And when you’re going on any journey for the first time or entering an environment that you’ve never been in before, that’s an adventure. And I think that’s a great proposition for health-conscious individuals.
Starting the journey to reclaim or elevate yourself to the highest level of health begins with a commitment to unravel the completely unknown, especially at first. Good information about extraordinary wellness can be extremely difficult to come, with many conflicting ideas, confusing recommendations and competing interests. Therefore taking full responsibility and then control of your health choices takes great courage and conviction. To add to the difficulty you may not have the support of your peers or loved ones since you will be going up against the status quo as you delve deeper in self education.
There’s so much stuff we need to learn from history. And there’s so much ancient wisdom that has been lost. I think a lot of times in collective society, we’re obsessed with constant forward progress. So much so that we forget to look back now and then, to learn. We forget all the beautiful, incredible discoveries, lessons, and stories that have existed well before us and that can teach us a better way to think and be.
Look how we’ve moved so far away from nature, compared to past generations. It’s such a gift that Mother Nature has given us, but we’re moving away from all that which actually IS us.
If you’ve made it this far we hope you walk away with a greater appreciation for our brand and the passion of the people behind it. There are so many exciting things coming up for us and I hope you will join us for the adventure.
I’ve really enjoyed answering these questions and look forward to round two! If you have any questions you want me to include in the next AMA just email them over to me at email@example.com.
Stay nutty my dear adventurers!