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Curiocity: 2 Local Women Create Grain-Free, Gluten-Free Snacks

More often than not, a new business opportunity arises out of one person's desire for a product not already found on store shelves. That's certainly the case with a new Minnesota company that has the dreams of becoming a national brand -- and the goals of helping you, and your family, be healthier on the go.

When Mary Kosir's husband was diagnosed as an adult with Type I diabetes, she was inspired to help her family embrace a new, healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, it was more of a challenge than she anticipated.

"At that point in our life, we had two young kids and we were just really struggling to find out dietarily what was really going to work for our family," she said.

They started reading more labels, being conscious of what they ate and really listening to their bodies in an effort to "clean up" their eating habits. Part of that change included removing grains.

"My children and my husband, two things that we missed from our diet when we eliminated grains were some kind of a bar and also breakfast cereal," she said.

There were a few grain-free options already out there but the flavor seemed to be lacking, Kosir said.

"I usually use my children as my barometer and taste is obviously first and foremost important to them and there was nothing out there that met those needs and tasted great," she said.

(credit: WholeMe)

In an effort to fill the void for her own family, Kosir started experimenting with recipes for grain-free bars they could eat on-the-go.

They were a hit -- and the beginning of the WholeMe brand.

She came up with the DateMe bar -- a mix of pecans, dates and a hint of vanilla that she'd give her kids for an anytime snack and bring to her gym for taste testing.

But she wanted to bring the brand to another level.

That's where her business partner and co-founder, Krista Steinbach, comes in -- the two had met at their gym about a year earlier and Kosir thought she'd be the perfect person to help her launch the line.

Steinbach owned Sweets Bakeshop in the Twin Cities in 2009, after attending the Culinary Institute of America to hone the art of baking. She eventually sold Sweets and went on to become the pastry chef at The Bachelor Farmer, where she worked with plenty of gluten and sugar.

For her own food challenge, Steinbach committed to a 30-day diet where she eliminated grains, gluten, sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol -- no easy feat while working as a pastry chef.

"My initial goal was really to lose weight and to see what happened. But through doing that, I realized how much better I could feel every single day and how much more energy I could have," Steinbach said.

(credit: WholeMe)

She had tried Kosir's DateMe bar and loved it immediately, thinking it was a perfect snack she could eat anytime.

"I did a lot of thinking about what I wanted to do but the idea of bringing these wholesome snacks to market to help others find those kinds of things was really exciting for me," she said.

Steinbach joined Kosir and began creating ideas and recipes for other bars and cereal that could be part of the WholeMe line.

The two came up with the WakeMe Bar, which includes espresso, raw cocoa nibs, pecans and dates and the EatMe cereal -- full of nuts, seeds, coconut and a hint of honey -- in addition to the original DateMe bar.

(credit: WholeMe)

Kosir said they placed importance on what went into their products -- the ingredients of the WholeMe line are every day items you likely have in your pantry -- nothing artificial, nothing you have to google.

So far, they've gotten great feedback -- from those looking for grain-free products and those who aren't.

"People who aren't choosing to eat that way are also, interestingly, enjoying our products," Steinbach said. "If you were to eat our bars or cereal, you wouldn't even know unless you read about our company that they're grain-free, gluten-free and dairy-free."

The two started a Kickstarter campaign last month to try and raise money to take the brand even further and better compete with other brands already on store shelves.

The Kickstarter ends in four days with the goal of raising $40,000. To help them get there, click here to donate.

WholeMe is currently available at a select number of coffee shops, juice bars, grocery and specialty stores in Minnesota, Iowa, Hawaii and California. For a full list of retailers, check out their website.

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