Forbes, Good Housekeeping & Cindy Crawford are nuts for this Nashville mom's sprouted snacks
Laurel Orley has cracked her way into 5,000+ retailers nationwide including haute health food stores like LA's Erewhon to popular supermarkets like Publix
Four years ago, Laurel Orley felt like a shell of herself. The Nashville mom of three was unenchanted by her remote marketing role. She was hungry for something more. She wanted to start a business.
Fast forward to today, the 43 year-old founder is feeling full. She left her longtime job with Unilever and launched Daily Crunch — an all natural line of extra-crunchy almonds.
People are nuts for the Nashville noshes— people like Cindy Crawford. The A-list actress shared a photo of her Nashville Hot Almonds on a September Instagram story.
The success has been sweet, but Orley says, cracking into the natural food industry has been hard.
Dreaming up Daily Crunch
“I wanted to build something from the ground up” she says. “I wanted to build something with our own mission, with our own story.”
The aspiring entrepreneur had a handful of ideas, but in December, she arrived at almonds.
“Most families have a special snack they make during the holidays — fudge, cookies or some sort of chex mix,” says Orley. “In our family, it’s Diane’s sprouted nuts.”
Orley devoured her Aunt Diane’s almonds. She couldn’t help but think they were lighter and crunchier than other almonds. It wasn’t in her mind.
Diane’s signature sprout and dehydrate process — which laid the foundation for Daily Crunch’s 4-day patent pending process — produces a pin size hole inside the almond. The airy center creates a superior crunch. It also makes the nuts more nutrient dense.
According to Orley, nut’s contain a substance called phytic acid. The acid impairs the body’s ability to absorb all of the nut’s nutrients. Soaking the nuts breaks down the barrier and allows for greater absorption.
“Rather than roasting nuts, my Aunt Diane dehydrates hers,” she says. “Roasting nuts destroys a lot of the nutrients and are typically processed with refined oils.”
She wanted to make the almonds mainstream. With her aunt’s blessing, Orley was off to the races — well…almost.
A seasoned co-founder
She knew success would be far more likely with someone seasoned by their side — someone with experience, someone like Dan Stephenson.
The former financial analyst turned entrepreneur founded Dan’s Gourmet, an all natural line of artisanal mac n cheese, in 2010 while working at Ingram Barge. By the end of 2019, his premade pasta was in the frozen food section of 3,000 stores.
“Dan is unique,” says Orley. “He understands both the business side and the niches of the food industry. I am so grateful that he agreed to come on as our COO and a co-founder back in 2020.”
Sprouting the business
Daily Crunch was born at the most inopportune time — March 2020.
“It was a really difficult year for us to get traction in retail,” Orley says. “I had a large retailer tell me if we weren’t milk or toilet paper to not even bother reaching out since we weren’t a pandemic brand.“
Discouraged but not deterred, she shifted her sales strategy. Rather than focusing on physical retailers, she spent most of her energy on e-commerce. She didn’t completely abandon her in-store aspirations. Orley continued to pitch her product to local markets.
Her persistence paid off. Produce Place, Nashville’s oldest all natural health foods store, bought into Orley. The Murphy Road retailer purchased 5 cases of Daily Crunch.
“Produce Place will always hold a special place in my heart,” Orley says emotionally. “They were the first to believe in us. It was extra special because it was a place where I regularly shopped.”
Organically, word spread and soon other local specialty stores like TurnipTruck, E+Rose and Juice Bar picked up the protein-packed snack.
The first time founder continued to forge her own opportunities. Expo East was no exception. Hosted in Philadelphia, the three-day trade show attracts more than 1,000 vendors and 16,000 attendees each year. It’s the superbowl of the natural foods industry.
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Like virtually every event in 2020, the industry expo was hosted online.
“Everyone was waiting for buyers and distributors to reach out to them,” the entrepreneur exclaims. “I wasn’t going to wait. What’s the worst that could happen? They don’t respond or say no.”
She stayed up into the wee hours of the morning dm’ing distributors, buyers and editors.
“It wasn’t a copy and paste paragraph,” laughs Orley. “I tailored each message to the recipient.”
Her pull no punches approach was effective.
She struck a deal with CVS. The drugstore picked her product up in 300 of its stores, and after a year of healthy sales, they asked to expand the relationship and carry Daily Crunch in all 3,000 of its locations.
Another message caught the eye of Good Housekeeping’s nutrition editor. She solicited a sample. Needless to say, it passed the taste test. Daily Crunch made the magazine’s Best Healthy Snacks list that year and every year since.
“We’re calling sprouted nuts are the next big thing.”-Good Housekeeping
“You are your best advocate,” Orley says. “No one will hustle harder or sell your story like you.”
