Ecotrend Blog



Coming out of a Crunch—Esme + Sita Founder Rose Verjee Talks about Positioning for Healthy Food Brands

March 15, 2023

The Granola bars rose in popularity in the 1960s, due to the counterculture movement against anti-establishment food. With a mixture of toasted oat, dried fruits, and nuts - who could resist sliding in this seemingly healthy snack into their children’s’ lunchbox?

Granola bar sales peaked in 1980s, but it witnessed a steep drop later on, with some companies getting completely wiped out from the market.

This is because manufacturers began adding ingredients to granola bars that practically made it a candy bar-- chocolate, artificial flavors, peanuts, sugar (often as the #1 ingredients) thus, encouraging health-conscious folks to switch to dried fruit or fruit filled bars.

When it comes to labels and ingredients, more consumers are prioritizing this in their buying decisions as shown here.

The terms “organic”, “locally grown”, and “fair trade” are becoming staples in the health-conscious community. Yet, up until 2007 there weren’t many options for organic snacks in the grocery aisles. Organic indicates that all ingredients were cultivated without the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or pesticides—all of which have been shown to have adverse impacts on human health. According to Mintel’s report, organic food sales rose 132% from 2002 to 2007, to $4.8 billion.

Hoping to democratise healthy snacking, Rose from Esme+Sita started her company inspired by ancient Indian health practices and organic farming tradition. She shares her experience building a healthy and organic seed bar product from scratch and her aspirations in 2023 and beyond. Esme + Sita bars are uniquely formulated with seeds along with superfood powders like moringa and turmeric, contains no fruits or nuts, and are free from additives and preservatives.

What inspired the founding of your brand?
I’ve always had an interest in health-related matters but particularly so after my father passed away from prostrate cancer in 2014. I wanted to create something that was healthy to eat. I thought about people who had influenced me and remembered a friend of mine, Esme, from the UK, whose uncle owned an organic fruit farm and introduced me to organic food. I kept thinking about my heritage and how my family had always tried to use natural healing from foods such as turmeric powder. While travelling around India, I met Sita and she introduced me to Ayurveda, India’s 5000-year-old holistic health system. I studied Ayurveda and started selling ayurvedic products for a couple of years. As a foodie I started tinkering around with a bar recipe inspired by Ayurveda. This is how Esme + Sita organic bars were created.

What are your brand’s core values?
Our core values are to produce high quality organic foods that are healthy, convenient, and wholesome while being delicious too!

Describe one way you try to keep innovating with your brand.
I realized that there were no healthy seed bars around and certainly nothing with the ingredients that are in my bars. With the help of food scientists, from George Brown College’s Food Innovation and Research Studio, they optimized our bar recipe. Our mandate for them was make sure that there were no preservatives, additives, fruits, and nuts. I have ideas for other products and will be introducing a new product around Spring 2023.

Talk about a roadblock or a challenge you faced as a business owner; have you overcome this? If so, please tell us how you did or how you’re working on it.

We launched our brand in March 2019 and did very well the first year. Like everyone else in March 2020, Covid happened, and everything came to a stand still. We survived by servicing the stores that had our products. No one was taking on new products and we couldn’t give out food samples at in-store demos. Nothing was allowed. Thankfully, some stores allowed us to do demos in 2021 and we came up with a safe way to give out sealed samples. Now the situation is different and more open.

What inspires you to keep going every day?
My husband, Mo, inspires me to keep going every day. He’s a seasoned businessman and has taught me many things in business.

How did you know you had a good product-market fit?
People want something different from the norm as a snack bar. Our bar flavours are very unusual. After positive feedback from our friends and family, we knew we had a winner.

What are your aspirations for your brand 10 years from now?
Ten years from now I want our brand, Esme + Sita to be instantly recognized as a brand of high-quality food products.