The new year brought new business and new flavors.
In March 2021, Daily Crunch made a deal with Meijer. Landing the midwestern supermarket was a big deal. It was the company’s first big box grocery store. The Michigan based-brand has 130 locations spread across six states. Daily Crunch is in all of them.
“It was a pinch me moment,” says the CEO.
In June, M'Kenzie Steel joined the team as Daily Crunch’s Director of Marketing. The Vanderbilt MBA student was no stranger to the company. She had interned for Daily Crunch the 12 months leading up to the offer.
“She turned down an offer to go work for Mattel,” says Orley gratefully. “I am so humbled that she chose to come on board as our Marketing Director and has since been promoted to our Head of Marketing.”
The Nashville nut company more than quadrupled its sales that year — selling 180,000 bags of its satiating snacks. It also added Cacao Seal Salt and Turmeric Sea Salt varieties to its trio of founding flavors — original, Cherry Berry and Coconut Coffee.
Things only continued to heat up. In 2022, Daily Crunch tripled its sales and introduced its Nashville Hot almonds. The bite sized bombs of flavor became a bestseller.
But this year got a little sour. Daily Crunch added a Dill Pickle flavor. With their tangy seasoning and audible snap, the almonds are an honest substitute for the old timely potato chip. It’s no wonder why Wegmans, The Giant Company and Fresh Thyme joined the Daily Crunch family and add the savory snacks to its aisles.
“We’re on track to sell a million bags of Daily Crunch by the end of 2023,” says Orley,” We expect to launch in 1,000 new locations in Q1.”
Not all sweet
The journey hasn’t been entirely sweet. Orley experienced rejection regularly — sometimes from the same buyer. But “no” only motivated the mompreneur.
Thrive, an organic, online grocery store, rejected Daily Crunch not once, not twice, but three times before adding the almonds to its digital aisles. In early 2022, Orley offered the e-commerce company a 60-day exclusive on a new flavor — Nashville Hot. Thrive’s buyer bit.
“Nashville and hot chicken are synonymous,” she says. “Thrive pride themselves on investing in interesting products with a story.”
The spicy snacks were a hit with the company’s health conscious consumers. Today, Thrive sells all 10 types of Daily Crunch.
Erewhon also passed on the almonds — initially. Orley approached the upscale outfit four times before she broke in.
“If you have a natural foods product you need to be in Erewhon — it opens doors,” she says. “Buyers, distributors, celebrities all shop there. Products are given instant credibility.”
Growing the business
Orley isn’t just after Emerald or Planters or Blue Diamond. She’s wants to take a crack at the chip industry. She believes Daily Crunch can satisfy the crunchy craving of chip lovers. It isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
Studies show texture influences snack choice as much taste. People are either chewers, crunchers or smooshers. While the lion's share of consumers are chewers (43%) — preferring the prolonged chew of say a cookie, the number of crunchers (33%) — those who favor the sound and force of a bite — is increasing at a much faster rate. Food psychologists say crunching is a coping mechanism — a way to address anxiety.
“How you feel and what you eat go hand and hand,” says Orley.
Daily Crunch donates a percentage of profits of its original almonds to The Support Network, a non-profit started by her Aunt Diane, who lost her 20-year old son to suicide in 2013. The organization partners with universities to provide mental health resources on campuses.
“Being able to support a cause so near and dear to our hearts has been one of the most rewarding parts of this business,” says Orley. “That and seeing how my family and friends have embraced me and my co-founders on this journey.”
Her kids have taken an interest in the so-called CPG industry. To them, trade show maps are Toys-R-Us Christmas catalogs. Before each expo, they research registered vendors and write “wish lists”.
“They know more than most adults,” she says.
Her children weren’t always enthused. In the beginning, her son wouldn’t wear anything with Daily Crunch’s logo. That all changed when his mom met Jason Momoa. The Aquaman actor was at one of the trade shows Orley attended.
“He’s (her son) a huge fan,” she laughs. “I asked Jason if he would sign one of our ball caps for him. He wore it every day for a long time.”
Expanding the crunchy kingdom
Daily Crunch is eager to expand its crunchy kingdom and break into new retailers. According to Orley, Target has already approached them with for 2024 consideration. However, hitting the bullseye isn’t as simple as just saying yes.
“We can’t execute that order or other national orders without funding,” explains Orley. “It’s really expensive. You have to pay for promos, displays, samples, the product itself and often a shelving cost upwards to sometimes $150,000 per flavor. “
Daily Crunch is raising a Series A round to support its scaling efforts. Orley expects to close the $4 million fundraise sometime in March.